VICE-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT) Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng has apologised to the LGBTQIA+ community for a seminar she co-hosted on Sunday, September 4.
The seminar, which was hosted by Phakeng with Dr Kgomotso Mathabe, a practising urologist and a member of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital’s Gender Clinic, was streamed on social media platforms last weekend.
The seminar, titled “What does science say about LGBTQA+”, raised the ire of many on social media.
In addition to finding the title of the seminar distasteful, the LGBTQIA+ community was also dismayed by Mathabe’s comments that being born intersex was potentially life-threatening and required medical correction.
Gender groups also commented that the seminar itself could be seen as misinformation.
The Triangle Project, a non-profit LGBTI human rights organisation based in Cape Town, stated, “The public outrage on all social media platforms responds to the innate violence and harms this seminar has caused on trans and intersex persons and their families who feel the daily violence of medical and pathologised diagnosis that have no positive outcome on their lives.”
According to a statement by UCT, the apology came after some deep reflection on Phakeng’s part since the session.
The university said Phakeng was deeply saddened by the pain the seminar had caused.
It further said that she would meet with the LGBTQIA+ community in sessions over the next few weeks in an effort to learn, understand, grow and try to heal some of the hurt caused.
“Her intention with the session was to bring a spotlight to matters that marginalise and deeply hurt the LGBTQIA+ community and this was done in an effort to bring change,” said UCT.
On September 6, soon after the seminar, the university said it had noted some views in regard to both the recent VC Open Lecture and a social media session hosted by the vice-chancellor.
The university said it respects the rights of the LGBTQA+ community on its inclusive campus and beyond.
It said the matter was receiving the urgent attention of the Chair and Deputy Chair of Council.
“UCT will immediately put together a panel to review the matter and come up with the university’s position. The panel will have LGBTQA+ representation,” it said.
“Professor Phakeng respects the rights of the LGBTQA+ and has decided to put on hold any other sessions on LGBTQA+. She will continue with any other subjects she may have planned as part of her #StrengthInDiversity series on social media.”
Chair of Council, Ms Babalwa Ngonyama said:
“As the Chair of the Council of the University of Cape Town, I note and welcome the unreserved apology from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng for the hurt and distress caused by the session that she hosted on Sunday, 5 September entitled, ‘What does science say about LGBTQIA+’.”
“I appreciate her humility, integrity and courage in reflecting on this matter and her recognition that there was harm caused.”
Ngonyama added: “I have no doubt that the VC will use this moment of learning to come back even stronger in her continued quest to work towards inclusivity and diversity for all. She has at the centre of her work and vision for the institution always promoted human rights and dignity for all.”
“I am sure she will work very hard to reach out to the LGBTQIA+ community and those concerned with what transpired and will attempt to make amends.
I have no doubt that the excellent work done all across UCT that has placed us at the forefront of issues of inclusivity and diversity will continue and go from strength to strength.”
* Inside Education