The Triangle Project is a South African organisation that seeks to challenge homophobia and to eradicate discrimination against and within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community. In their mission statement, they state their aim to educate, lobby and advocate against harmful stereotypes, attitudes and behaviours towards LGBTI people and to provide services, build confidence and strive for better understanding of the community.
Since the beginning of the year, several online petitions have been circulating the Internet, highlighting what was labelled the “corrective rape” of lesbian women in South Africa. The Triangle Project was notably silent in response to the petitions and did not sign or endorse them. Yesterday the Triangle Project issued a statement in which they condemned several aspects of the petitions and explained their reluctance to associate the organisation with these petitions. The absence of survivors’ voices and testimonies in the petitions is noted and it is stated that “once again black women in Africa are being cast as voiceless victims, as voiceless faces.” The false division between “corrective rape” and rape perpetrated against women in general is questioned, as is the call for rape to be declared a hate crime and a minimum sentence of 25 years imposed. Specifically, the statement states that the petitions seem silent on other forms of violence experienced by lesbians, including harassment, assault and murder as well as violence targeted against transgendered persons, gay men and other marginalised groups. Finally, the statement questions the inflated figures and statistics in the petitions and notes that there is no specific hate crime legislation in South Africa. It is noted that “a context such as South Africa, where progressive legislation and extreme levels of gender violence co-exist, poses particular challenges and hard questions to LGBTI and gender activists.”
I must admit that when I first noticed the petitions in question, I did feel that they were specifically sensationalist but I wonder about this statement too. I saw the petition on the Change.org website which has reported success in various petitions in the past. It must be considered that anyone can post a petition about any issue about which they feel strongly. Many of these people are not directors of organisations such as The Triangle Project and they are often neither educated or educators. They are simply lay people like myself who want to make a difference. Many websites for organisations such as The Triangle Project encourage people to volunteer, but beyond that few give concrete advice as to how one can make a real difference by spreading knowledge, adopting certain practices and beliefs and being an ambassador for social responsibility in general.
I will say just one final thing though. I went to university in Johannesburg, South Africa. I will never forget sitting in the courtyard of our residence when a black man approached a black, lesbian woman and stated, in front of about fifty onlookers, that he would like to “rape the lezzie out of” her (on that occasion, several people came forward to assist her). I’m not being specifically naive or privileged, nor am I trying to portray that woman as a voiceless victim, but the one thing these petitions did do in the past couple of months is to illustrate that these types of attitudes are alive and well in South Africa, years after I witnessed them.