Considering the policies of countries surrounding South Africa, with heads of state such as Robert Mugabe comparing homosexuals to pigs and dogs and active efforts at condemnation, rejection, and criminalization on the part of most African countries, it is surprising and heartening to find that South Africa has some of the most protections for full equality of homosexuals and heterosexuals of any nation on Earth.

It was certainly not always so. Two seperate efforts of the apartheid era government of South Africa were made to criminalize homosexuals and transvestites were made, one in 1968 and a second in 1985. Both were defeated by an upsurge of protest from homosexuals across South Africa, however beyond these brief times of unity there were no significant mass political movements and institutionalized discriminatory policies remained.

A first, and somewhat disappointing attempt was made in the formation of the Gay Association of South Africa in 1982. This group mostly served a social instead of political function. They refused to take part in apartheid opposition, made up of mostly white males, and by 1987 the movement dwindled under expulsion and condemnation from the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

Resurging resistance toward government hostility began after the failed 1985 effort to criminalize homosexuals, but this time things were done correctly. Several activist organizations sprang up, incorporating members both black and white. They melded gay rights issues with antiapartheid struggles, allying with the United Democratic Front and African National Congress, making significant contributions of time and resources to help dismantle apartheid.

When the ANC came to power in 1990, they listened to the organizations' concerns about the drawing-up of the new constitution. After struggling so long to dismantle a ghastly blight on South Africa, it would've been unfortunate not to make a clean sweep and throw off the last ideals of discrimination and government-mandated hostility. The interim constitution was the first in the world to specifically include a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Although there are still efforts being made by conservative forces to prevent legal recognition of homosexual civil unions, the picture in South Africa is still one of the most optimistic for full equality of gays, lesbians, and tranvestites in the world.

Information sourced from an article in Foreign Policy. Kovac L. Amy. "Africa's Rainbow Nation." Journal of Southern African Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, London, 2002.

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