Gay teens' ordeal
Pietermaritzburg - One in five gay and lesbian schoolchildren in Pietermaritzburg and Durban are raped or sexually abused at school.
This is according to shocking new statistics that show that victimisation of KwaZulu-Natal's gay scholars is widespread.
In a 2005 survey, 20% of gay and bisexual men and 19% of lesbian and bisexual women reported having been raped or sexually assaulted when they were at school.
One in three was physically assaulted in school because of their sexual orientation.
Gay men reported a far higher rate (68%) of victimisation at school than lesbian women (42%), with blacks and Indians experiencing more victimisation than whites.
Most of this victimisation in school was perpetrated by other pupils (65%), followed by teachers (22%), school principals (9%) and other staff.
These findings are horrific, said Pietermaritzburg Gay & Lesbian Network convenor Anthony Waldhausen.
Worse than in Gauteng
"More alarming is the victimisation by teachers and principals.
"The network will go out of its way to protect the gay and lesbian community and is looking at ways to provide hope for the many that are victimised," he said.
Gays and lesbians in KZN were victimised worse than their peers in Gauteng, probably because of stronger patriarchal values in the province, said Helen Wells, the project's researcher.
The incidence of hate speech was significantly higher in KZN, as was gay people's fear of homophobic hate crimes.
Homophobia was so severe in the province that people sometimes were refused health care by medical staff because of their sexual orientation.
Gays also often delayed seeking medical treatment for fear of discrimination and this had serious implications for the transmission of HIV, according to the research report, which was to be released next month.
Another horrifying fact was that lesbian women often were subjected to so-called "corrective" rapes - straight men raping lesbian women to "put them straight".
"The warped logic was, 'I'll show you what a real man is like and you won't want to be with women anymore'," said Wells.
The study assessed the levels of empowerment among gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in KZN in 2005.
Conducted by Out LGBT Well-being and the Durban Lesbian and Gay Health and Community and Health Centre, and commissioned by Joint Working Group, it followed an original study in metropolitan Gauteng in 2003.
Compared with Gauteng, KZN people experienced a greater level of fear of hate crimes being committed against them because of their sexual orientation.
Patriarchal system strong
Hate crimes included physical and sexual violence, threats of violence and verbal abuse of a person for belonging to a specific group, be it race, religion or sexual orientation.
Black gays and lesbians in KZN experienced a higher rate of victimisation than Indians and whites.
Wells said: "The system of patriarchy is still strong in South Africa, particularly in the black community.
"A patriarchal system values masculinity, and anything that challenges masculinity is seen as threatening and as needing to be punished."
Interventions were urgently needed at schools to stop the victimisation of gay and lesbian pupils by their homophobic peers and teachers, according to the report.
Wells said abuse of people on the basis of their sexual orientation was still very prevalent in South Africa despite the protection the constitution provided to gays and lesbians.
THoughts of suicide
The constitution's equality clause prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. However, "there is still a large gap between the Constitution and policy in theory and what is happening on the ground in practice," she said.
Gays and lesbians intensely feared being physically assaulted and sexually abused or raped.
The fear of victimisation led to a decrease in self esteem and an increase in suicidal thoughts. Almost one in five surveyed had attempted suicide, according to the report.
HIV status stays secret
Surprisingly, the research found that almost 40% had never been tested for HIV, almost half of them saying they were too scared.
Of the 11% of men and 9% of women who had tested HIV-positive, a cause for concern was that 30% said they had not revealed this to their new (or potential) partners, said the report.
Anyone experiencing discrimination because of their sexual orientation can contact the Pietermaritzburg Gay & Lesbian Network at 033 342 6165, 072 536 2978 or 073 284 2468.