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The price of exclusion

Business

Bokang Bane

It is with a deep concern and a call for action that I write this opinion piece on the pressing issue of economic and social exclusion faced by the LGBTIQ+ people and community in our society.

While significant progress has been made in recognising and respecting the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community, we must not forget that true equality extends beyond legal frameworks. It encompasses economic opportunities and social acceptance that are crucial for a thriving and inclusive society.

Each year on the 17th of May, the world recognises this day to address violations and inequalities targeted at millions of people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.

International Day Against LGBTQIA+ Discrimination (IDAHOBIT) is an important day because it is the day that homosexuality and gender diversity were no longer pathologised – it is the anniversary of when WHO removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases.

In the 1980s, gender diversity was regarded as a mental health condition. While we celebrate this milestone and other advancements in LGBTQIA+ equality, the realities and experiences of many queer individuals remain painful and unbearable.

The exclusion of LGBTIQ+ community from economic and social spheres carries a heavy price for both the affected people and society as a whole. First and foremost, it deprives talented people of opportunities to contribute to the workforce and the economy.

When skilled people are sidelined due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expressions, we lose the potential for innovation, creativity, and productivity that could benefit society as a whole. It is disheartening to think of the countless contributions and talents that go untapped because of discrimination and exclusion.

Furthermore, economic exclusion perpetuates cycle of poverty and marginalisation within the LGBTIQ+ community. Studies have consistently shown that LGBTIQ+ people face higher rates of unemployment, lower wages, and limited access to education and healthcare compared to their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts.

The University of Cape Town in partnership with the People’s Matrix Association recently did a study, ‘Are we doing alright?’. The study highlights lived experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming people, who often experience discrimination and violence and how that reflects on equity imparities.

Of the 57 transgender and gender non-conforming people in the study, less than half (49 percent) were employed, four in five (81 percent) said they did not have enough funds to cover their everyday basic needs.

One quarter (27 percent) had hidden health concerns from their healthcare providers because they could not disclose their gender identities. The study also suggests that transgender and non-conforming people are at a higher risk of mental health challenges compared to the ‘general population’ – between half and two-thirds (67 percent) showed signs of depression. This statistic is only the tip of the iceberg.

Systematic exclusion traps people in a cycle of economic disadvantage, hindering their ability to thrive and contribute fully to society. It is a senseless waste of human potential and capital and a detriment to our collective progress.

Social exclusion, on the other hand, breeds an environment of fear, shame, and isolation. When LGTIQ+ people are marginalised and stigmatised, they face mental health challenges (as highlighted in the study), higher rates of substance abuse, and an increased risk of self-harm and suicide. One in three transgender women (33 percent) and one in six transgender men (16 percent) and three in five gender nonconforming people (60 percent) have attempted suicide.

We continue with business as usual as if these numbers are not worrying.

The consequences of social exclusion extend beyond the individual lives and impact the overall well-being of society. We must strive for a society that embraces diversity, where all people can live authentically and without fear, fostering a sense of belonging, acceptance, understanding, and respect.

To combat this grave issue, we need a multifaceted approach that involves the government, civil society, and society at large. Legislators must enact laws that protect the rights of LGBTIQ+ persons, in all aspects of life, including employment, healthcare, business, and education.

It is crucial to establish robust anti-discrimination measures and enforce them rigorously to ensure employers, service providers, and institutions are held accountable for any acts of prejudice or exclusion.

While 100 days have long passed, the silence of the government has become so loud. Not once since the election campaign has the ruling party mentioned the LGBTIQ+ community.  The ruling party’s manifesto and its guiding values gave us the impression that they strongly believe in the fundamental rights of each and every citizen, including the LGBTIQ+ community – in a set of core values that include;

  • Freedom and liberty of all individuals,
  • Honesty and integrity in governance,
  • Equal opportunities for all,
  • Human rights balanced with civic duty,
  • Proactive progress and continuous reform.

What does this mean in the context of LGBTIQ+ individuals?

  • These values extend to the legal protection and recognition of the LGBTIQ+ community.
  • This means their commitment to promoting honest conversations about challenges faced by the community
  • Strive to create an environment where LGBTIQ+ individuals can be open about their experiences and have their voices heard.

The ruling party believes in equal opportunities for all individuals, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. This means they should be working towards eliminating discrimination and creating a level playing field for LGBTIQ+ individuals in various aspects of life including, employment, education, and healthcare.

If this is true, they should be supporting policies that ensure LGBTIQ+ individuals are afforded the same rights and opportunities as their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts.

Human rights balanced civic duty – this gave us the impression that the ruling party recognizes the importance of protecting human rights. This protection includes advocating for laws and regulations that safeguard LGBTIQ+ rights, such as anti-discrimination legislation, hate crime laws, and legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

Commitment to progress and proactive reform in all areas of society also means improving legal protection and recognition – revising existing laws that discriminate against the community and introducing new legislation to ensure equal rights and opportunities.

The ruling party’s values of freedom, honesty and integrity, human rights, and progress are the foundations on which to approach legal protection and recognition and strive to create a society that respects and supports the LGBTIQ+ community by ensuring that their rights and dignity are upheld.

Moreover, businesses and organizations must actively promote diversity and inclusion in their workplaces. By creating inclusive environments and policies, they can tap into the immense talent pool that exists within the LGBTIQ+ community.

Companies that champion diversity not only enhance their productivity but also set an example for others to follow, fostering a more inclusive society.

Lastly, as people, we much challenge our own biases and prejudices. Education and awareness play a vital role in dismantling stereotypes and fostering empathy and acceptance. By engaging in dialogue, and supporting LGBTIQ+ rights organisations, we can actively contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society.

It is time to recognise that the price of exclusion is far too high to ignore. Economic and social exclusion of LGBTIQ+ persons perpetuates inequality and stifles progress.

Let us work together to build a society where diversity is celebrated, where every individual thrives economically and socially regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Only by ending exclusion we can truly realise the full potential of our society and create a future of equality and prosperity for all.

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