After Iranti made an urgent appeal to President Cyril Ramaphosa to address issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last week, under the theme “Following up on our commitments: making your future work better”, the organisation was deeply disappointed by the complete lack of acknowledgement regarding the queer community in South Africa.

While the South African Constitution commits to protecting LGBTI rights, LGBTI people have only been mentioned in the SONA ONCE.

Historically, the president has addressed issues around gender-based violence, femicide, hate crimes and human rights violations taking place in this country, particularly brutal attacks on LGBTI people.

While these efforts had not gone unnoticed, we as an organisation called on Ramaphosa to go further and directly address the myriad of issues facing the LGBTI community in one of the most important speeches that he would deliver this year. 

Iranti noted with great disappointment and sadness that the president once again rendered LGBTIQ persons invisible by failing to address the needs of the LGBTIQ community in yet another SONA.

For LGBTIQ persons the parliamentary fire is symbolic of more than just the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising unemployment and deepening inequality. It is also symbolic of the human rights abuses, violence and discrimination targeted specifically at LGBTIQ people, which are flames that devour the hard-won freedoms promised in our democratic Constitution.

In his SONA President Ramaphosa called upon South Africans to “reaffirm our commitment to a Constitution that protects us all. As was illustrated by our digital campaign #QueerSONA, for many LGBTIQ persons the protections given in the constitution often do not find expression in our daily lives. Where unemployment and poverty are compounded by the violence and discrimination we are subjected to because of our sexual orientation, sex, gender identity and gender expression.

A great deal of work is being done by the queer community to make space for ourselves.

Currently, the two larger battles we face as Iranti and the greater LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa, are matters around Legal Gender Recognition (LGR) and Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM).

In South Africa, no express law exists for transgender and non-binary to amend their gender markers on their identification documents, except for Act 49. Act 49 allows transgender persons, who have begun their medical transition, (hormonal or surgically) and intersex persons to change the sex descriptor on their identity documents, to reflect their gender identity. This law is currently being challenged by trans and intersex movements, who have applied for amendments with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

At the same time, intersex infants and children are being subjected to IGM – which refers to non-consensual, medically unnecessary, irreversible genital surgeries and other harmful medical treatments in order to make their sex characteristics fit the binary of male or female.

Despite this, IGM still takes place in a number of hospitals in South Africa, (under other names like “corrective surgery”, for example) causing severe mental and physical pain and suffering.

There is no current law that makes IGM unlawful in South Africa and Iranti has called for President Ramaphosa to put pressure on the Department of Health to urgently meet with LGBTI organisations to put an end to this practice.

There is no health risk to being intersex and we as an organisation believe children should be allowed to decide for themselves what should happen to their bodies.

In his SONA on 10 February, when the president addressed all three arms of the state and the rest of South Africa, we were not included in that speech. Our voices were not heard. We were not addressed as part of South Africa.

The issues facing the LGBTIQ community are urgent and require urgent attention and action from the President and the government he leads. Former president Nelson Mandela said that “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”