According to Statista, homosexuality is illegal in 32 African countries. While this is not the case in South Africa, where same sex marriage and joint child adoption is legal, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Queer, Intersexual, Asexual+ (LGBTQIA+) community in the country still experiences high levels of systematic discrimination and societal exclusion based on their sexual orientation.

It is this backdrop which inspired the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (DTHF) to establish a unit dedicated to addressing challenges faced by this population group. The DTHF LGBT division, based at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, aims to promote equitable access to appropriate and affirming healthcare for LGBTQIA+ populations through research, community engagement and advocacy.

The team recently hosted advocacy days in the Central Karoo, where they brought together the LGBTQIA+ community, government, civil society and service providers in Beaufort West and Prince Albert to discuss challenges faced by this community, and how stakeholders can work together to address these.

“Stigma is a very real and serious problem for the LGBTQIA+ population. Not only is this group often shunned by their own communities and loved ones; they also have to deal with lack of access to services which the heterosexual community has access to. They are often victimised and discriminated against when seeking help such as basic health care at clinics, which results in them avoiding these places and suffering in silence,” said Lynn Bust, Project Manager for the LGBT division at DTHF.

The event was officially opened by Beaufort West Mayor, Ashley Sauls, who pledged his support for the LGBTQIA+ community and vowed to help in the fight against discrimination.

Also in attendance were the Central Karoo’s Departments of Health, Education and Social Development who acknowledged the significant role that the local government and the individual departments play in the journey to ending service discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community and providing support in their quest for system and social acceptance.

The advocacy days were the start of a conversation which the DTHF plans to continue as the organisation, in partnership with various stakeholders, works to find solutions to the issues raised.

“We are carrying on with the discussion following the advocacy events and are tapping into our established networks to find appropriate ways and processes to follow in the fight for recognition and respect for the LGBTQIA+ community and their rights as equal members of society,” said Bust.