Mavanga/Scars, Learning to Love Myself Again
“He did not only rape me he infected me with HIV. When he was done he took out a gun ,pointed at me and said “ if anyone hears of this l will kill you”
“I didn’t want to experience the pain of eternity in hell. I didn’t want to be despised by everyone around me. And so, l knelt by the alter, he started a conversation about church laws ,and why l should not be a lesbian. He touched my head and started speaking in tongues, that didn’t last long before he started touching my thighs and my body”
He had promised to cleanse her from lesbian evil spirits by praying for her. This is also known as conversion therapy.
A practice of sexual orientation change efforts also known as ex gay/lesbian , reparative or sexual conversion “therapy”, which involves attempts by family members, a therapist, Pastor or Sangomas to change the sexual orientation of LGBTI into being what they expect them to be. And they may do this through prayers, rape, cleansing or punishing them.
When Lerato Mokou (27) came out about her sexuality seventeen years ago, it came out as a surprise to her family and church members. Having grown up as a server in one of the church in KwaThemba ( not named) east of Johannesburg, “homosexuality and Christianity didn’t go together,” and she was taught that being straight was a ticket to heaven, and not “hell.”
“My earliest and most influential childhood memory was when l was in grade 6 in 2006, all the accepting myself being a homosexual into my heart. Did I truly know what that meant or it was all the puberty thing”.Mokou said
”Growing up, l loved drawing and l remember one day at school l went outside to sharpen my pencil, l saw this girl and l got attracted to her big breast, thus when l knew l was into girls,” she added.
Mokou said she grew up in a faith tradition that reacted with horror when one came out, she was raised in a strict, Christian household by her grandmother where homosexuality was referred as “ an abormination” to God, worthy of eternal damnation in hell”.
At home, at school and church, being lesbian was rarely acknowledged and when it was mentioned, described with contempt as the worst sin comparable to murder.
As she grew older , she finally recognised her attraction for the same gender. Praying to God every night and pleading with Him to take those feelings away didn’t work. Practically living eating and breathing the Bible didn’t work either. However she says tried repressing and denying who she was but nothing changed inside of her .
“I was taught by my pastors, parents and peers to hate myself and that worked. This haunted me growing up”.
According to Teens’s health on sexual orientation, during the teen years. It is common to wonder and sometimes worry about new sexual feelings. It takes time for many people to understand who they are and who they are becoming. Part of that involves better understanding of their own sexual feelings and who they are attracted to.
“I was still sixteen, barely months after I confided in my pastor,” Tshepo Maluleke. He was young, serving as a pastor, and a few months later I started to see questionable behavior from him. Phone calls, flirtations, casual references to meeting for prayers alone. At first, I thought my perceptions were unreliable after all, he was the youth pastor, the seminarian, l had to trust him.
In a statement on conversion therapy by Independent Forensic Expert Group (LFEG) Reparative or conversion therapy is a practice that targets LGBTQ youth and seek to change their sexual or gender identities. It is a range of practices that discredit practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Such practices have been rejected by medical and health organizations for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners conduct conversion therapy.
On the fateful day the weather was sultry hot, Mokou recalls receiving a call from Pastor Maluleke she was to meet him at church that afternoon for prayers. Quickly she prepared herself and dashed to church, she didn’t want to disappoint the man of God. Upon arrival the place was dead silent, with no sight of the pastor nor other church members, she sat by the entrance battling with her mind where everyone could be. Shortly after, Maluleke arrived, and asked her to follow him inside the church to start prayers.
Maluleke told her that the prayers would make her change her mind, furthermore cleanse her from the ungodly ways she was experiencing. The prayers were to be conducted by the church altar.
At that time, l felt uncomfortable so, l stood up, he held my feets down, l fell to the ground and before I knew it, he was on top of me. Immobilized, I wept. Seconds, possibly minutes, rolled by and I just wanted to make him stop. “He raped me in church. at the church alter”
“l am trying to correct you, isn’t this good?” he whispered into my ear”
“He blamed me for tempting him and then took out his gun, pointed it at me and said that he would kill me if I told anyone that he raped me“
Mokou also blamed herself for having cried instead of fighting him off of her.
You were just too much of a temptation for me.” He argued that sexual sins were not as significant as being a lesbian sins, because sexual temptation came “from outside of him” and not from within his character.
The most difficult part was not the rape, that act of unspeakable violation. It was, and always has been, the horror of living in a body that has been raped. she said
On his report, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Independent Expert on the report to the Human Rights Council,said that conversion therapy violated the human rights of those who were forced to undergo the practice.
