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Activists, students and staff discuss challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ community
Author: Nadine Christians and Keenen Gilbert
Published: 13/10/2022

Activists, students, and staff participated and attended a hybrid panel discussion focusing on the theme, Confronting the barriers to inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community, held at Stellenbosch University's Tygerberg campus recently.   

The panel discussion was held in collaboration with the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), the Equality Unit and the Division Student Affairs (DSAf), with panellists, staff and students unpacking various themes related to the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community. 

The event was attended by over 50 staff and students.

The panel discussion formed part of a broader awareness campaign which included LGBTQIA+ allyship ambassador videos that have been screened in the lead-up to Pride Month in October. Several personal messages of solidarity were recorded by Justice Edwin Cameron, Chancellor of SU; Alex Vink, former SRC member; Prof Elmi Muller, Dean: FMHS, Jaco Greeff Brink, Head of the Equality Unit, and Fanelesibonge Ndebele, Shared Humanity Module and Shared Humanity Learning Coach Module Coordinator.

“Stellenbosch University recognised the importance of planning an evidence-based campaign with contributions from staff and students from the LGBTQIA+ community on Stellenbosch and Tygerberg campuses. The campaign was envisioned to create awareness and bring about critical engagement around important issues related to the LGBTQIA+ community," said Khairoonisa Foflonker, Manager: DSAf at the FMHS, based at Tygerberg campus.

Panellists Nicole Joy Alexander, Director of Pride Shelter Trust, Leon Coetzee, the newly-elected chairperson of SPECTRUM!, and Elliott Kotze, psychologist, researcher and LGBTQIA+ activist, provided expert insight into various topics that hinder the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Bringing in the perspective of the student community, Coetzee shared their thoughts and experiences as a queer student leader on what allyship looks like on campus by deconstructing allyship from a queer perspective and providing perspective on simple ways of how students and staff can be allies by   “speaking up, extending opportunities and challenging the status quo". 

Coetzee also addressed the importance of redefining the meaning of being an “ally" as more than being a “heteronormative identifier". "Community is important and [we need to understand that] queer bodies are all human beings deserving of fundamental human rights," said Coetzee.

Alexander highlighted the work done by The Pride Shelter Trust, a safe house and wellness centre focusing on LGBTQIA+ human rights and gender-based violence in South Africa. In her presentation, Alexander focussed on the access that LQBTQIA+ persons have to healthcare and safety.

She spoke on the challenges that LGBTQIA+ youth face and their struggles with “low self-esteem, unemployment, substance abuse, psychological instability" as well as health-related issues such as HIV/ Aids, hormonal treatment, and other medical issues. She also shared a personal story of a Pride Shelter resident and their struggles and triumphs with the South African healthcare system as an example of the reality of the difficult challenges faced by queer individuals when accessing healthcare and feeling safe.   

Kotze's presentation focussed on improving the quality of life of queer and gender-diverse individuals through the strategic implementation of community-driven interventions. Kotze's presentation dealt with the mental health challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community and how members of the queer community “should not be expected to be resilient" when faced with mental health issues. His parting message was that “radical allyship" was needed to support the LGBTQIA+ community and reiterated the important role proactive healthcare professionals can play to improve the mental health of the queer community.

More ambassador videos will be shared via social media in October for Pride Month. So be sure to check out the Equality Unit and DSAf's social media channels at Facebook and Instagram.