UFH webinar commemorates International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

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On 17 May, the University of Fort Hare SARCHI Chair in Sexualities, Genders and Queer Studies, Prof Zethu Matebeni hosted a webinar in recognition of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

The day marks 31 years since the World Health Organisation took a firm stand to remove homosexuality as a form of disease, thus opening a gateway to equal rights and inclusion.  By 2016, 132 countries have observed the day.

Titled: Transgender Identity and the State: Lessons for Higher Education Institution, the webinar opened a discussion around the challenges, such as hate crimes and discrimination that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI+) community are faced with.

Prof Zethu who recently joined the university is the first recipient of the NRF SARCHI Chair in Sexualities, Genders and Queer Studies.  She said the webinar was the first of many conversations to come.

“Over the past few months a lot of LGBTQI+ people have been experiencing what we call a backlash, where some of them were violently murdered. This is not the first time -the backlash is not new -it has been going on for a long time.

“This intervention is to head a conversation on how the state can intervene in terms of ensuring that we have an environment that is much more inclusive, an environment that is safe and which appreciates diversity.”

Invited as guests to deliberate on the topic were the following speakers:

Mr Sibusiso Kheswa: activist and campaign coordinator at Iranti, a media advocacy organisation defending the human rights of transgender, intersex and lesbian persons in Africa.

Dr Bellita Banda: Post-Doc fellow at UNESCO "Oliver Tambo" Chair of Human Rights

Mx Wenzile Khumalo: UFH transgender student activist

According to Mr Kheswa, 10 LGBTQI people have been murdered in the past two months.  “They were murdered for no other reason that is known, except that they were known to be LGBTQI members.”

“As the sector, we have approached the Minister of Justice and demanded immediate action on the Hate Crimes Bill so that the perpetrators can be stopped from killing people with impunity.” Mr Kheswa also spoke about the call for the Department of Home Affairs to change ID numbers to include LGBTQI members.

Dr Bellita’s presentation titled: A movement that reflects us all: Towards Promotion of Human Rights of LGBQTI University Students, brought to the fore the challenges faced by university students who identify themselves as LGBTQI members.

“Despite the umbrella terms commonly used of equal treatment, non-discrimination and protection of fundamental rights, moral stigma and societal marginalization as well as cosmetic policies at institutional level, there was still a gap between having rights and enjoying those rights,” she stated.

Mx Khumalo spoke about the limitations that people who identify as queer encounter in higher learning institutions and the academic space. “It starts with filling out an application form, the only gender options that are available are only male and female, no provision is made for a person who is transgender. It’s time for that to change- we need policies that accommodate all gender identities.”

The presentations by the speakers were followed by a question and answer session.