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Recent Murders of Lesbians in Venezuela, South Africa Point to Hate Crimes

May 3, 2011

The recent suspicious deaths of two lesbians have international human rights activists calling for prosecutors to charge the perpetrators with hate crimes.

The recent suspicious deaths of two lesbians—one in Venezuela, one in South Africa—have international human rights activists calling for prosecutors to charge the perpetrators with hate crimes.

In Porlamar, Venezuela, a woman named Petra Maria Rojas died after being attacked by a knife-wielding stranger as she walked hand-in hand with her partner, Yuli Betnacourt. The crime follows the April 2011 discovery in Caracas of two transgender prostitutes, apparently murdered. In January, two young gay men were found shot and beheaded, also in Caracas.

Local LGBT activists are fighting the battle for safety and quality on two fronts: fighting homophobia and violence through education, and convincing the police to investigate complaints against the LGBT community. Both are uphill struggles. Said Johan Leon, director general of Zulia Life for Action in Zulia State, “we’re not just talking typical offensive words officials use when referring to homosexuals, but of beatings” when gays courageously report violence against them. Human Rights activist Yonathan Matheus echoes Leon’s experience, adding that police enforce “suffering, death, social exclusion and…disproportionate force” when handling complaints. Both activists spoke to Paul Canning of the Web site LGBT Asylum News.

Some media critics, however, noticed that newspaper reports of Petra Maria Rojas’ death avoided the “lesbo-homo-transphobic” tone previously common in stories about the LGBT community.

In South Africa, Human Rights Watch has denounced the murder of lesbian activist Noxolo Nogwaza as a clear bias attack. Nogwaza was beaten with stones and stabbed in KwaThema township, east of Johannesburg, on April 24.

Despite South Africa’s gay-friendly image and its legalization of same-sex civil rights, the country suffers from an epidemic of so-called “corrective rape.” Groups of men sexually assault lesbians, or women they perceive as lesbians, to “teach them a lesson” or force them into abuse to “cure” them of homosexuality. “Nogwaza’s death is the latest in a long series of sadistic crimes against lesbians, gay men and transgender people in South Africa,” Human Rights Watch researcher Dipika Nath told BBC News.

This recent crime is eerily similar to the murder of Eudy Simelane, a well-known lesbian soccer player who was also raped and killed in KwaThema township in 2007. Activists blamed the culture of “corrective rape” in her case, though prosecutors claimed her sexual orientation had no bearing on the verdict. Two people were sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

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