Support and health advice available to the transgender community at Wits

The experience of transgender students at Wits University has changed in recent years with improvements in services and facilities specifically targeted at the community.

Programme coordinator for sexual orientation and gender identity advocacy in the Wits Transformation Office, Tish Lumos, spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about transgender students’ access to healthcare on campus.“Typically somebody who is transgender, as with any other person, will experience any and all health issues. The thing is, we really want to make sure that those who are trans are experiencing appropriate and supportive healthcare. “

“The Campus Health and Wellness Centre (CHWC) staff are great and very supportive particularly of understanding where individuals who are LGBTQIA+ experience their life on campus,” said Lumos who is also transgender.

HIV counsellor at the CHWC, Thembinkosi Ngwneya, said that trans students should not feel excluded from the services offered at the CHWC. “One thing I know is that the nurses are well trained, professional and non-judgemental,” he said. The importance of both mental and physical health has resulted in the transformation office training all Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) staff to follow their Safe Zones@Wits training programme annually. Safe Zones@Wits is a training and advocacy programme aimed at the wellbeing of members of the LGBTQIA+ community at Wits.

A transgender student at Wits, Athena Marsden, MSc Virology, said, “I don’t think there are specific trans health needs that the university can actually supply. Perhaps one way that campus health can better help trans students is in referral to doctors and facilities that can help with trans-related care. I think what’s more important for the wellbeing of trans students is transformation and fostering a safer and more inclusive environment.”

The CHWC does not offer gender-affirming therapies such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) but they can assist in referring the students to appropriate clinics. Lumos said, “When we have students who want to pursue anything related to transition … we generally do refer them to Luthando clinic. They are a referral point for us quite frequently and we do hear good stories about the work done by Ward 88 staff.”

Ward 88, otherwise known as Luthando clinic at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, provides in-depth and appropriate care for transgender people who wish to proceed with gender-affirming therapies.

There are a few private practitioners in the Jo’burg area and they exist across the country, some being more affordable than others but there are no known medical aids schemes in South Africa which provide for gender-affirming therapies.

FEATURED PHOTO: Gender neutral facilities are available to students across Wits campuses. Photo: Sanet Oberholzer