Queer activists make their presence known in Parliament
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