In the corridors of power: SA’s LGBTI community now has a presence in Parliament

In the years immediately following democracy and up to the realisation of the Civil Union Act, LGBTI South Africans played an active role in national politics and legislation. Now, the community once again has an active, ongoing presence in Parliament to stay on top of government and lawmakers when it comes to LGBTI issues.

The groundbreaking LGBTI Parliamentary Office is an initiative of the national Love Not Hate (LNH) campaign, which works to eradicate hate crime violence and discrimination against LGBTI people, and will provide a consistent and coherent voice on a broad range of issues.

Based out of the offices of Cape Town partner organisation Triangle Project, the new programme was launched just four months ago. It aims to provide oversight in Parliament as committees meet and present updates and developments that affect the LGBTI community.

At this point, LNH is focused on attending the weekly portfolio committee meetings of the Police and Justice and Correctional Services, as these are most directly related to the pressing issue of hate crimes.

“This is a first step. While we’re currently still in the monitoring phase for now, the intention is to eventually develop a comprehensive LGBTI presence in Parliament,” commented Matthew Clayton, Research, Advocacy and Policy Manager at Triangle Project.

“This might in the near future involve disseminating some of the LNH research findings on hate crimes, for example, or making presentations to committees,” he said.

Clayton explained that the project means that LNH can build relationships with individual MPs as well as network with researchers and policy advisors. This will allow activists to better understand Parliament and to make the community’s presence more strongly felt in the legislature. LNH hopes to ultimately expand the project beyond hate crimes and into broader LGBTI issues.

“What’s already been useful about the initiative is that you now have two LGBTI organisations that have a lot more experience on how the processes work in Parliament than we had a few months ago, which is definitely going to pay off in the long run,” continued Clayton.

“This project will allow us to become an active voice in raising issues around budgeting, for example, which is one of the key problems facing the National Task Team [on LGBTI hate crimes], which doesn’t get the funding it deserves to make it successful.”

At a recent budget presentation by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Clayton learned that, “the DOJ is hundreds of millions of rands short of being able to fulfil their obligations.” This fact didn’t make the news and, without attending the presentation, LNH may not have been aware of the information, which directly affects the state’s ability to deal with hate crimes.

On a personal note, Clayton said that being part of the LNH Parliamentary Office has given him new insight and respect into Parliament’s role in overseeing government’s work.

“Many of us may perceive Parliament as a bit of a lame duck, but it’s been surprising to me to see the energy within the portfolio committees that we monitor. There is definitely a foundation there of a lot of great, hardworking people who are taking their job very seriously.”