Being homosexual is still considered to be socially taboo in certain homes, religions, and societies. As a result of cruel and inappropriate social standards, some people end up switching careers or moving out of their neighbourhoods or homes. Some even end up being murdered because of their LGBTQIA+ status.
Those who identify as LGBTIQA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer, asexual) in South Africa are granted the same legal protection and civil liberties as those who do not have these identities.
However, even in the health sector, medical professionals of the LGBTIQA+ community sometimes do not feel they are treated the same, especially when treating patients.
At peace with himself
Sihle Skele, an openly gay man, works at Sterkspruit’s Empilisweni District Hospital in the Eastern Cape. He is open about his homosexuality. He believes it is unnecessary to explain his sexuality to others, especially when they have their own beliefs.
“It’s a little bit simpler for me to interact with the community and my co-workers when I’m simply open or free about who I am.”
Skele believes that by exuding a peaceful, amicable, and welcoming aura, he also makes him more acceptable to the people he meets outside of work.
He says there are times and days when the local population (certain patients) make him feel uneasy by gazing at him or making rude remarks about the way he carries himself or walks.
He says he is fortunate to work with kind and hospitable people. If his colleagues behaved like some patients, he says, it would create a depressing scenario and a toxic work environment.
Skele adds that, as a person who identifies as LGBTQIA+, he believes it is essential for him to respect others for living their own choices, so that he may gain their respect in return. Thus far, this method has been beneficial.
Education for society is necessary
According to Zintle Khobeni De Lange, founder and chairperson of The Great people of South Africa (TGPSA) organisation, as a society South Africans has a duty to promote an inclusive society since the Constitution is based on equality, dignity, and freedom.
“We get to mark the month of March as a Human Rights month. This is while the LGBTQIA+ community continues to face discrimination from society, in the workplace and in their families, and in the healthcare sector.”
She explains that it is important to educate the government, healthcare personnel, and society, as well as discourage stigma, prejudice, and systematic inequities in healthcare settings which prevent LGBTQIA+ persons from getting the support and treatment they need, she says.
“Education and awareness effort can make healthcare, including mental health care more equitable and inclusive for people of all sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.”
It is critical to increase the education of healthcare service providers since some professionals practice use their personal views to discriminate against LGBTIQIA+ people based on their religious or cultural beliefs, adds Khobeni De Lange.
Living your truth
Sandile Radebe, a student counsellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says many parents worry that their children might mimic sexuality if they were exposed to people living their truth openly in public.
“We have seen how society treats people of the LGBTI+ community. UMzali ubanokuthi, (a parent would think) I cannot have ingane yam (my child) treated that way. Therefore, most parents project something similar to hate due to those reasons.
“Some people would say it’s demonic. Many parents and many people, in general, do not want to be associated with that. I used to believe it’s the fear of the unknown, but it’s the fear of the actual known effects of coming out.”
Parents also need to be educated
When society sees someone coming from a particular profession and they find out they are gay, in their minds, they assume that since they used to look up to their teachers, nurses and other professionals, their children can be exposed negatively to the same sexuality choices, adds Radebe.
“There’s a lot of education that needs to take place in order for people to understand that actually, this is not something contagious. We were born different; we are different in nature. And gay people will not influence their children into becoming gay.”
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