ACTIVATE Wits held a series of events during the week with the aim of celebrating transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, while also commemorating those who lose their lives on a daily basis to transphobic violence.

The week included several talks, an open night and screenings of two short films: Bruised and I Rise.

Tish Lumos, the coordinator of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Office at the Wits Transformation and Employment Equity Office, said the initiative was “to address a significant need to shift from a focus often placed on folks who identify as gay or lesbian, and focus on the experiences of transgender people”.

A discussion around issues on trans-health, specifically focusing on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), took place on Monday, April 8. Lumos said that pursuing HRT was especially difficult for students, as the treatment needed to be facilitated by a medical doctor.

“Programmes at public hospitals involve long waiting periods, which are not practical for full-time students who cannot afford to regularly spend time away from their course work,” Lumos told Wits Vuvuzela.

Development studies honours student and former head of the Pan-African Debating Queer Forum Naomi Lubinsky said the shortage of hormones was also a problem and had an impact on a student’s academic life.

“I have just started the process of really enjoying being in my body, so to feel those changes fade away and have no idea when I would have access to medication again made it incredibly difficult to concentrate on school work,” said Lubinsky.

On Tuesday, April 9, the society held a moment of silence outside the Great Hall, to commemorate those who have lost their lives to violence. Despite the lack of turnout by students, Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib took time to . He urged students to engage with management on how to make the university a safe environment for all: “Wits University needs to be a space for everybody,” Habib said. “In all of our multiplicity, everyone needs to feel safe.”

Siya Hlongwa, an activist in the LGBTQIA+ community, said, “Even though our constitution is far more inclusive in South Africa, and the policies at Wits suggest inclusivity, it’s something that needs to be upgraded in terms of consciousness within the student community and the university personnel.”

In addressing the issue of low student turnout, Lumos said the event was advertised across multiple platforms, but explained there may been a lack of understanding around issues of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. It was also noted that it is not always healthy to have people agree on one thing, and that a difference of opinion can sometimes foster engagement.


FEATURED IMAGE: Participants of the Transgender Visibility Week remember the lives transgender people who lost their lives to violence. Photo: Molebogeng Mokoka