South Africa: Transgender people still face state discrimination

Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Wikipedia)

By Dianne Skoll
LGBT Perspectives columnist

OTTAWA — The government of South Africa appears to have pretty enlightened attitudes toward LGBT rights. It is the only country in Africa to have legalized same-sex marriage and that theoretically permits transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates without surgery.

However, according to the news outlet news24.com, practice sometimes doesn’t match with theory. According to its report, when a transwoman named Juanita van Zyl tried to have her identity documents updated with the correct gender, she was deliberately misgendered and her application was arbitrarily denied on spurious grounds. Furthermore, the officials humiliated her by repeatedly asking about her gender change in front of other people in the Department of Home Affairs branch.

Government officials refused comment.

On the whole, Africa is a disaster area for LGBT people. Most countries in Africa discriminate horribly against LGBT people, ranging from unofficial oppression all the way to the death sentence for same-sex activity. South Africa should be a shining example to the contrary, but unfortunately entrenched cultural attitudes combined with inept and corrupt governance means that South Africa is more
tolerant in theory than in practice.

There’s one hopeful part of this story, however. The comments on the news24.com article were uniformly supportive of van Zyl, a refreshing change from the usual hateful comments we see added to the typical story about transgender people.

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“Let harmlessness be the keynote of your life.” — Alice Bailey

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