Much of my life is spent in a car, as my father chuffers each of us to our designated destinations. It was on one of these arduous trips that he made a remark, which in short, denied a human the right to exist. His reasoning solely premised on the fact that, this exquisite individual’s hips swayed with the rhythm of a salsa dancer while walking hand-in-hand with his beloved partner. This couple who exuded enormous amounts of swagger, style and sophistication who were happily strolling down Orange Street in Cape Town had just been wished dead. If racism is considered wrong by contemporary society, as people are simply just born with a darker skin tone than others then why are people being discriminated against bases on individuals they happen to fall in love with. Queer individuals, despite the laws put in place to protect them, still face personal persecution and discrimination by society in general but more importantly places like tertiary institutions and schools.
According to Nigel Patel the Rainbow UCT chairperson, “Small incidences of discrimination are the most disturbing.” Occurrences that happen on a day to day basis like staring or unwanted comments or remarks show how deeply rooted biases are in society and which remain unchanged and absolute. Despite laws in the country which gives homosexual individuals the right to get married and anti-discrimination policies which are employed by organisations like DISCO at UCT. There is still a mammoth cavity between the equality driven laws and policies that are employed and the lived experiences of queer individuals in this country. The immense fissure could simply be attributed to the abundantly overarching prevalence of patriarchy which is showcased daily in the lives of South Africans. However the inescapable sense of patriarchy manifests itself in varying degrees of potency, where the epicentre of liberal views are in the city but these views disperse gradually as you stray further away.
Places that are usually farthest away from the liberal epicentre are those which are deemed, townships and it is here where gruesome accounts of discrimination take place daily. Townships could be regarded as living hell to queer individuals as gender, that being your masculinity or femininity, here is intrinsic or an extension to the biological sex. Due to this belief there is an overwhelming pressure on men and women alike to act out the socially accepted version of themselves, and if they do not perform the appointed role the individual usually becomes either ostracized from the community, threatened, physically harmed or all of the above. By far the most graphically violent practice which has become commonplace in township areas are perpetrated against those who self-identify as lesbians and has become known as corrective rape. This is described as rape which is perpetrated by straight men against lesbian women in order to ‘cure’ them of their unnaturalness, as their sexual orientation is seen as an abnormality. Criminals who commit these crimes usually believe that women who self-identify as lesbians have not yet felt ‘a real man’ and thus she has turned to the affections of a woman. Many instances of this type of rape results in far more devastating results than just a violation of the human body, there are many cases where the victims of these traumatic crimes are violently killed after being raped.
Although terrible injustices are done by society to those who are categorised or self-identifies as queer, there are organisations that exist which provides a safe space as well as advocates equality for queer individuals. Rainbow UCT is one of these spaces which act as both a safe haven and a place of advocacy which promotes the rights of queer students in the university environment. Nigel Patel, the current chair person of the student run organisation, states that the society was originally established so that others -being heterosexual people- are aware that queer people exist and are here to stay. “What the organisation also manages to achieve by merely having a presence on campus is that starts to normalise the queer identity” says Nigel, which as a result of normalising the identity the university environment would not be a hostile place.
One of the boldest moves Rainbow has undertaken is the process of developing a separate distinct policy for people who are a part of the on campus queer community; the policy is grounded on disciplinary action on the basis of discrimination bases on sexual orientation. What this also ultimately does in the university environment is it recognises the struggles of individuals who are part of the queer community and acknowledges their difficulties to a point where a separate policy is drawn up concerning harassment. Along with this Rainbow also seeks to create awareness of the presence of the queer community and does this on UCT campuses by annually hosting a week long advocacy campaign. The purpose of this is to raise awareness of the queer community on UCT campuses as well as serious issues surrounding the community like corrective rape in townships and queer historic individuals who are often unsung, not remembered and uncelebrated.