South Africa has been widely praised for its constitution, which is the only one in the world which specifically guarantees the rights of gays and other sexual orientation minorities.
But South Africa's government is failing to protect black lesbians and transgender men, according to a new Human Rights Watch report.
"The threat of violence that dominates the lives of lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender men, particularly in poorer and non-urban areas, beggars belief," said Dipika Nath of Human Rights Watch.
"South Africa, at the forefront of the fight for legal equality on LGBT issues internationally, is desperately failing lesbian and transgender people in their everyday lives at home," she said.
The 93-page report, “‘We’ll Show You You’re a Woman’: Violence and Discrimination Against Black Lesbians and Transgender Men,” is based on more than 120 interviews conducted in six provinces.
Human Rights Watch found that poor black lesbians and transgender men face extensive discrimination and violence in their daily lives, both from private citizens and government officials. The abusers of people known or assumed to be lesbian, bisexual, or transgender act with near-total impunity, Human Rights Watch found.
The lives of township gays contrast with those of urban, wealthy, often white gay South Africans who have turned parts of some cities into liberal havens. Gay pride parades are held annually in Johannesburg and Cape Town, which reaches out to gay tourists from around the world. Next year, an international pageant for gay men will be held in Johannesburg.
South Africa is the only African country that allows same-sex marriage, but violence is widespread in the townships against openly homosexual people.
South Africa's townships are rife with cases of "corrective rape" by men who believe they can change black lesbians' sexual orientation by assaulting, beating and raping them. Often the lesbian is murdered.
Two years ago a man was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a lesbian activist and football player who had been gang-raped and robbed.
Human Rights Watch urges President Jacob Zuma to publicly condemn gender-based violence and affirm the constitutional principles of equality and non-discrimination for all.