Two sides of the coin

William works as a Research and Early Development Senior Scientist at Roche Diagnostics in Cape Town, South Africa. He shares how his country has a splintered attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community.

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 2015which reported that while 51% of South Africans believe that gay people should have the same human rights, a disheartening 72% feel that same-sex activity is morally wrong. This is perhaps not unexpected as South African society, while diverse and complex, is overwhelmingly religious, patriarchal and morally conservative.

In addition, traditional concepts of masculinity often result in homophobic violence and abuse, with 44% of LGBTQ+ South Africansto experience verbal, physical and/or sexual abuse in their daily lives due to their sexual orientation. Clearly, constitutional protection makes little difference when you are threatened with corrective rape or gay bashing, or when you are abandoned by friends and family under the guise of 'love the sinner, hate the sin'.

Different personal experience

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.

Stories of Open and proud, our diverse culture makes us stronger

See all stories

This website contains information on products which is targeted to a wide range of audiences and could contain product details or information otherwise not accessible or valid in your country. Please be aware that we do not take any responsibility for accessing such information which may not comply with any legal process, regulation, registration or usage in the country of your origin.

ContactLocationslinkedinfacebooktwitterinstagramyoutubeCovid-19Pharma solutionsRoche careersMedia libraryAnnual Report 2023Privacy policyLegal statement