Outrage at threat to gay rights

Zandile Mbabela

EASTERN Cape gay rights activists outraged by the call to have a clause protecting South Africans on the grounds of sexual orientation removed from the constitution will take to the streets this weekend in protest against the House of Traditional Leaders.

Members of the Eastern Cape Gay and Lesbian Association will come out “in full leather” on Sunday to protest in front of the Port Elizabeth City Hall and hand over a petition on their opposition to the proposal.

Association director David Hessey said if the proposal was granted, the rights of gay men and women would be severely compromised. “We want to send a clear message that gay rights are by no means up for discussion,” he said.

“I understand that as traditional leaders they are trying to preserve tradition and culture, but they should also understand other people and not want to trample on their basic human rights.”

With more than 150 gay and lesbian activists, including Mr Gay South Africa, East London politician Lance Weyer, expected to turn up for the peaceful protest – where they are hoping to hand the petition over to mayor Zanoxolo Wayile – the association wants to send a clear message that the constitution is “perfect” as it stands.

“We have the best constitution in the entire world and I just don’t understand why it must be changed simply because some people don’t like it,” Hessey said.

The call for the amendment has outraged many in the gay community, who see the proposal as prioritising the rights of a certain group over another’s – something they say is contrary to what is enshrined in the constitution.

This, coupled with the debate around the proposed Traditional Courts Bill – which will establish a separate but constitutionally aligned legal system in rural communities through customary law – is seen as a major threat to the strides made in securing gay rights, especially in rural areas.

Lesbian activist and social commentator Melanie Judge said if the proposal to amend the constitutional clause was effected, it would take the country back to the past when gay rights were completely ignored.

“This is also undermining the constitution and there is just no place in our current society for these kinds of discourses,” she said.

“This proposal should be dismissed as it is invoked by traditional leaders – who are trying to garner support through discriminatory attitudes – for political expediency.”

Transgender and gay rights activist Christina Engela said the fact that “a governmental body overseeing the constitution is prepared to debate removing our rights is in itself very disappointing and threatening.

“Such a move or suggestion indeed places the rights of one group above another. I ask people to consider what the reaction of this body would have been should a white supremacist group have suggested removing the clauses protecting the removal of racial discrimination.

” I’m sure they would be angered, and would dismiss that suggestion immediately – and rightfully so.”

Port Elizabeth-born University of Cape Town lecturer Lwando Scott said the thought of backtracking on the progress made in gay rights was “just disastrous. It’s hard enough living freely as a gay person in South Africa even with that clause.”

Gay male nurse Olwethu Kwayiba said the removal of the clause would be “a huge infringement of the basic human right to dignity”.

Numerous attempts for comment from the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders were unsuccessful.

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