Pride week at Wits University shows us that we still have a long way to go before queer rights are acknowledged. 

Like so many of my fellow students I was deeply disappointed to find hate-filled graffiti defacing the LGBTQ+ mural wall painted in the colours of the queer community.

Vandals had written anti-queer slurs such as ‘queers are disgusting’, ‘f**k faggots’ and other derogatory slurs on the wall, near the Matrix, used most often by the student community to share messages about themselves.

The incident made me realise that life is still challenging for many LGBTQ+ people even in spaces that may appear more tolerant and progressive like Wits University. Looking at the words on that wall I was instantly taken back to my undergradaute days at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) Soshanguve North campus.

There I was often told by other students to be out but not too out, gay but not too gay in order to protect myself from phyical attacks and name calling.

When I joined Wits at the beginning of this year and heard that the university holds an annual LGBTQ+ pride week, I was overjoyed. Pride Week is one of the few times that queer people get to scream their voices hoarse for equality so that the next generation may declare their truth with just a whisper and that would be enough.

We are queer and we are here!

A report released by the South African Centre for Risk Analysis in 2017 shows that anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime is on the rise in South Africa. The number of queer people in this country who have experienced a hate crime or incident has increased by 66% over the last three years.

The graffiti at Wits made me question what more we need to do as a queer community to build a society where everyone can feel safe and free to be themselves. One of those solutions is to expect Wits as a university to act as a change agent. The university must come up with programs aimed to change the way people of all ages, races and ethnicities think about LGBTQ+ people and their issues. Being an ally is not just about saying the right things and saying ‘we support’, it is also about action.

Education can play a vital role in shaping anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes because how young people see themselves, each other and the world around them is shaped by what they learn at school and university. This can be done through holding workshops regularly.

If you have an education programme that doesn’t mention LGBTQ+, it can do immense damage. When students are taught about diversity and learn to celebrate difference, they become accepting of those who are different from them. Having a curriculum that includes LGBTQ+ people and their experiences is not only important for those students. An inclusive education can also play a significant role in eradicating anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes in young people and, later, preventing prejudice and even hate crimes.

If we want to live in a world where nobody faces homophobic attacks and discrimination for who they are, we need an education system that treats LGBTQ+ identities and experiences equally with other aspects of a person’s identity.

It still puzzles me how people can dedicate so much energy to hating LGBTQ+ people without realising the effects of decay on their own soul for being consumed with such hatred.

To LGBTQ+ people who are now walking and living in all Wits campuses with fear, I urge you not to allow yourself to ever become subservient to your fears. Call upon the courage that lives within you, it’s that same courage that liberated your ancestors.