Homophobia Faces Off Against Racism in South Africa

There is no hierarchy of oppression and prejudices. Discrimination is wrong, whether it’s directed at racial minorities or sexual minorities. Indeed, the United Nations Human Rights Council sets out to promote and protect the human rights of all people, regardless of race or sexual orientation.

But Jerry Matjila, South Africa’s representative to the Human Rights Council, doesn’t see it that way. Matjila claimed that protecting gay rights “demeans the legitimate plight of the victims of racism.”

Matjila seems to be suggesting that people who face discrimination for their skin color deserve protection more than those who face discrimination for their sexual orientation.

Why does protecting one group of people from discrimination equate to any sort of insult to another group of people? There is no conflict between protecting people against racism and protecting people against homophobia, especially considering there’s a significant overlap between the two groups.

While Matjila justifies his homophobia, he is ignoring that racism and homophobia are both unjustified discrimination. Even when racism has more historical significance than homophobia in countries like South Africa, it’s equally important to combat both forms of discrimination.

But Matjila’s comments spell a seemingly larger trend in South Africa when it comes to homophobia. In December 2008, South Africa didn’t support a UN General Assembly joint statement on human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity. South Africa also voted against the inclusion of the term “sexual orientation” in the definition of unlawful killings in the General Assembly resolution on extrajudicial executions.

Matjila’s view on protecting LGBT people from discrimination is both archaic and homophobic. His attitude — and lack of support for UN efforts to protect LGBT people — has no place at the Human Rights Council. One would think that a victim of racism would understand why protecting against all sorts of discrimination is important. But, clearly, Matjila fails to comprehend basic human rights issues.

Photo credit: US Mission Geneva