What excites you about your position?
I get to advocate for the marginalised and vulnerable communities of Stellenbosch University.
Have you always been interested in HIV and furthering equality for all sexualities and identities?
I have always been interested in HIV and advocating for the LGBTQIA+. My interest in HIV started when I was in secondary school when I noticed an increase in activity at my local cemetery. The size of the cemetery had to be extended because so many people were passing away. As we stood next to the cemetery, I asked my peers why it was that each day there was a funeral? One responded by saying: “It’s this new disease that’s killing people.” I later discovered that people were passing away because of AIDS. Some years later, as part of my postgraduate studies, I volunteered at the non-profit organisation, Home-Based Care. The NPO worked directly with HIV/AIDS infected and affected individuals and that’s where I learned more about not only HIV, but also sexualities and identities (key populations). These are things that I continue to learn about.
What will you bring to the position of HIV and sexualities programme coordinator?
An ear and stories of hope as told by individuals infected by HIV. I would like to focus on ART adherence as well as the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS that still exists. For the LGBTQIA+ community, I am hopefully an ally. I remember earlier this year, a student conveyed to me that their roommate “come out” to them as transgender and wanted to know if its normal and if transgender people exist. It got me thinking about whether he comes from a community where its less common or if many are afraid of “coming out” because of stigma and negative reactions from society. It also made me think about how we need to allow everyone to define themselves.
How will you enhance the support services and offering to staff and students?
I hope to bring a more person-focused approached and not a blanket approach. Having engagements or interactions with both staff and students to hear what should be done and how they want to be supported. One area which I believe needs attention is the need to clearly distinguish between assigned sex, gender identity and sexuality. Often these terms are used interchangeably which fuels misconception about LGBTQIA+ persons.
What are you most looking forward to tackling in this position?
Stigma and stereotypes towards HIV positive people and LGBTQIA+ individuals. I am hoping to explore how behaviour change (theories) can tackle stigma, prejudice and discrimination directed towards LGBTQIA+ persons at individual and community levels. I believe behaviour change is attainable if one is willing, as society, to unlearn biases, so that we create a safe and inclusive environment for all.
When you’re not working, what are you doing?
I love travelling.