SANDF stance on LGBT soldiers under investigation

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Evidence gathered, under oath, by Sandu (SA National Defence Union) looks set to pave the way for yet another round of legal action, with the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) this time having to defend its stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) soldiers.

While the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Sandu Western Cape organiser Tim Flack maintains this is being flouted in the ranks of at least one military unit.
“I have evidence, given under oath, that the officer commanding 9 SA Infantry Battalion in Cape Town has told gay and lesbian members he would never recommend them for service because of their sexual orientation.
“We also have evidence from senior officers describing how gay soldiers are humiliated during selection because of their sexual orientation,” he said adding SANDF policy, legislation and the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The military trade union is collaborating with the Triangle Project, a human rights organisation advocating for the rights of LGBT people, in preparation for a legal challenge.
“We plan not only to charge the Officer Commanding of the specific unit but will submit a complaint to the SA Human Rights Commission in a combined effort to make it clear there is no place for homophobia in the SANDF,” Flack said adding Sandu and the Triangle Project were receiving more complaints about the way in which LGBT soldiers are being discriminated against since the joint investigation started.

Triangle Project’s Ingrid Lynch said the 9 SAI incident appeared to be an example of relatively progressively policy and legislation failing LGBT soldiers when it comes to on-the-ground implementation.
“Research has documented human rights violations of LGBT soldiers under apartheid in the South African Defence Force (SADF), including reports of gay soldiers being subjected to electric shock aversion therapy to purportedly ‘convert’ them to heterosexuality.
“Following the change of dispensation the SANDF adopted the White Paper on National Defence in 1996, which in line with the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This was followed in 1998 by the promulgation of a Policy on Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, which states the SANDF cannot question recruits about their sexual orientation and that the SANDF is ‘officially unconcerned’ about the lawful sexual behaviour of its members.
“As long as members of the SANDF continue to experience abuse and discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, these policies remain paper rights and offer little real protection or recourse for LGBT people,” she said.

Lynch is also concerned about the extent to which LGBT SANDF members who attempt to speak out about abuse and discrimination are silenced. “From the affidavits currently being collected it is clear members attempted to use internal reporting channels but no further investigation took place.”