Professor Tommaso Milani  giving a Safe Zones talk.  Photo: Prelene Singh.

 

A TALK about the “Safe Zones” campaign launched by the transformation office was given today by Prof Tommaso Milani in Umthombo 11.

Milani who is an associate professor of linguistics in the School of Language, Literature and Media (SLLM), spoke about the safe zones project, which is a Wits transformation initiative funded by the Carnegie Corporation in New York.

Milani said the safe zones project is an anti-homophobic practice which addresses issues around gender, sexuality and the making of a public space for the Wits community to be comfortable to speak out about their sexual preference.

The initiatives trains ‘allies’ [allies are academics, staff and students of the university] on issues around lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people (LGBTI) and the problems they face. Safe Zones seeks to increase understanding and awareness of LGBTI on campus and alleviate rising rates of homophobia (from the Wits safe zones Proposal 2011).

“You should never be ashamed of your sexuality – never”, said Milani. He went on to explain that sexual behaviour and sexual harassment need to be addressed more often in the university and in the country. “Sexual harassment happens because of silence” he said.

The “queer” in the title of the talk refers to “an act of defiance”, and “queer” supports the LGBTI theory, said Milani.

We need to think academically about the meaning of queer and critically understand how [sexual] identity categories are used and for what purpose said Milani.

Milani said, “I am a gay man and a queer scholar” and “academics do research about who we are and what we are passionate about,” Milani said this was why he was passionate about the project. “Sexuality will never be an act of surrender,” he added.

Milani also stressed the difference between homosexuality and being gay. “Gay is an identity and homosexuality is a practice”, said Milani.

Safe Zones is a Wits initiative and Wits University is the only university in the country which does not only host a gay pride festival but also sponsors it.