Yesterday I posted about the brutal rape and murder of Noxola Nogwaza in South Africa. A week ago a transgender woman, Chrissy Lee Polis was viciously beaten outside a Baltimore MacDonalds by two teenage girls after Ms Polis tried to use the women’s toilet. The beating was video taped and showed only one person tried to help. The rest did nothing and in some cases stood by and laughed. This is how Ms Polis described what happened.
“I wanted to go use the bathroom and the guy told me that I needed to order something before I had to use the bathroom. Well, by the time I got there I was really needing to use the bathroom. So a guy approached me and asked me how I was doing, so I said ‘not now.’ I went to go use the bathroom. Come back out and the girl spit in my face and she approached me, she said, ‘Are you trying to talk to my man?’ I said, ‘No, I didn’t even know that was your man at all. So the other girl came up and spit in my face and they started ripping my hair, throwing me on the floor, kicking me in my face.”
Activists in the US have been holding discussions on how to create safer communities for LGBTIQ; the role of the police and criminal justice system in combatting the violence; and aggressive policing in communities of colour. I tried to take their responses to see how they would work in a South African context. Obviously they cannot be packaged and flown across the Atlantic, but I do think the thought process behind the suggestions are worth following especially in prevention and working with communities. In the case of young Black lesbians, working with young boys in their early teens and feminist men to somehow try to break the cycle of violence before it reaches yet another generation.
This requires resources and collaboration between different groups as well as the government addressing issues such as housing, employment and health care – all of which were part of the press statement issued by Abahlali Shackdwellers on the 17th anniversary of South Africa’s independence. Its worth asking, if the girls and women who were being murdered and raped with such frequency were middle class Blacks or whites, would the criminal justice system, the government, the politicians react any differently?
It is so sad to still hear and see that seventeen years after the end of apartheid there are millions of people who are ‘forgotten’ and yet they are being told that they are free. They are being told that they must go to the stadiums on an empty stomach to listen to politicians tell them how far they have come and then go home to a shack.
Is it true that people are free if they are still living under the fear of being evicted? Are people free if they are still living under the fear of dying in shack fires because authorities deny them their basic right to have access to electricity? Are people free if they must still fear rape? Are people free if their children are still dying from diarrhoea? Are people free if they are still living in shacks? Are people free when they are being forced into transit camps or tiny badly made houses out in the human dumping grounds?
Are people free when they vote for councillors that never come to speak to them again till the next election? Is democracy really supposed to be a system for the politicians to use the poor as ladders?
One of the issues which came out of the discussion and which stands out for me is the media coverage. Too often only the violence against LGBTIQ people is reported and hardly ever the acts of resistance and the loving communities we share. Instead we are seen as either passive survivors or after death, become the media spectacle of some horrendous act of violence. The person is then turned into an icon for a “campaign” to raise money or publicity for some cause or other that has nothing to do with their life. Suddenly they have become an object of commodification to belong to whoever desires their name. It’s sickening.
On media coverage of transgender people:
“So often our struggles aren’t covered unless we’re attacked or harmed. So it’s also really important to highlight the ways that trans people aren’t victims. We’re also resisting and fighting back and we’re building strong communities.” Continue reading