Human rights: protecting sexual minorities or reinforcing the boundaries of 'the closet'?
De Wet, Anna-Magrieta
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In this article we problematise the fact that human rights legislation, whether intentionally or otherwise, reinforces binary categories such as 'heterosexual' or 'homosexual'. This form of 'othering' highlights the incongruence between what the legislation offers and sexual minorities' lived experiences. We argue that human rights thus constitute a double-edged sword that may discourage 'coming out'. Our critique of human rights is based on the findings of a research project in which 1 086 pre-service teachers across six national public tertiary universities in South Africa participated in a survey and/or in focus-group discussions (FGDs). The survey findings suggested that participants see human rights as implying freedom, dignity and equality for all, irrespective of sexual identity. Yet, a closer analysis of the data revealed that gay and lesbian participants do not necessarily experience the freedom, equality and dignity entrenched in human rights documents. An analysis of the data from the FGDs supported this notion as it revealed homophobic 'othering' attitudes on the side of pre-service teachers. Finally, we reflect on the ways in which the boundaries of 'the closet' have been reinforced through the 'othering' of sexual selfhood and consider how pre-service teachers grapple with some of the complexities surrounding issues of sexual diversity in education contexts.