Home Institution

Franklin & Marshall College

Publication Date

Fall 2013

Program Name

South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights


After apartheid, South Africa created an amazingly progressive Constitution that was one of the first in the world to include gay rights. The passing of a law legalizing same-sex marriage, as well as the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act work to create a world of equality and acceptance of homosexuality, at least on paper. Unfortunately, a far different reality exists, as the failed implementation of these provisions has created a large dichotomy between Constitution and public opinion, with many individuals remaining unsupportive of gay rights. My project originally sought to explore the effects of this discrepancy through listening to the narratives of lesbian women living in Cape Town. I wanted to hear the life stories of various black and white lesbians in South Africa in order to determine whether or not they felt that the Constitution’s extremely liberal policies had actually made a positive contribution to their lives. I also wanted to explore the effects of race on the day-to-day experiences of lesbians in Cape Town, asking whether or not the women felt that they were received differently by their communities due to their skin color. In order to gather this information, I conducted interviews with two different women, one of which was a black lesbian and one of which was white. As I began conducting interviews with my participants, the objectives of the paper expanded beyond the issues of the Constitution, with a shift to obtaining individual and personal narratives of the day-to-day experiences of being lesbian in Cape Town today. Each interview was carried out as more of a guided conversation, with each participant steering the discussion in whichever way they thought best to accurately describe their experiences. I wanted each interview to be personal and specific to the individual, so the interviewees do not always focus on issues of race, violence, etc. if they feel it does not apply to their situation. The findings of the interviews were somewhat contradictory to the initial research articles and journals that I found, as all of the women cited issues with violence against lesbians and an unsuccessful government, but none of them felt that it was a defining factor in their lifestyles. There was also an overwhelming consensus that the experiences of black lesbians and white lesbians were vastly different, as issues of transparency, lack of privacy, and homophobia being far more prevalent in mostly black communities and townships, leading to greater feelings of insecurity and fear of violence. While there are common threads throughout each narrative, the stories of the two women prove that there is no generalized picture of a lesbian. Each woman continues to identify and define themselves based on individual characteristics including, but definitely not limited to, their sexuality.


African Studies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Women's Studies


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