TAXI ranks and semi-rural suburbs have been identified as local hotspots for homophobic incidents. So says local psychologist Angeline Stephens, who is working on her PhD and recently conducted a study commissioned by the Gay and Lesbian Network on hate crime and homophobia in Pietermaritzburg. Her study comes in the wake of a series of hate crimes over the past decade.
Stephens found that the trends in Pietermaritzburg and in the rest of the country are similar, but felt that since national studies have focused mainly on Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban, she needed to give Pietermaritzburg a voice.
The data were collected through questionnaires, focus groups, depth interviews with members of the Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, intersexual (LGBTI) community and semi-structured interviews with officials of various organisations.
Research shows that many people do not understand exactly what hate crime and homophobia are and there is therefore a need to educate people about the LGBTI community, said Stephens.
“Many responses indicate incorrect and flawed understanding of the concepts. For example, HIV and Aids are commonly associated with the LGBTI community and become a basis for feelings of prejudice.”
One of the focus group participants is quoted as saying,“People … don’t acknowledge that this homosexual thing … it’s as old as mountains.”
With regard to the government, Stephens said members of the LGBTI expressed fear, anger and a feeling of betrayal. “There are high levels of mistrust of government institutions in rendering effective and supportive services.”
Reporting, for example, is taken lightly by the police, she said. “There are no officially reported cases of hate crime and homophobia in Pietermaritzburg … this is reflective of the difficulties in reporting incidents as opposed to the absence of such incidents …
“Members of the Gay and Lesbian Network reported regular incidents of homophobia, usually of a verbal nature, but also … threats of physical violence and actual physical harm … Being kicked out of taxis is one example.”
Stephens said “hotspots” for such incidents are taxi ranks and semi-rural suburbs and that drag queens and “butch” lesbians are the most likely targets.
“Even though South Africa has afforded constitutional protection to lesbian women, the legal, justice and social systems function to exclude this group due to a lack of appropriate interventions.”
The report concludes that the “fight against hate crimes and homophobia in South Africa is gaining momentum”.
“Numerous initiatives like research, advocacy and support at grassroots level currently exist. However, many initiatives are carried out in isolation or with few partners, despite having similar aims, target groups and funders. The changing roles played by non-governmental organisations and non-profit organisations both before and after apartheid need to be considered in the context of historical shifts within the South African political system.”