The Vice-Chancellor is known to be an ally of the queer community but may have done more harm than good.   

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT) has apologised to members of the LGBTQIA+ community after hosting an Instagram live video last Sunday, September 4, that focused on the scientific details of being queer and aspects relating to intersex genital mutilation.  

Despite the apology, the controversial video remains on her Instagram feed.  

The biological and mental conditions related to intersex or transgender people were the topic of the online discussion.  

Details such as how difficult it is to transition, intersex babies, and the pathologizing of transgender people, were also tackled. There was however no representation from the queer community, sparking anger from the LGBTQIA+ community and organisations, who swiftly called for an apology on Twitter and  news platforms. 

UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng hosted the Instagram live session titled ‘What does science say about the LGBTQA+?’. She was joined by a urologist from the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, Dr Kgomotso Mathebe. 

Organisations such as Iranti, which advocates for the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons, accuses Professor  Phakeng and Dr Mathebe of spreading hurtful and misleading information. 

Dr Mathebe, in the live video, said that “Intersex is a condition that is potentially life threatening,” and that sometimes doctors would have to make a decision to choose a gender for that baby based on that and surgically remove genitals.  

Intersex is the condition in which a baby is born with numerous  sexual characteristics that do not fit the binary concepts of male or female.  

Mathebe did not explain exactly why the condition was life-threatening 

Iranti said in a statement it strongly condemns intersex genital mutilation. The organisation says the condition is something that must be valued, respected and protected, as human bodies include a wide spectrum of healthy sex characteristics, and not medically or surgically violated.  

Tish Lumos White, a programme coordinator at the Wits Transformation and Employment Equity Office, says there are dangers of linking science to the queer community.  

Science as a lens essentialises the experiences of being LGBTQIA+ and reduces queer people to their genitals. This is highly problematic and dangerous. Our genitals are not the sum of our parts,” says White.   

“I question whether there was a good intention at play. It’s easy to get conversations like these right: include the community, bring them into decision making, and hold yourself accountable to them. All of these steps begin with understanding your cisgender and heterosexual privileges,” Lumos says.  

In her September 10 apology, Professor Phakeng  says she is sorry for the hurt she has caused to the community. She says will spend more time with the queer community before continuing her Instagram series 

FEATURED IMAGE: A man waves a pride flag at a protest. Photo: Karabo Mashaba.