15 June 2012

Thapelo Makutle: Transgender Pageant Winner Murdered In South Africa

I am glad to see countries that had repressive regimes not so long ago are making progress when it comes to LGBT right.  As examples, I think of Argentina's new law that, in essence, allows anyone over the age of 18 to choose his or her gender.  I also think of how gay marriage has been legalized in Spain which, under Franco, had one of the most conservative Catholic regimes in the world.  And a country that was long associated with the racism and violence of its Aprartheid policies--I'm talking, of course, about South Africa--legalized gay marriage in December of 2006.

While the latter country has taken a remarkable turn, at least officially, from its past, there is still a lot of work to be done.  Just because a country--or city or state or province--legalizes gay marriage or passes legislation to stop discrimination, it doesn't mean that old attitudes change, particularly in those communities far removed from the centers of power.

That point was brought home with the murder of Thapelo Makutle, who had been living as a gay man but recently began to identify with transgender.  

Makutle had been arguing with two men about his sexuality.  Those men followed him home, broke down his door and slit his throat.  They then severed his penis and shoved it in his mouth.

He had been active in the LGBT community of the Kuruman region, a rural area in the northern part of the country.  According to a 2011 Human Rights Watch report, LGBT people in that region, and other rural areas of the country, still face "extensive discrimination and violence in their daily lives, both from private individuals and government officials."  

Something similar can be said about those US cities and states that have legalized gay marriage and passed laws to fight discrimination against LGBT people.  Even here in New York, there are neighborhoods in which an LGBT person is not safe, and the police will do nothing to help someone who has experienced violence based on his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Leslie Mora was beaten, and Amanda Gonzalez Andujar murdered, in such communities, which are home to large numbers of conservative religious people.  Even some of the colleges here are far from being "rainbow havens."  

That is why passing laws to give LGBT people the same rights other people take for granted is only a first step, and not something that, by itself, will guarantee equal rights, much less safety.  The real work begins after that.

Even though I am on the other side of the world and have never met any of Thapelo Makutle's loved ones, they have my condolences.  And I hope you, Thapelo Makutle ends up in a better, more enlightened place.