Improving sexual health, promoting inclusivity and combating hate crimes and victimisation were at the centre of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) Pride Month online event, “Nothing About Us, Without Us – Celebrating Pride”. The event, which took place on 12 October 2021, brought together voices who work in healthcare studies, religion and human rights to discuss solutions to problems faced by LGBTQIA+ people, and resources available.
In line with the South African observance of Pride Month, which commemorates the first Pride event in the country on 13 October 1990, the faculty has a programme of events underscored by social media hashtag #AllyFHS.
“Nothing About Us, Without Us – Celebrating Pride” opened with an address from the faculty’s dean, Associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson.
“We come to this Pride Month in the faculty in the spirit of Simon Nkoli, who at that first Johannesburg Pride event declared, ‘I am black, and I am gay. I cannot separate these two parts of me into primary and secondary struggles. They are all one struggle,’” said Associate Professor Green-Thompson.
He said the faculty comes to Pride with humility.
“We embark on a conversation as a faculty with the marginalised LGBTQIA+ communities. We invite them to this uncurated dialogue, recognising their need for full expression and amplifications in spaces like our own. We commit to a journey together of discovering each other. This represents the construction of a collaborative safe space in which we all share responsibility for our contested legacies,” he said.
In the spirit of Pride Month, he introduced speakers to elaborate on issues affecting LGBTQIA+ people.
“(These) three activists will take us on a journey, reflecting on our reality and challenging our capacity to respond.”
Sexual healthcare studies
Amelia Mfiki, key populations community liaison officer of the clinical trials unit at Groote Schuur Hospital, spoke of what their unit is doing concerning studies on the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
“We are talking more of PrEP. We are looking at the efficacy of oral PrEP,” said Mfiki.
Their study covers cisgender males and transgender females over 16 who are HIV-negative, sexually active with men or transgender women, and at high risk of acquiring HIV.
“We believe that PrEP is hope in the fight against HIV. We are excited about exploring more choices; we cannot have a blanket approach. We continue to dream that one day we will have an HIV-free generation,” she said.
Sexuality and faith
Hanzline R Davids spoke on the intersections of sexuality and faith, and the work their organisation – Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) – is doing to deal with the exclusion felt by LGBTQIA+ people in faith communities. Davids works in faith partnerships with mainline denominations, universities and seminaries.
“At IAM, we counter-narrate religious homophobia through our theory of change and through opening minds through diversity awareness – we lobby to engage all people of faith to raise awareness of diversity regarding sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. We have developed a tool kit where we bring together three theoretical lenses – our theory of action, contextual Bible study theory and intercultural Bible study theory – in a process called ‘reading together’,” said Davids.
The hope is that this will assist religious homophobes to stop using the Bible as a sacred text to condemn LGBTQIA+ people in southern Africa and across Africa.
IAM’s faith partnerships programme works with denominations and churches, and their community partnerships programme works with partners in other countries.
“We are working towards restorative justice processes to be developed and implemented between churches and LGBTQIA+ people.”
“In our faith partnerships programme, in the long term, we are working towards restorative justice processes to be developed and implemented between churches and LGBTQIA+ people. In the medium term, we work towards inclusive and affirming denominational church policies. In the short term, we are working towards more inclusive and affirming theologies and readings of scriptures. We also work in universities where theological students are trained, from various denominations. We do this work because we firmly believe that it is possible for LGBTQIA+ people to integrate their spirituality, sexuality and gender.
“In our community partnerships programme, we work closely with regional partners in eight countries. Here, we move towards inclusive curricula. A lot of partners do great work in reproductive health and human rights. There is often a faith aspect, and that is where we will come in,” he said.
The impact of victimisation
Sarah Cox, from the well-known Cape Town-based LGBTQIA+ non-profit organisation Triangle Project, told attendees that prejudice in the form of hate crimes and victimisation is doing great harm.
In her presentation, A Dash of Pride with a Large Dose of Prejudice, she said that many wonder why – in a time when we have a “progressive basket of legal frameworks” – we still experience prejudice, violence and discrimination.
“This is because paper rights are far removed from lived realities. On the one side we have the Constitution, the Bill of Rights; and yet we still sit with murder, rape, victimisation, discrimination, bullying, unnecessary surgeries, conversion therapy and non-acceptance and rejection,” said Cox, who is the health and support services manager at the Triangle Project.
She listed patriarchy and heteronormativity, and the “biggest ones” – religion, culture and tradition – as the main drivers of prejudice and hate.
“Whatever your field is, whatever your calling is, or whatever your specialisation is, we are told in training that you check yourself and examine your blind spots – that you leave these things at the door. That is not realistic. You take your whole self in, with your prejudice, your intolerance, and your dislike for some groupings. There are none so perceptive as LGBTQIA+ people for that. We are very good at reading non-verbal cues,” she said.
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