Trans Rights in Johannesburg

South Africa was the first country in the world to ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and the fifth to make same-sex marriage legal, which the president did in 2017. The country is a beacon of legal protection against discrimination and marriage equality. Surely, life would seem bearable for TS women in Johannesburg, the country’s most cosmopolitan and dynamic city!

On paper, that would indeed seem to be the case. However, local TS women are finding increasing discrepancies between reality and written policy.

Following the court’s decision on the case of Fourie, involving a same-sex couple’s fight for their rights, the Civil Union Act came into effect. The case didn’t follow a major shift in perception of the LGBTQ+ community or a nationwide consensus of any sort. It rendered the country an anomaly among many others because public acceptance did not precede legal protection. The community continues to struggle as a result. The trans community has been hit the hardest.

According to the Civil Union Act, officials may refuse to solemnize same-sex marital unions if their belief, religion, or conscience prevents them from doing so. South Africa is a religious country, and same-sex couples who want to legalize their relationship face very real challenges as a result.

South African President Jacob Zuma legalized same-sex civil unions albeit going on record as intolerant of homosexuals. Members of the LGBT community are protected constitutionally, but there is great duplicity in the country when it comes to actually supporting them. In an interview with Pink News, South African journalist Darin Graham commented that the country may have progressive laws for the community, but what’s on paper does not reflect the reality. A lot of trans Africans flee from their countries due to discrimination and violence. They come to South Africa’s big cities, like Johannesburg, to seek refuge because of the country’s advanced legal framework, but they find little support.

Hope for the Community

Transgender prisoner Jade September recently won a case against the Department of Correctional Services. She now has the right to be called a woman despite being held in a men’s prison. The court classified the treatment of the prisoner as ‘unlawful,’ recognizing that expression of sexuality and gender should not be obstructed by the fact that a person is in jail. This has been perceived as a great victory by the trans community. We hope for more positive developments in the years to come.

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