Coming Out Day is celebrated annually on 11 October. The day celebrates the act of coming out as LGBTIAQ+ in order to promote a safe world for LGBTIAQ+ individuals to live openly and truthfully. The first Coming Out Day was celebrated on the second anniversary of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on 11 October 1988, one of the largest LGBTIAQ+ advocacy marches in history.
South Africa has had a long history of LGBTIAQ+ rights and advocacy. During Apartheid, the Immorality Act of 1957 and further amendments to the act in 1968 restricted what they termed as “unnatural or immoral sexual acts”, which was used as a euphemism for homosexual intercourse. The discriminatory legislation led to the establishment of various rights and advocacy organisations such as the Organisation of Lesbian and Gay Activists (OLGA) and the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE), later known as the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project (LGEP). These organisations also aligned themselves with anti-apartheid political groups such as the ANC and UDF. However, these groups had a limited impact on LGBTIAQ+ legislation at the time.
The Post-Apartheid era saw growth in LGBTIAQ+ rights. In 1996, the new South African Constitution made discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal, making the constitution one of the most progressive in terms of LGBTIAQ+ rights, not only in Africa but globally. In 1998, the Employment Equity Act was created to protect employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. LGBTIAQ+ rights are also protected in the South African military. The Defence Act of 2002 states that any member or employee of the Defence Force or Department who is found guilty of discriminating against someone based on their sexual orientation may be imprisoned for a maximum of five years. In 2006, the government passed the Union bill that officially legalized same-sex marriage. The act also allows same sex spouses the right to adopt children, receive alimony and make decisions on their spouse’s behalf.
Although LGBTIAQ+ rights have improved in South Africa, LGBTIAQ+ individuals still face large amounts of discrimination. OUT LGBT, an advocacy group based in Pretoria, commissioned a study entitled “Hate Crimes against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People in South Africa” in 2016, with the aim to understand the level of discrimination LGBTIAQ+ individuals face. The study found that 55% of South African LGBT individuals fear discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity while 56% of individuals aged 24 or younger had experienced discrimination at school. Furthermore, 41% of the surveyed individuals knew someone who was murdered due to their sexual orientation or gender. The studied also found that victims of discrimination and hate crimes, rarely report incidents to the police, with 88% of the victims not having spoken to the authorities.
Photo: Anotidashe Mukombachoto