2 min

Supporting South African lesbians

Vancouver's lesbian softball league reaches out

South Africa's Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) was started by black lesbians to push for visibility, despite the considerable danger of being targeted, says program coordinator Phindi Malaza. Credit:

“I’m a softball player first,” says Morgan Camley, co-chair of Vancouver’s fastpitch Mabel League, which recently announced it would make a $2,000 donation to the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) soccer club in South Africa.

“We are the largest queer league in Vancouver, and we have a responsibility to leverage some of that size,” Camley says, when asked why the softball league donated the money. 

“FEW is all about using sports to raise the visibility of lesbian women, and that is something we really wanted to support,” Camley explains. “When we asked our membership, it was unanimous; there was no question that we should be supporting their work.”

“FEW was started by black lesbians who saw the need to create a safe space for lesbian women, especially those coming from the townships experiencing discrimination and violence based on their sexual orientation,” says Phindi Malaza, program coordinator for the non-profit organization based in Johannesburg. 

According to FEW’s website, a woman is raped in South Africa every 26 seconds, and many are targeted for their sexual orientation. Zoliswa Nkonyana was murdered by a mob of 20 men in 2006. Sizakele Sigasa and Solome Masooa were partners who were tortured, raped and shot in the head in 2007. Eudy Simelane was a South African international women’s footballer who was gang raped, beaten, stabbed 25 times and murdered in 2008. Noxolo Nogwaza, a member of the Pride organizing committee, was stoned to death in 2011. 

“The attacks and murders targeted at lesbians have us always worried about our safety when we are outside of our homes. Fear is something that is constantly with us, especially now that attacks don’t always happen in the streets. Recently, there have been instances of gay men being killed in their homes,” Malaza says. “When we hold events or do media interviews, it is a risk and dangerous because then we can be identified by those who are homophobic and we become targets for hate crimes. However, we need to ensure that we increase the visibility of lesbian women in spite of the challenges that come with that.”

“There is an occasional level of drama in queer sports,” says Camley, “but the situation in South Africa puts it in perspective. People there are trying to play sports and have the risk of getting gang raped. At FEW and with the Mabel League, we are similar in that we are using sport to increase visibility. In a different context, we are all working hard to build community, but we have a much easier time because we don’t face the same degree of violence. We want to share our good fortune with FEW.” 

“It motivates us to know that we have the support of queer teams in Canada,” says Malaza. “Learning about people from different countries with common goals and sharing experiences gives us courage.”

“It is very difficult to find support for queer sports,” she adds. “The financial donations make it possible for the games to take place.”

The gift from the Mabel League will be used for FEW’s upcoming Peg Grey women’s soccer tournament, an annual event. “The overall aim of the tournament is to raise consciousness on violations against women, especially hate crimes against black lesbians in South African townships,” Malaza explains. “When we do sports, we become part of the game like everyone else; we are not judged on our sexual orientation, but on our ability as athletes. It also unites us as lesbians because we form a bond as a family, and it helps us forget the homophobic attitudes we face when we leave the field.”

“Softball allows us the chance to be out and be activists about it, and now we can do something to support other leagues as well,” Camley says. “We’ve moved from being just a sports league to focusing on community.”