UP celebrates our LGBTQIA+ students and staff during Pride Week

Posted on October 25, 2019

The University of Pretoria community observed Pride Week with a weeklong calendar of activities from 14 to 18 October. UP Pride Week is an annual event which aims to raise awareness about the issues faced by LGBTQIA+* people at the University, as well as to increase the visibility of LGBTQIA+ members of the UP community.

The week's events were organised by the UP&OUT student society, with the support of the Centre for Sexualities, Aids and Gender (CSA&G).

A student at the Hatfield Campus during UP Pride Week.

Clara Van Niekerk, chairperson of UP&OUT, said Pride Week helps people of all backgrounds feel free to speak their minds. "We always try to create a space for people to come speak their minds, or even to just find a sense of community,” she said. “This week we spoke about the LGBT community and geographical spaces, which was a new and exciting topic. And we also held an interactive discussion where queer people could share their voices on various issues facing our community, internally and externally and it was just a really good exchange of ideas.”

The week kicked off with an LGBTQIA+ mural painting, followed by an information session, a reflection spectrum activity on Wednesday, the Pride March on Thursday, and culminated in a year-end braai on Friday. Members of the UP community of all age groups, races and sexual orientations came out in support of the week and its events. They created for themselves a space of acceptance and tolerance, as well as an environment where they could educate, unlearn and foster robust discussion among each other.

A group photo after a UP Pride Week march  

Van Niekerk said some of the issues that came up during the Pride Week engagements are to do with safety.

“Many students feel that even though the university keeps them somewhat safe on the premises, the culture outside the university is still a homophobic one. Queer students are often afraid of disclosing their sexual identity or romantic interests with other people at student bars. And it's violent retaliation that they fear.” 

She added that one of the ways to tackle this problem, is through removing the stigma around LGBTQIA+ identities by educating others. Van Niekerk said while changing the actions of people against queer students is important, the mind sets matter too. 

“Staff and lecturers, can be more attentive to things such as pronoun use and assuming peoples sexual orientation. Create a more neutral environment. Furthermore, keep consistent support of the community throughout the year, as the University does with other student organisations. Students need to know that the University has their back, and other people need to know it too. This year’s active support for pride week was a very good start,” she said.

The aim of Pride Week is to build inclusive and safe spaces on UP campuses.

The Centre for Sexualities, Aids and Gender (CSA&G), played a support role to UP&OUT for the week’s Pride Week events. This relationship according to CSA&G’s Senior Manager: New Business Development & Special Projects, Johan Maritz, extends to other areas including mentorship.

“The CSA&G enjoys a special relationship with Up&Out, UP’s LGBTQIA+ student society. This relationship includes mentorship, infrastructural support and limited financial support where our interest and activities overlap. Up&Out organised Pride Week and all activities on the programme, the CSA&G’s involvement was limited, but the importance of Pride Week to build inclusive and safe spaces on UP campuses motivated our involvement in the week in a supportive role,” he said.

Maritz said outside of Pride Week, students and staff who need support could approach the CSA&G and UP&OUT: “Up&Out offers such a space at the CSA&G offices in the Graduate Centre (the CSA&G will be moving back to the Akanyang building in 2020). They also run a support group for LGBTQIA+ students.”

UP Pride Week is an annual event held from from 14 to 18 October.

“The CSA&G also offers support and a safe space for LGBTQIA+ students and staff, runs seminars, conducts research and hosts both a Queer and Gender Studies Library as well as the Queer Space Collective Library that offers resources to the LGBTQIA+ community,” Maritz said.

*LGBTQIA+: this initialism stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and the plus sign denoting other identities that have not been listed in the abbreviation.

- Author Masego Panyane

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