Wits Pride gay wedding
The launch of Wits University’s Pride commemorations on Monday was met with a queerphobic backlash on campus.
Prior to the commencement of Wits Pride week, an LGBT+ rainbow wall was defaced with a series of hateful queerphobic comments and slurs.
Despite this, defiant students came out to support the first event: Two queer students getting “married” on the steps of the university’s Great Hall.
This was to affirm the right of LGBT+ people to marry in South Africa, according to Dan Lee, vice president of LGBT+ campus group, Activate. “It [also] exists in part as protest against homophobic laws throughout Africa, and in part as a celebration of queer presence on campus, and urges queer witsies to radically and visibly express themselves.”
The vandalism, which included a call to rape LGBT+ people, had to be scrubbed off the wall by students. Lee told Mambaonline that the statements represent an exceptionally dark, queerphobic undercurrent that is “quite prevalent” at the university.
“Although formally, the University recognises the needs of queer students, the student body itself can be very resistant to visible, radical queer self-expression,” explained Lee. “I think the homophobes on campus would prefer if we remained silent and invisible, and as such, were angered by having to walk past a rainbow wall every day. I think the issue is quite serious, as it represents an aggressive move to attempt to silence us, and to prevent us from celebrating our sexualities.”
He said that despite believing that the university could do more to accommodate the extraneous circumstances that affect queer students, this does not necessarily mean that the institution is intentionally homophobic or queerphobic.
Wits Pride wedding outside the Great Hall
“I think at times, the University uses bureaucratic mechanisms to exclude queer students from achieving immediate recourse, and it can be frustrating at times to deal with the formal requirements of a ‘student society’ while also needing to maintain a queer community on campus,” said Lee.
“At the moment, there is no classification of student clubs that recognises that we represent a disadvantaged group, so we have to be lumped in with sports clubs and the sort. It’s a little offensive to assume that we require the same things, and operate the same way. This means, for example, that we have to join a line of sports clubs in waiting for a clubhouse.”
The official Wits Pride march will take place on 24 August on campus and will be open to members of the greater public who would like to attend.