A new study provides a snapshot of what life is like for young lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered and intersex people (LGBTIs) in South Africa today, 17 years after the advent of democracy.

The report, titled Out of the Box: Queer Youth in South Africa Today, was commissioned by Atlantic Philanthropies and written by Marian Nell and Janet Shapiro.

Their findings are based on interviews with young LGBTIs across race, class and gender.

The authors say that they sought to discover if “democracy brought the greater tolerance and celebration of diversity enshrined in the Bill of Rights” and “is life better today for young LGBTIs than in 1994?”

According to the study’s foreword, they found a contradictory reality: “Young LGBTIs are exposed to the same challenges as most South African youth – but these are made worse by continuing homophobia at home, at school, in churches and in society at large, despite the social changes of the recent past.

“Young LGBTIs continue to experience isolation and are prone to disproportionate rates of mental illness, suicide, and alcohol and drug abuse, when compared to heterosexual youth. Government youth development polices have largely failed to address homophobia.”

The comprehensive report looks at areas including coming out, seeking support in the community, LGBTI organisations, progressive religion, love, marriage and children, queer activism, setting up and running a youth group and advice for educators and leaders.

Nell and Shapiro say that one positive they found was the growth of an organised LGBTI community and organisations that provide safe spaces, support and services to young LGBTIs.

The report made four key findings:

    Out In Africa Film Festival audience in Kimberley
    (Pic: Fanney Tsimong & Nhlanhla Ndaba)

    • LGBTI youth are not making themselves visible enough and the world they live in conspires, usually unintentionally, to make them invisible.

    • LGBTI youth face challenges that are peculiar to their community and need specific attention – but they also confront the hardship experienced by all young South Africans and share their needs.

    • LGBTI youth are finding support in the community and, where it does not exist, creating it for themselves.

    • LGBTI youth have a sense of agency and see themselves as contributing to a future South Africa characterised by respect for diversity and human rights for all.

“Youth LGBTI groups are springing up on university campuses, and in townships and rural towns around the country. A new landscape is emerging, in which the post-apartheid LGBTI generation can live more fulfilled lives,” said the authors.

They added: “Young LGBTIs are more easily able to articulate their legitimate aspirations: to have unencumbered fun, to ‘have lived and loved’, to marry their partners and to have families.”

Download the report in PDF format here.

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