On paper, South Africa is a beacon of LGBTQ+ rights. It is the first country in the world to enshrine protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in the most progressive constitution of its time. It is the fifth country in the world (and only nation on the African continent) to legalise same sex marriage in 2006.
However, there is an awkward disparity between the noble aspirations of our post-apartheid policies and the lived experiences of ordinary South Africans, where misconception of LGBTQ+ issues and vilification of LGBTQ+ individuals are all-too-common.
The two sides of this coin are illustrated by a 2015
In addition, traditional concepts of masculinity often result in homophobic violence and abuse, with 44% of LGBTQ+ South Africans
That being said, this gloomy picture is not my personal experience. Living in an affluent, historically white neighbourhood in Cape Town, I rarely have to think twice about being out in public. I live in the Gay Capital of Africa, with dedicated nightclubs, film festivals and pride events. I hold my husband’s hand while walking down bustling streets. On our way to work, he drops me at the entrance to the Roche site; I get a goodbye peck on the cheek. I openly speak about our day to day marital life at work.
This comfort to be so visible is in part due to Roche’s commendable culture of inclusivity. In part it is due to my familiarity with South Africa’s progressive anti-discrimination legal framework, which gives me recourse as an LGBTQ+ employee.
Mostly it is because I am a white, upper middle class, cisgender man, and the social clout that it produces is carried like a shield. I am privileged to live in a social bubble where being gay is a non-issue. This is not so for many black, poor or even homeless LGBTQ+ individuals who are also part of 'gay-friendly' Cape Town.
It is ironic that I have a voice, rather than more socially disadvantaged LGBTQ+ individuals who are desperate to be heard. My Out and Proud life is easy, boring even, and for that I am thankful.
The most discrimination I face are occasional whispers of 'moffie' (an Afrikaans gay slur) from passers-by, and for that I’m also thankful, because I forgive their ignorance and move on, unaffected. I hear stories of less fortunate communities just outside my social bubble, where vocal taunts of 'moffie' are often preludes to harassment and violence.
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