The Influence of the Gay and Lesbian Community on our Economy.

In my Professional Opinion

By Dr. Ivor Blumenthal

Having the privilege of presenting the “Contemporary Business” show on 1485 am every Tuesday, allows me the freedom to interview interesting everyday people. In so doing I gain an insight into their worlds. I hope thereby to open the ears and minds of my listeners to these other worlds.

I recently had just such a privilege when speaking with Coenie Kukkuk, who is a man who wears many hats. Founder and director of “Mr. Gay South Africa”, director of the annual “Pink Loerie’s” festival in Knysna, and also a practicing Attorney. He describes himself as “Lawyer, activist and a member of our gay social elite.

My Interview with Coenie can be found under the podcast section on “conbussa.co.za” entitled “Gays and Lesbian Influence on the SA Economy”.

What struck me during this interview is how misunderstood the SA LGBT is in our society and in the workplace in-particular and why individuals, as well as groups from these communities, often come across as aggressive, overly assertive and sometimes even obnoxious. I have to say that irrespective of my own belief system, this interview opened my eyes to the true value, which this community represents in complementing our very heterogeneous world called South Africa. The fabric, which generations have woven reflecting the tapestry of our makeup is complemented by the colorful and yet poignant history and contribution of the South African LGBT community.

Forget the bravado of those who talk for LGBT people in SA and focus on their message. For me, the most telling acronym in-relation to this discussion was “DINK” – Dual Income No Kids. While not all Gay or Lesbian couples do not become parents, the vast majority, continue to live without children. In so doing, they operate in a unique space. They have a far higher percentage of discretionary income than the average couple who do have children. This gives them the freedom to pepper their lifestyles with more travel, luxury purchases, make more investments and contribute to more social causes than their heterogeneous counterparts.

LGBT employees have less reason to be away from the workplace. There is no taking pregnancy leave, although a very interesting question begging is whether they would be entitled to extended family responsibility time off and whether a Gay couple adopting or having a child in another way would be entitled to paternity leave. As only a small percentage have children in whatever form they do, they do not need to be away from the workplace because a child is ill. They have no need to take children to school events, or extra murals. They don’t have to pay au-pairs which enhances the discretionary income available to the couple.

Research evidence that members of the LGBT community are more loyal in the workplace. Principally, Coenie Kukkuk believes because of discrimination. Workplace discrimination against LGBT members is subtle but very present and hence when employed and liking the work, LGBT employee’s value their job and remain hugely loyal to the Employer. “Such loyalty, however, is not always reciprocated by the Employer” according to Kukkuk.  Mostly because of the inability of some employers to understand the lifestyle and choices made by their LGBT employees but sometimes because of blatant bias and discrimination.

It is for this reason that people like Coenie have intervened and created opportunities for the LGBT community, continuing to represent them, particularly where discrimination raises its ugly head.

What is surprising are the number of Employers who after employing Gay and Lesbian (or GAL) employee’s tend to seek out additional GAL people to employ. They realise they are onto a good thing and want more of it. The return rate is telling.

Sometimes however accusations of reverse discrimination have been leveled where establishments have openly advertised for GAL employees. A recent judgment in the Western Cape in favor of a Gay Bar advertising in this way, however, found that in some circumstances openly seeking GAL employees could not be construed as discriminatory in the same way as advertising for Black employee’s would not.

Having been exposed to political theory in the USA and Europe, I had always assumed that the collective Gal community in SA represented a solid massive voting block of political and economic interest. Coenie Kukkuk quickly set me right on this assumption. He countered that to the contrary the Gal community were not a homogeneous voting block. Gay people join all political parties. “In South Africa, they tend to vote for a party which is the most outspoken for LGBT rights.” They vote on issues and seldom consult amongst themselves or vote collectively. They vote on issues such as education, finance, and crime. They are sensitive to the entire package presented by politicians and their parties and not whether the politicians themselves are Gay. To the contrary, Kukkuk adds that “when we previously had an LGBT party running in elections in SA they did not do well.” Coenie Kukkuk believes that in an election in SA, issues discussed, which earn votes transgress gayness or gender identity.

The South African business community would do well, I believe, to realise that even if they are not a single block, the LGBT community amongst us are worth a second look when it comes to tailored advertising and programmes to suit the preferences, lifestyle, and choices made by people who are different and yet so very much part of the fabric of our wonderful heterogeneous makeup of South African citizenry.