14 June 2024 Photo supplied
Siyanda Magayana
Siyanda Magayana, Senior Officer: Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Office, Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice, UFS.

Opinion article by Siyanda Magayana, Senior Officer: Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Office, Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice, University of the Free State.

A Paradox of Pride

The month of June is International Pride Month, a time to celebrate and commemorate the strides that have been made by various LGBTQI+ persons and groups, as well as allies to decriminalise homosexuality world-wide. It is also a time that serves as a symbol of solidarity, visibility, and resilience for this community. However, against the backdrop of ongoing criminalisation, homophobia, transphobia, discrimination, and violence targeted at this group across the globe, the question arises: can we truly celebrate? The significance that Pride Month holds for all LGBTQI+ people is noteworthy on a global scale. During this month, LGBTQI+ individuals are afforded the opportunity to affirm their identity, honour, and commemorate history, while equally advocating for equality in the volatile times on our continent and beyond.

However, it is important to note that despite the strides that have been made to recognise, legalise, and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other non-normative identities world-wide, LGBTQI+ individuals in Africa and globally continue to experience a complex mix of emotions. In Africa and globally again, even in counties like South Africa where same-sex relationships and marriages are legally recognised, violence, discrimination, resistance, and harassment remain prevalent issues for this community. This is indicative of the life-long struggle for equality and safety for LGBTQI+ individuals, underscoring the need for continued advocacy and support. Likewise, while Pride Month may offer a chance to commemorate moments of resilience, solidarity, and triumph, it equally serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing realities of being subjected to daily violence, rejection at home and by the system, and different forms of discrimination.

The Context of Criminalisation

There has been a surge in the criminalisation of same-sex relationships in several African countries, and worldwide – the most recent and most-talked-about being Uganda. Outside of religious arguments, the criminalisation of homosexuality and homosexual acts in Africa is often justified by claims that denote it as a foreign concept that undermines the history, traditions, and sovereign culture and foundations of the continent.

Consequently, many countries enforce severe punishments, including imprisonment and death sentences, for those found guilty of practising homosexuality. These laws represent a gross violation of human rights and contribute to a social crisis marked by stigma, fear, and violence against gender non-conforming and LGBTQI+ individuals. Likewise, as sentiments that argue that same-sex attraction and relationships are ‘un-African’ and a ‘Western import’ persist, the marginalisation and discrimination the LGBTQI+ community will continue, further entrenching their vulnerability within our societies. In addition, the criminalisation of same-sex identities and relationships has far-reaching and devastating effects on LGBTQI+ individuals globally. These effects permeate every aspect of their life, threatening not just their personal safety and freedom, but also their mental health and well-being, as well as access to justice and economic opportunities.

Impact on Human Rights and Dignity

The impact of the criminalisation of homosexuality on the human rights and dignity of gender non-comforting and non-normative identities cannot be overstated. It has far-reaching consequences for not only human rights and dignity, but also for social justice. The systemic oppression that continues to subject and deprive LGBTQI+ persons of their inherent right to freedom of expression, autonomy, and dignity, as enshrined in the constitution and global policies, calls for a national and international awakening for all. LGBTQI+ rights are equally human rights, and they are similar to the rights of those who are perceived to have ‘normative’ identities, such as heterosexual individuals.

Moreover, just as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other identities have the right to live freely, express their love and pursue relationships without fear of violence, being jailed, or discrimination, so too should LGBTQI+ individuals. And, amid the criminalisation and ongoing chastising of LGBTQI+ identities world-wide, it is crucial to remember that their rights are not special privileges, but rather ensuring that everyone, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation ought to be protected and enjoy the same freedoms and same rights.

Celebrating with Resilience and Solidarity

Although celebrating pride month is often fraught with complexities and challenges, it is still a time to reflect, celebrate and be courageous in the fight against gender inequality, discrimination, violence, and justice continues. This month, globally, continues to symbolise the resilience for LGBTQI+ individuals as they assert their right to exist fully, openly, and authentically. Therefore, amid the ongoing criminalisation and violence, it is crucial that we stand in solidarity, protect, and amplify the voices of the LGBTQI+ community by repealing any discriminatory laws that seek to erase and undermine their rightful existence. Furthermore, it is imperative that anti-discriminatory laws that safeguard everyone’s rights – regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation continue to be applied equitably.

In conclusion, pride month is a dual faceted observation for many. On the one hand, it is a time that is filled with joyous parades and reflective dialogues celebrating how far the LGBTQI+ community and movement has come. On the other hand, amidst criminalisation of queer identities, it is a sombre time for many who have been, and continue to be, subjects of violence, rejection, ridicule, and discrimination because of their gender identity and sexual orientation. As we celebrate this annual initiative, it is important for us to remember and support those who cannot do so openly, continue to advocate for a society where everyone, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation can live freely and openly without fear.

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