South African gay groups fear increased homophobia

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

South African gay rights groups are becoming increasingly concerned about homophobia after a spate of attacks on lesbians in the country.

Organisations spoke out after the murder of a young lesbian in a township in Cape Town. The groups say that lesbians are seen as a challenge to male dominance and the patriarchal society.

Dawn Betteridge, the director of Triangle Project told Reuters: “The problem largely is that of patriarchy. By adopting the clothing, behaviour typical of a ‘butch lesbian’ or the ‘effeminate male’, the LGBT community is perceived as a threat to masculine dominance.”

“Lesbians who mimic men are seen to be challenging male superiority. Rape and violence against lesbians is common … the men who perpetrate such crimes see rape as curative and as an attempt to show women their place in society.”

Zanele Muholi is a lesbian who grew up in a township where she was abused for her sexuality. She co founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) to provide support for black gay women.

She said: “In the past 10 years I have recorded 50 rape cases involving black lesbians in townships, It is being both black and gay which is problematic.”

South Africa is seen to have one of the most liberal constitutions in the world. Last year, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of same sex marriages, making the country among a handful in the world to do so.

“The fact that we have one of the most advanced constitutions has had little impact on mindsets in townships. Members of our community are celebrating the constitution, but it is very different in the society,” said Ms Muholi.

“They should hold workshops on the constitution in all the townships – people are not aware of our rights and needs.”