State Department Brings South African Activist to GLAAD For Meeting

On Thursday, GLAAD was fortunate enough to meet with Phindi Malaza, the Advocacy and Programs Coordinator of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) in South Africa. She is traveling around America with the US State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program. This is Malaza's first time visiting the U.S. Before New York she was in Jackson, Mississippi, speaking with the ACLU there, as well as students and faculty at Jackson State University.

Malaza was kind enough to tell us about the background and current work of her organization. FEW was started in 2001. It is an organization of and for black lesbian women, headquarteredin Johannesburg, South Africa. Same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa since 2006, but there is still a lot of discrimination in South Africa against the LGBTI community. "We've been working around empowering people to understand their rights," Malaza said. "When people try to assert their rights there is a backlash."

She spoke about how religious institutions in South Africa often reject their LGBTI members, as well asthe prevalence of hate crimes against LGBTI people. FEW has a psychologist who comes in once a week to speak with victims and the families and friends of victims. While she understands that, "the media plays a huge role in promoting tolerance and education," she also says that media in South Africa as of yet, is still largely negative when it comes to these issues. When media sources do cover LGBTI friendly topics, she says they often get bombarded with negative feedback. Malaza also spoke a lot about the racial separation within the LGBTI community. Tolerance is more prevalent, according to Malaza, in the white LGBTI communities but issues facing black LGBTI communities are often ignored.

Malaza asked us about the history of GLAAD and the media in this country in relation to the LGBTI community. She was particularly interested in hearing about how GLAAD handles issues of faith as it relates to the LGBTI community. To answer those questions were, Ross Murray (Director of Religion, Faith and Values), who gave her a resource regarding how to speak with conflicted LGBT Christians, and Todd Clayton, (Religion, Faith and Values Intern). In addition, speaking with Malaza were myself, Aaron McQuade (Director of News and Field Media), Daryl Hannah (Director of Media and Community Partnerships) and Elliot Moore (Sports Issues Intern).

It is not often that we get the opportunity to directly chat with activists from other countries. When we do it serves as a good reminder that the fight for equal rights is not a local or even national fight, but a global one. We would like to sincerely thank the State Department for giving us the opportunity to meet with Phindi Malaza. It was a truly unique and educational experience.