Liesl Theron: Making South Africa A Better Place for LGBTI Persons
South Africa is generally regarded as a “safe haven” for LGBTI Africans who flee from persecution and violence in their home countries. Same-sex marriages are legal in South Africa, and the nation’s post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Yet despite these breakthroughs, LGBTI continue to face discrimination and violence in South Africa.
Meet Liesl Theron, who works daily to protect the rights of transgender, transsexual, and nonconforming persons in South Africa. Liesl co-founded Gender DynamiX, with her former partner (who is a trans man), the country’s first civil society organization focusing on the needs of trans persons. Gender DynamiX offers help and guidance to those who seek to transition—or adjust to, without making physical changes—the gender role assigned to them at birth.
Liesl’s innovative work is gaining international recognition. Liesl travels globally, including to many Africa countries and the United States, to speak about trans concerns on health, sexuality, and reproductive rights. Liesl has also penned articles in various books and journals. Gender DynamiX’s own library of publications is growing under her watch: grab a copy of TRANS: Transgender Life Stories from South Africa on Amazon today and read the amazing firsthand accounts of transgender experiences.
In 2010, Gender DynamiX partnered with a Ugandan organization, Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development (SIPD), to launch an exchange program between activists and organizations from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, and Uganda. Before this project was launched, SIPD’s Director Julius Kaggwa received our 2010 Human Rights Award for his coalition work against the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill
In January of this year, Gender DynamiX and SIPD teamed up with Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA), an organization headed by Tebogo Nkoana, to form a new coalition called Transitioning Africa. Through their on-the-ground and international advocacy and education work, Liesl, Julius, and Tebogo make sure that amid the broad range of LGBTI issues, the “T” and the “I” are not overlooked.
Last year, the government of South Africa decided that it was time its foreign policy reflected its commitment to gay rights at home. At the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the South African delegation introduced the first-ever UN resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons. By a vote of 23 to 19, the resolution was adopted, setting an international standard on opposing the discrimination of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex people.
Although the debate at the U.N. will continue for many years to come, South Africa’s side in this struggle is clear. The success of South Africa’s calls for global equality will continue to be dependent on the country’s own civil society—and on groups like Gender DynamiX that champion the notion that LGBT rights deserve equal footing with other human rights.