Queer ac­tivists make their pres­ence known in Par­lia­ment

Mail & Guardian - - News - Carl Col­li­son

With copies of the 2016 Hate Crimes Re­port in hand, Ler­ato Pha­lakat­shela walked the cor­ri­dors of Par­lia­ment, go­ing door-to-politi­cian’s-door, de­liv­er­ing the re­port to MPs.

“They re­ally re­ceived it well,” says Pha­lakat­shela. “Most were very open and en­gaged me on it, which was awe­some for me be­cause I def­i­nitely did not ex­pect that. Some gave me a bit of a look — you know, that weird look — but it was gen­er­ally re­ally well re­ceived.”

The re­port pro­vides data on hate crimes per­pe­trated against queer peo­ple na­tion­ally. Pha­lakat­shela’s hand de­liv­er­ies were part of his work for the re­cently es­tab­lished les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex (LGBTI) par­lia­men­tary of­fice.

Opened in Fe­bru­ary this year, the of­fice is the brain­child of the Love Not Hate Cam­paign, a col­lec­tion of LGBTI civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions. These in­clude Ac­cess Chap­ter 2, the Gay and Les­bian Com­mu­nity Health Cen­tre, the Gay and Les­bian Net­work, SHE in East London and the Tri­an­gle Project. It is co-or­di­nated by OUT LGBT Well­be­ing. Pha­lakat­shela is the cam­paign’s hate crime man­ager.

The cam­paign was launched in 2015 and, by open­ing its par­lia­men­tary of­fice, the or­gan­i­sa­tions are try­ing to in­ten­sify their drive to re­duce hate crimes against LGBTI peo­ple.

Notwith­stand­ing the oc­ca­sional “weird look”, Pha­lakat­shela says many MPs have been sup­port­ive. “Some have been very help­ful, mak­ing time to sit with us and ad­vise on cer­tain things.”

An­dries Nel, deputy min­is­ter of the department of co-op­er­a­tive gover­nance and tra­di­tional af­fairs, says the of­fice is im­por­tant be­cause MPs “play a lead­ing role in their con­stituen­cies and also be­cause im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tions such as the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion ac­count to the Na­tional As­sem­bly”.

“The world is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a surge in right-wing pop­ulism with the at­ten­dant scourges of racism, sex­ism, xeno­pho­bia and ho­mo­pho­bia,” Nel says. “So this re­ally is a time for South Africans to rally to de­fend and bud­get de­sign pro­cesses.”

With only a few months since kick­ing off its work, the of­fice is care­ful not to ex­tend its ini­tial reach, cur­rently at­tend­ing just two com­mit­tees, the po­lice port­fo­lio and the jus­tice port­fo­lio com­mit­tees in the Na­tional As­sem­bly, on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Clay­ton says these meet­ings would “fur­ther in­form our strate­gies down the line. In this process we are look­ing at how we can build re­la­tion­ships and per­haps pro­vide sup­port and ex­per­tise on LGBTI is­sues”.

As to how he hopes the of­fice’s work will af­fect the lives of queer peo­ple on the ground, Clay­ton says: “This is al­ways tricky, be­cause we have a long his­tory in South Africa of leg­isla­tive and other changes gen­er­at­ing lit­tle to no change in peo­ple’s lives.”

The hope is to in­flu­ence how re­sources are al­lo­cated “and the way that peo­ple are held ac­count­able when sys­tems fail. We hope that this process will help in pro­vid­ing not just re­sponses to hate crimes and dis­crim­i­na­tion, but work which pre­vents these vi­o­la­tions to be­gin with.”

Pha­lakat­shela stresses this is just one of nu­mer­ous ini­tia­tives aimed at curb­ing hate crimes. “Na­tion­ally, there are many dif­fer­ent ways of deal­ing with the is­sues LGBTI peo­ple face. Par­lia­ment is not the only mech­a­nism.

“Par­lia­ment work takes time,” he adds. “So we’re go­ing to have to be pa­tient and see what fruits this will bear in the near fu­ture and in the long run.”

Love, not hate: Ler­ato Pha­lakat­shela de­liv­ers copies of the Hate Crimes Re­port to MPs as part of his work for the LGBTI par­lia­men­tary of­fice. Photo: David Har­ri­son

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