Costs of Coming Out Can Be High for SA’s LGBT Community - Huffpost

5 December 2017 - The reluctance to come out is a rational response to the community's exposure to frightening levels of violence and abuse.


By Michael Morris 

Half of South Africans think lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people should have the same human rights as everybody else. The other half are the problem.

It has to be queerest thing. South Africans are the most likely in Africa to believe that "people are born gay" -- a not especially generous 22 percent -- yet a markedly higher 34 percent within the country believe gay people "choose to be gay".

And this in a society in which an average of four out of ten lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) South Africans -- 49% if they are black -- know of someone who has been murdered "for being or suspected of being" a member of this community.

These are among the telling insights contained in the latest monthly edition of Fast Facts from the Centre for Risk Analysis at the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a special report titled "We're queer and we're here!"

The 11-page research document by IRR analyst Gerbrandt van Heerden presents a picture which is in some measure encouraging -- noting a "growing trend which points towards increasing open-mindedness" -- yet which also reveals the appalling scale of violence, abuse and discrimination experienced by a community of at least, though almost certainly greater than, 800,000 people.

We are a society, the report shows, in which six out of ten people say they know someone who is gay or lesbian. An almost identical number (61 percent) either disagree or strongly disagree that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or intersex should be a crime. And half the population (50.6 percent) either agree or strongly agree that gay and lesbian citizens should have the same human rights as everybody else.

Yet, while LGBT individuals -- 51 percent of black, 66 percent of coloured, 52 percent of Indian/Asian and 74 percent of white respondents -- "are more likely than not to be completely open about their sexuality", the willingness to be candid about who they are is far from universal.

The reluctance to "come out", Van Heerden suggests, is a rational response to the LGBT community's exposure to frightening levels of violence and abuse.

The experience of intolerance ranges from being verbally insulted or threatened with physical violence, being chased or followed or having objects thrown at them to personal property and possessions being damaged or destroyed, being punched, hit, kicked or beaten, experiencing violence or physical abuse from a family member, being sexually abused or raped, and being murdered.

Black LGBT individuals appear most likely to be victims of physical violence (8 percent, against 7 percent nationally); white individuals appear most likely to be verbally insulted (45 percent against 39 percent); and Indian/Asian individuals appear most likely to experience violence or physical abuse from a family member (11 percent against 7 percent).

Big-city living is safer: LGBT people in the Western Cape are most likely to be completely open about their sexuality (70 percent, compared to 57 percent nationally), followed by Gauteng (60 percent) -- the only two provinces above the national average. LGBT individuals in Limpopo are least likely to be open (35 percent).

The Eastern Cape emerges as the province where violence against LGBT people is most common -- 15 percent against the national average of 7 percent -- and where the highest number of respondents (48 percent) reported knowing someone who was murdered for being or suspected of being part of the LGBT community.

South Africa appears to fare better in comparison with other African countries when it comes to tolerance of LGBT people; with 67 percent of respondents demonstrating high tolerance to having LGBT neighbours, we come second to Cape Verde's 74 percent. Bottom of the class is Senegal, with just 3 percent.

Across the continent, tolerance of "homosexuals and other groups" ranks well below tolerance of ethnicity, religion, immigrants and people living with HIV/Aids.

Out of five African regions -- North, East, West, Central and Southern -- Southern Africa has the highest tolerance of homosexuals, at 32 percent, a full 20 points ahead of the least tolerant region of East Africa (12 percent).

Yet, Southern Africa's tolerance of homosexuals is far below its tolerance of ethnicity (88 percent), religion (88 percent), immigrants (74 percent) and people living with HIV/Aids (79 percent).

With good reason, Van Heerden writes: "A progressive constitution and an education system that promotes the values of the constitution, among other things, can heighten the recognition of LGBT people and their social and economic contribution."

This will be vital in stemming shameful abuses. And, intelligent South Africans can only hope, in helping many jettison their queer superstitions about elementary features of human identity.

*Morris is head of media at the IRR, a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.

Read article on Huffington Post SA here