Queer society prepares for August 24 Pride march by hosting seminars to increase presence of LGBTQ+ community on campus.
Wits Activate is celebrating Pride Month with a series of events to raise awareness about the queer experience at Wits and in South Africa.
The queer activism society held a seminar titled, ‘Drag, Vogue and Ballroom in culture in Joburg’ on Wednesday, August 15, at Solomon Mahlangu House which explored queer culture in SA, comparing it to that of the USA.
Drag culture speaks to men dressing in women’s clothes while ballroom culture refers to a subculture of LGBTQ+ members in the USA who participate in dance competitions.
Voguing describes dancing to music in a way that mimics the mannerism and poses struck by models on fashion catwalks. In its expression it helps “queer men exist in the real-sense of femininity”, according to Zane Lelo Meslani, a journalist and queer activist.
Meslani told Wits Vuvuzela that the queer experience in SA was especially harder because of the racial divisions that continued to exist. He said, “Black queers don’t have a space to call home. We are forced to exist in infiltrated spaces.
“Obviously the cultural context is different to the USA. But in terms of oppression and the stigma that hangs around black queers, it is the same. We like to think we’ve progressed but, in the streets, it’s all the same. These are interesting parallels in these two different worlds,” Meslani added.
The iconic gay film, Paris is Burning was screened at the seminar to draw parallels between the queer experience in Harlem, New York, in the 1980s and modern-day Johannesburg. The film chronicles the lives of queers in New York in 1987 in what was known as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’.
Wits Activate vice-president Daniel Lee, a first-year BA student, said of the event, “It is about creating awareness about queer spaces, what they are and how they work.”
Other events scheduled for the week include a scavenger hunt on Thursday, August 16, and a queer art exhibition on Friday, August 17.
Lee says that university is a difficult environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community because of the stigma that surrounds it.
“Queerness, especially around campus, can be very isolated. You feel alone and alienated because the majority of people are straight.
“Events like this help increase the presence of queers on campus. As well they help people meet others who are like them and encourage those who might be fearful to come out,” Lee said.
In July Wits added the gender neutral title Mx (pronounced mix) as an option on the student and staff self-service portal. This was the latest step to make the university more inclusive, following the creation of gender neutral bathrooms and SafeZones around its campuses.
Wits Activate will host a number of events this month to increase the presence of queer people at the university. The 10th Pride march, scheduled for Friday, August 24, will start at the Great Hall at 13:15.
FEATURED IMAGE: Wits Activate vice-president Daniel Lee makes a peace sign at a queer seminar. Photo: Tshego Mokgabudi
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