A transgender pageant winner was brutally murdered in South Africa, leaving gay activists in the Northern Cape region in a state of fear and panic.
Thapelo Makhutle, the 24-year-old winner of the local Miss Gay pageant, was found murdered in his home, according to the LEGBO Northern Cape gay rights advocacy group that Makhutle volunteered with. He had formerly identified as homosexual, but recently begun to identify as transgender. His body was found mutilated: his genitals were cut off and stuffed into his mouth and his head was nearly severed from his body. Prior to the killing, he was seen by witnesses arguing with two men about his sexual orientation. Gay activists are calling for the murder to be treated like a hate crime.
“We and his family are just devastated,” said LEGBO Director Shaine Griqua. “This has a very negative impact on the gay community here. Many live in fear and are afraid for their security. Now it is worse. We are trying to counsel them through this fear crisis.”
The scene showed signs of forced entry, according to ABC – the murderers broke down the door to Makhutle’s bedroom in order to kill him Northern Cape police told the South African Press Association that they’re still searching for suspects. In addition to being crowned Miss Gay Kuruman, Makhutle recently participated in the Kimberley Out in Africa Gay and Lesbian Festival.
“He was a friend you could always count on to cheer you up and help you get through any difficult time,” said Griqua. “He was openly gay. He was proud of who he was and believed that freedom in South Africa was attainable.”
Though South Africa’s constitution does offer protection against discrimination related to one’s sexual orientation (and is the only African country to do so), many homosexuals still face prejudice and violence. Keletile Mabilo, said the entire gay community is living under heightened fear following the killing.
“I was attacked because of my sexuality in February this year during which I was bitten on my left cheek. I stay in the village where my door does not lock properly and I am afraid of going to the college where I am a student. The Kuruman community is not very tolerant of gay, lesbian and transgender people although there are about a hundred of us living here,” said Mabilo. “We need visible policing and a satellite police station set up in rural areas such as Bankhara and the Seoding village where these crimes are common.”
LEGBO is organizing a march for justice before a memorial service on Friday afternoon.