CAPE TOWN (AFP) – Gay African asylum seekers struggle to find work and battle homophobic discrimination in South Africa, the continent’s only nation to allow same-sex marriage, a report showed Tuesday.
Interviews with 25 Africans by a Cape Town NGO found that 90 percent were jobless and that nearly all felt unsafe because of their sexuality or gender identity despite having fled their own countries to escape being targeted.
“There seems to be a lingering gap between the dreams and expectation that fuelled refugees’ journeys to South Africa and the lived experiences that they have encountered here,” said the People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP) study.
“They arrived with big hopes and dreams however, for many, those dreams have not yet been fulfilled. They anticipated a better life in South Africa, free of homophobia and hate crimes, but that has not been the case.”
Low-income townships, where shocking incidents of lesbians targeted for “corrective rape” are reported, were seen as the most dangerous areas and black and mixed-race locals seen as the most homophobic.
Strong anti-foreigner attitudes also had made integration difficult, the report said.
Negative experiences while applying for asylum were high and only 14 interviewees stated sexual orientation as a reason, despite South Africa recognising this as a basis for granting refuge.
Officials also ridiculed some of them or asked inappropriate questions.
“Sometimes they laughed at me with the interpreter and tried to persuade me to cease being gay. They wanted to know more about how I felt being attracted to people of the same sex as me,” a lesbian woman said.
The biggest reason for not finding work was discrimination, while more than half said they did not have the right documentation. Only two of the 25 had official refugee status.
A fifth of those interviewed said they traded sexual favours for money in order to survive, and nine pointed to hiding their sexual or gender identity during job interviews.
A transgender participant told of being selected for an interview where “they warned me to stop making gestures and talking like a girl. Since then, they have never called me”.
Gays have equal rights under South Africa’s constitution but levels of acceptance remain a challenge on the ground, with discrimination, harassment and violence.