B y Jordan Stier
This has been an unforgettable year for the LGBT community. The day after the USA’s Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage as legal, 26 million Facebook users put a rainbow filter over their profile images in celebration. Millions more did so in the days that followed. The reaction from Republicans, religious groups and other conservative parties have been predictably antagonistic. However, many members of the LGBT community have not shown as much enthusiasm about the decision as one might expect.
“We can be free to live our lives openly, marry the ones we love, raise the families we crave, and no one can say, ‘That’s illegal!’” says Kim Lithgow, Founder of the Same Love Support Group, based in Toti. “So now when we face homophobia, we can say ‘It’s not against the law’. But in reality, it is only one less slur that we face.”
These hesitant reactions aren’t all that surprising though, when one looks at South Africa as an example. Same-sex marriage has not only been legal in South Africa since 2006, but is the legal equivalent of a heterosexual marriage, and may be called either a ‘civil union’ or a marriage, depending on the preferences of the newlyweds. Even in countries where civil unions have been legal for a very long time, having a legal and social status equivalent to traditional marriage is rare.
While all of this is very impressive, we must seriously reflect on how constructive this has been to establishing a free and equal society for LGBT people. Unfortunately, cases such as Caster Semenya and the frightening frequency of corrective rape in our country are sobering reminders of how far our society is from achieving this goal.
Lithgow explains that overcoming this requires us grounding our progression not in our courts, but in our schools and workplaces. “Our laws are more progressive than the average person on the street, so we need to start in education. Schools need LGBT anti-bullying programmes and unbiased, factual information about LGBTQQIA+,” she explains. “Businesses need LGBT sensitivity and awareness training in the workplace. Media platforms need to have public service announcements educating the masses on LGBT and the constitution and the laws of the country.”
Despite our governmental support for LGBT rights, very little has been done by them to affect such necessary social integration. This is largely due to the fact that, because we have legalised same-sex marriages in our country, gay rights are very infrequently addressed by those in power, because it is an issue deemed to have been dealt with.
The USA faces the possibility of the same occurring in their country, and this should not be allowed to be the case. Not only because of how the freedoms of LGBT Americans are still unrealised, but because of the extreme social capital the USA holds over the rest of the world.
Hollywood and other American cultural exports have begun using this to great advantage, exposing the world to the LGBT community in a constructive manner, from the lyrics of rap songs to the content of Disney Channel shows. To desist in the continuation of this social education because of a belief that the fight for LGBT freedom is now over could prove disastrous for LGBT people around the world who are still living in very oppressive societies.
South Africa holds a similar responsibility in Africa, but we have not taken this in our stride as a nation. “Many times already, international pressure has forced authorities to adhere to human rights standards,” says Lithgow. “South Africa has remained silent in the face of these violations, and that needs to change. South Africa needs to take a stand for equal rights all across Africa.”
“As an African country, we are the only ones who can squash the erroneous argument that homosexuality is ‘not African’.”
The world cannot allow one achievement to distract them from the fight for individual freedoms that millions of people still struggle to achieve daily. We have not yet found the pot of gold. We must continue following the rainbow for as long as it takes.