Homophobia at Work - a South African perspective.

While in some parts of the world legislation is still discriminatory, the law in South Africa has changed to support the legal rights of gay people. South Africa took a global lead to include gay rights in the country’s Bill of Rights. Stemming from this, various policies and acts have been propagated to enshrine equality and non-discrimination of previously deprived populations. This includes The Employment Equity Act, which protects employees from unfair judgement based on their marginalised status.

However, while legislation has safeguarded the rights of homosexual South Africans, it has failed to change people’s perceptions of homosexuality. Being gay is still considered ‘unAfrican'. South African people hold negative attitudes towards gay individuals. In fact, 61% of South African people think that society should not accept homosexuality. Additional research indicates that 88% of South Africans believe that same-sex sexual relations are wrong.

Intolerance of homosexual people is still prevalent in society. Numerous studies show continued negative attitudes towards gay people. This extends to the workplace where gay individuals have experienced a history of discrimination. Gay employees report more unfair dismissals, fewer earnings, unfair workloads and even assault. Additionally, homosexual employees report being fearful about possible harassment when revealing their sexual orientation. The wellbeing of gay employees is also affected with discriminated-against individuals at a higher risk of anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, physical illness, and even suicide.

Research on discrimination against homosexual employees in South Africa is limited. International studies highlight the need to establish if societal homophobia extends to the workplace. Considering this and the information mentioned above, it is my view that a need exists to examine whether homosexual discrimination exists in South African organisations. This should not be an academic research exercise alone. More companies need to volunteer to pilot, create and run programs that support the rights of homosexual employees. These companies should look to being frontrunners for establishing best practice policies that the broader country can adopt. To ignore this need is to ignore the emotional and often legal needs of gay employees.

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