“Such practices constitute an egregious violation of rights to bodily autonomy, health, and free expression of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity. Ultimately, when conducted forcibly, they also represent a breach to the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment,” the Independent Expert said.
Conversion therapy, sometimes called “ex-gay therapy” or “reparative therapy,” is the pseudoscientific and often religious practice that purports to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The contentious practice has been condemned by nearly every major medical association and has been associated with increased rates of suicide attempts. Madrigal-Borloz added.
Some religious groups and families promote the concept that individuals can change their gender or identity, either through prayer or other religious efforts, or through so called reparative or conversion therapy.
Across South Africa, LGBTQI+ Christians are coming out of the closet. For many of them, finding acceptance within the society has been a challenge for many.
Founder of Ashes to Purpose, and global faith interfaith Ambassador Reverend Nokuthula Dhladhla who is also a member of the LGTBQI+ people, said churches and society must be supportive of homosexuality instead of discriminating against LGBTQI+ individuals. Where most of these individuals have found themselves in environments that made them feel invalidated or punished because of their sexual orientation.
“ Just like we have different physical bodies, so does our sexual orientation differ. Why on earth do we then have to rape, kill, discriminate and hate those who are different from who and what we are? Why do LGBTIQ+ communities have to live in fear because other human beings think that they can change them? What is wrong with our world?,”asked Ndladla.
Zinhle Nkosi from Soweto has been finding it difficult to go to church on Sundays because she feels unwelcome as a Lesbian who is also Christian.
“I think it’s a decision I have to make every single day and every Sunday when I think of going to church,” explained Nkosi..
“You’re always trying to figure out if you should leave and go somewhere where it would be easier to make positive changes in the world rather than within a system that in some ways is trying to keep you down,” said Nkosi who was 23 years old when she told her mother that she was lesbian.
Her mother responded by sending her to reparative therapy, hoping it would convince her to be straight. Nkosi’s experience is not an isolated incident where queer young people are forced to “unbecome” who they are by ‘concerned’ parents.
Conversion practices have proven psychological and mental effects that are harmful and destructive to the people it is inflicted on, and professional organisations, such as the South African Society of Psychiatrists, have labelled them as unscientific and ineffective in altering one’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a report by Maria Sjödin, Deputy Director of OutRight Action International says the key drivers fueling “conversion therapy” practices in Africa appear to be religion, combined with family and cultural pressures. Religion was cited as a key driver by 75% of African respondents, while it was only cited by 21% of Asian respondents. Religious leaders are also the predominant perpetrators – with religious rituals and prayer being the main forms of “therapy” inflicted
While South Africa’s Constitution is celebrated across the world, gender-based violence, LGBTQI violence and femicide are endemic. Access Chapter 2 is calling for the government to enact the Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, and to undertake gender and sexuality sensitization campaigns. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Access Chapter 2 have been working on the frontlines to ensure that LGBTQI people are not forgotten
Mpho Bontse, responsible for projects at Access chapter 2 working within the space of protecting human rights of the LGBTQI community in their diversity, said they offer legal services to LGBTQI people and protect their rights. The organization is also running a three-year study project on conversion practices across the country
“Part of the project is to conceptualize part of the research that will speak on lived experiences of LGBTQI people on the matters of conversion practices.
“In this journey we spoke to homosexual people and what came out were horrible experiences of what LGBTQI people are subjected to by their families, their churches and communities”
Studies show that LGBTQ people are often conflicted. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, many feel unwelcome within most major religions and communities and are much less likely welcome in their society spaces compared to the general public.
Siphamandla Gwala is a consultant and a traditional healer. He says he hasn’t been met with judgment in both his jobs. But at the age of 20, he was rejected by his family when he told them he was gay, his father told him that he was a disgrace and even stopped paying his varsity fees.
“They forget that I did not choose any of these things. I didn’t choose to become a gay just like how I did not choose to have a calling. This is not an easy life because everyone judges you because of your sexuality. Even some clients come to me, when they hear that I am gay they act differently,” said Gwala
South Africa could become one of the growing number of countries to banthe dangerous practice of LGBTQI conversion therapy for young people. The current legislative framework under tha chils’s Act does not specifically prohibit conversion therapy on children nor does it an offence, Conversion therapy for minors is banned in a handful of countries and regions, including Germany and Malta. The Uk government also committed itself to ban and Canada’s house of commons recently passed a bill to outlaw the practice.
As of 2020, only four countries worldwide had a ban against conversion therapy. These countries are Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, and Malta. This ban is sometimes not universal. In Germany, for instance, it is only forbidden to practice conversion therapy to people under 18 years, and on adults under coercion or who are unable to consent.
“This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Gender Justice Reporting Initiative.”