Public opinion of transgender rights in SA revealed


A new study finds that most South Africans support the rights of transgender people but baulk at their use of bathrooms based on their gender identity.

The study, published by The Williams Institute in June, analysed data from a 2017 Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey of 501 South Africans.

The authors found that almost half (49.4%) of the participants reported having seen transgender people before but not actually knowing them personally.

Approximately one in three (36.1%) participants reported knowing someone who is transgender, such as acquaintances, friends, or family members.

The study revealed that the vast majority of South Africans seem to have generally positive views when it comes to transgender rights, at least in principle.

Nearly three in four (72.2% vs. 21.9%) of those surveyed agreed that transgender people should be protected from discrimination.

This does not, however, reflect the high rate of reported discrimination and hate crime violence faced by transgender people in South Africa. A 2016 survey by OUT, for example, found that 47% of transgender respondents experienced discrimination in the previous 24 months.

The authors acknowledged that their study’s finding “seems to contrast with the fact that transgender people in South Africa experience discrimination almost daily.”

A majority of those surveyed in the Global Attitudes poll also agreed that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military (62.8%), conceive or give birth to children (62.3%), adopt children (58.9%), have gender-affirming surgery (57.7%), and marry a person of their birth sex (57.2%).

However, when it came to the issue of transgender people using a restroom consistent with their gender identity, only 45% felt that this should be allowed.

The authors noted that “Public opinion towards the usage of bathrooms was particularly illuminating given the intersecting threads of race, class, and gender identity in South Africa.”

47.6% of those surveyed do not feel that transgender people are violating their culture, compared to the 41.5% who do. And, disturbingly, 50.1% of South Africans are worried about exposing children to transgender people (44.4% are not).

“This suggests that many South Africans still see transgender people as deviating from societal norms,” said the authors, adding that “Such viewpoints often lead to violence towards people who are gender variant, as they are seen as eroding culture and traditions.”

While the study is said to be the first of its kind in South Africa, the authors noted some of its limitations, such as it not being fully representative and reflecting the views of “a more urban, internet-connected population.”

They also expressed concerns that “the survey language that describes transgender people may not be considered inclusive and/or accurately capture the gender diverse and/or gender non-conforming population” in South Africa.

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