Good evening everyone and welcome to the premiere of There Is Power In The Collar, which is Iranti’s first feature film, produced in collaboration with Puo Pha Productions.
It tells the story of Chantel, a 27-year-old lesbian who is both a theologian and a queer rights activist.
We’ve been partnering with Iranti over many years and we value the work Iranti does in advocating for the rights of LGBTI persons through the strategic use of multimedia storytelling, research and activism.
Iranti’s work focuses on using media as a key platform for critical engagement, mobilisation and advocacy interventions across Africa.
Also a warm welcome to everyone from civil society - when one looks around the room and sees so many activists one is once again reminded of how vibrant our civil society sector is.
I also want to extend special word of welcome to LeGaBiBo.
LeGaBiBo, as we all know, have been instrumental in bringing about change in Botswana when it comes to the promotion and protection of LGBTI rights.
They were the first LGBTI organization in Botswana. After a number of attempts to register its constitution with the Registrar of Societies, the Department of Civil and National Registration rejected its application on the basis that the Botswana Constitution did not recognise homosexuals and that the objectives of the organization were contrary to the Societies Act.
After a long and protracted legal battle, in March 2016, a full bench of the Court of Appeal of Botswana upheld the decision of the High Court and ordered the registration of LeGaBiBo as a society in terms of the Societies Act.
We all know that homophobia remains a serious issue across the world, and particularly across our continent.
Over 70 countries in the world still ban same-sex relations and of those approximately half are in Africa.
In a recent article in Deutsche Welle the question is asked - why is Africa such a difficult place for the LGBTIQ+ community?
And, says the article, there are many reasons for this, but “colonial laws, religious morality, and the idea that homosexuality is imported by the West” seem to be at the top of the list.
And it’s because of these reasons that it is so Important to have provisions in law to protect sexual and gender minorities and to promote their human rights.
Here in South Africa, we have these provisions in law and in our policies.
We have the equality clause in our Constitution which prohibits discrimination on a number of listed grounds.
Since the transition to democracy in 1994, other important developments have included the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, the recognition of same-sex partnerships in relation to benefits such as state pensions and other employment benefits and immigration rights for same-sex couples.
In 1998, South Africa’s High Court struck down the sodomy law that made homosexual sex illegal. In 2003 we passed the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act. The Civil Union Act of 2006 provides for the solemnisation of civil unions, by way of either a marriage or civil partnership.
Other post-apartheid legislation that made equality gains for LGBTI persons includes the Employment Equity Act, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act and the Domestic Violence Act, which recognises the cohabitation of same-sex couples in its definition of ‘domestic’.
The Labour Relations Act makes it an offence to dismiss any employee on the grounds of their sexual orientation while the Medical Schemes Act defines a dependent to include a same-sex partner.
We recently passed the Civil Unions Amendment Act which means that marriage officers who are public servants employed by the Department of Home Affairs are not allowed to refuse to perform a civil union ceremony.
The Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill is currently before Parliament, but has been affected by developments in the Qwelane matter.
South Africa has also played a role in promoting and protecting LGBTI rights in the region and on the continent.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Resolution 275 was adopted in Luanda in 2014 and condemns the increasing violence against people on the basis of sexual orientation. It provides a useful instrument for non-confrontational dialogue, to ensure that state parties to the African Charter comply with treaties and other instruments.
In March 2016, South Africa hosted the first regional African seminar to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression and we called on all African communities to take more action to end such violence and discrimination.
Many contributions were made during this conference, with the aim of driving efforts at both legislative and policy levels to actualize this goal and lobbying African governments to live up to their obligations to protect and promote the rights and dignity of every person.
The seminar resulted in the Ekurhuleni Declaration which calls for states to ensure that they not perpetuate such violence and discrimination directly or indirectly.
But despite our laws and our work in the region, it does not mean that our country is free of discrimination.
Results of the 2016 survey called Love Not Hate, conducted by OUT LGBT Well-being, of hate crimes against LGBT persons indicate that around 44% of those surveyed had experienced discrimination in their everyday life, due to their sexual preferences, over the preceding 2 years.
The most common form of discrimination was verbal insults (39%) followed by threats of violence (20%).
Beyond threats and verbal abuse, being chased or followed was another common threat endured by the LGBT community in South Africa (17%).
Violence or physical abuse from a family member (not a partner) was as common as physical abuse from someone else.
Victimisation on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation was also found to be very high in schools. When the participants of ages 16 to 24 years were asked to think back to when they were at school, 56% indicated that they had experienced discrimination based on their LGBT status.
A significant proportion (41%) of those surveyed knew of someone who had been murdered due to their sexual orientation. Of the 977 (out of total sample of 2130) that had experienced discrimination, only 101 had reported at least one of the incidents to the police.
So we know that what we need to do is two-fold: have the laws in place, but at the same time we need to work at changing societal attitudes.
We need to be advocating just as much for tolerance and respect as for legislative change.
South Africa too is a fairly religiously conservative country.
Some people may even argue that the law has perhaps jumped too far ahead of public sentiment or how society feels on certain issues.
But that’s what the law is and what it should be, it should be idealistic and it must create the framework for the ideals envisaged in our Constitution.
It should pave the way for the type of society we want to create.
Kenyan author and LGBTI activist Binyavanga Wainaina, who sadly passed away last year, once said that -
“In kindergarten, we had this Irish Catholic headmistress called Sister Leonie, and I remember she would tell us to put the crayons in the box. I remember thinking, 'Why is everyone finding this so easy? Why should the crayons be in the box?'”
Human rights are about the intrinsic worth and human dignity of each and every person, about the freedom to not have them boxed in, not defined by labels, not confined to what may or may not be considered the norm.
Despite much progress having been made, ultimately the law can only fulfil what it set out to achieve when society respects the human rights of others.
I thank you.