Why we need LGBTI hate crime laws

On Feb 15 Thought Leader published: Why we need LGBTI hate crime laws
By Oliver Meth and Bongani Sibeko

South Africa was the first country in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. It was the first country in Africa, and the fifth worldwide, to legalise same-sex marriage.

This places South Africa at the forefront of global efforts to adopt a comprehensive rights-based approach to the inclusion and protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. However, there is still a huge gap between the guarantees in the Constitution and the actual treatment of LGBTI individuals. Lesbian women, transwomen, and gay men especially still experience discrimination and violence because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The ongoing targeted attacks, so-called “corrective” rapes, and murders of LGBTI persons in South Africa highlight the urgent need for hate crimes legislation and for effective measures to uphold the rights of LBGTI people to life, health, equality and dignity. The legal classification of attacks on LGBTI people as hate crimes would provide a mechanism for reporting them in a way that distinguishes them from other crimes. It would enable such crimes to be tracked and more effective preventive actions taken.

And, although the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (2000) prohibits “hate crimes” – sexual orientation is not included under the section that provides for harsher sentences for crimes based on certain protected classes.

The intentional killing of a person is recorded as murder without reference to their sexual orientation or gender presentation. It could be easier to record hate crimes statistics if there was a separate register of cases where LGBTI identity was a possible motive. Currently, the existence of hate crimes is only visible when a particular case receives a lot of media attention and advocacy from individuals and NGOs who are working to protect the rights of the affected individuals.

The national hate crimes task team was formed in May 2011 in response to hate crimes against the LGBTI community and all gender non-conforming individuals in South Africa. Very little, if any, has been done by this team. The elected representatives include people of the judiciary, police, social development department, as well as well-known LGBTI organisations. They have failed to carry out their mandate in developing a legislative intervention plan, a public-awareness strategy and LGBTI-sensitive shelters.

Three recent cases provide horrific examples of brutality towards young LGBTI people based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Twenty-year-old Motshidisi “Pascalina” Melamu from Evaton North, in Gauteng, 30-year-old Phoebe Titus from Wolseley, in Western Cape, and 35-year-old Bobby Motlatla from Potchefstroom were all brutally murdered late last year.

Read more at Why we need LGBTI hate crime laws | Thought Leader.

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