Caster Semenya in Berlin on Wednesday.
(Pic: Michel Langeveld)

Two South African gay organisations have slammed the way that the Caster Semenya gender fracas has been handled by the media.

Gender DynamiX, the South African transgender rights organisation, warned that the “media witch hunt on Semenya will lead to hate crimes”.

It described the attention on the gold medallist’s sex as a “shameless orgy” and said: “Instead of being proud of our champion the South African media and public is on a witch-hunt trying to define Semenya’s sex. DJs on radio are dissecting Semenya’s person to a point of reducing her accomplishments to her genitals.”

Semenya won gold in the 800m at the World Athletics championships in Berlin on Wednesday under suspicion that she might not be a woman. This despite assurances from her family and the South African Athletics Federation that she is indeed female.

Gender DynamiX said that it believes that the spate of recent hate crimes in South Africa, especially against black lesbians, are not only rooted in sexual orientation but also in gender identity.

“… when confronted by people who challenge our perceptions of masculinity or femininity, we react with anger and fear. This is the daily reality for many South Africans,” said the organisation.

Meanwhile the Joint Working Group (JWG) – a network of the county’s LGBT groups – also issued a statement on the Semenya issue.

“We are deeply disturbed that questions around her gender have taken prominence away from her performance throughout the international media and condemn utterly the demand from the International Association of Athletics Federations that she should undergo gender testing,” said the organisation.

The JWG further suggested that the international attention on the Semenya had its roots in racism and compared her situation to that of Saartjie Baartman who was forcefully removed to Europe in the 1800’s and became a figure of curiosity and disgust to the people she was paraded in front of.

“That the IAAF chose to reveal that a gender test had been requested before her race thereby forcing her to run under a media storm was disgraceful. It is against the IAAFs own rules to comment on athletes being tested for drugs related offences before the outcome of the test is known, there seems to be no good reason why the same courtesy was not extended to Caster,” said the group.

It further noted: “The testing is invasive, insulting, based on a very limited and questionable understanding of what constitutes a woman and has no place in modern sport.”

The JWG expressed its solidarity with Caster and applauded Athletics South Africa and other South African sports bodies for throwing their full support being her, adding “We hope this support will be maintained regardless of the results of the gender inquisition to which Caster is to be subjected”.

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