Gender non-comformity and LGBTI

Gender non-conformity

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is often used in response to a perceived threat against dominant masculine gender norms. People who do not fit into traditional gender categories are targeted, for instance those who display assertive femininity or homosexuality. In a patriarchal setting, these categories are put on a scale of acceptable gendered behaviour from ‘hegemonic masculinity’ at the top, and ‘emphasised femininity’ at the bottom. For instance, machismo and bravery are characteristics of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ while being dainty or shy are characteristics of ‘emphasised femininity’. Those that challenge or threaten that scale are then punished, ‘othered’ and stigmatised. This happens when men and women don’t act according to strict gender norms, but also when they cross sexuality lines – LGBTI persons in particular are victims of SGBV because they are perceived to cross both gender and sexuality lines.

Homophobia and heterosexism

Homophobia often stems from fear or misunderstanding about the ‘threat’ that LGBTI persons pose against gender and sexual norms, and often manifests itself as SGBV. Further, there is a lot of misunderstanding of the abuse that exists in lesbian and gay relationships – where abusive power relations exist beyond the victim’s and perpetrator’s gender. One in four lesbian or gay persons experience domestic violence in their relationships but only 1 in 200 will report the matter due to fear of discrimination, including:

  • Further abuse and ridicule by the police;
  • Torture by authorities;
  • Abuse and blackmail by medical practitioners;
  • Stigma and myths surrounding violence between partners of the same sex.

Violence against LGBTI people

Across Africa violence against LGBTI people is extremely high. SGBV committed against people who identify or who are perceived to be LGBTI is often ignored, condoned and even encouraged by policymakers and law enforcement agents – particularly in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Many men and boys are beaten and sexually assaulted to make them ‘more of a man’, while many women and girls suffer ‘corrective rape’ in order to ‘convert’ their sexual orientation. These are commonly defined as ‘hate crimes’ and are an infringement of their human rights. 

A hate crime is a crime in which the perpetrator’s conduct is motivated by hatred, bias or prejudice, based on the actual or perceived race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity of an individual or group of persons. 

A study conducted by the Equality Project found that 74 per cent of homophobic attacks in South Africa were perpetrated against lesbians, followed by transgender people (14.3 per cent). Nearly half of all victims were black (48 per cent). It is therefore very important to understand the gendered and racial inequalities that are interlinked to homophobic and transphobic attacks.

What forms of SGBV impact sexual minorities?

Physical and Interpersonal: Corrective rape, murder, bullying, harassment, blackmailing, extortion

Structural: Job loss, imprisonment, exclusion from education and employment eviction from families and communities. Many transwomen, for instance, are forced into sex work after being fired from occupations in the formal sector.