The gender of an aspiring Idols South Africa contestant has been mocked by the show’s judges, including by Somizi Mhlongo himself.
On Sunday, Arshen Madlopha was shown in a Johannesburg audition for the singing contest, attempting a rendition of Beyoncé’s hit, Halo.
The vocals were admittedly not great, but it was not only Madlopha’s singing that became a subject of derision, but also their gender. When Madlopha was rejected and walked off, Mhlongo shouted out: “Yusus, your body’s banging girl! Oh, oh, walk like a lady! Yes!”
After Madlopha was out of the room, guest judge Kelly Khumalo asked the others: “Is it a girl or boy?” Unathi Msengana said, “It’s a girl,” but Mhlongo and Randall Abrahams insisted that Madlopha is “a boy”.
The judges then debated if Madlopha had an Adam’s apple, with Mhlongo commenting: “I didn’t need to see it…”
The segment concluded with a voiceover by the presenter, ProVerb, who exclaimed: “OK, so Arshen had let both the ladies and the guys down…”
A video of the audition was posted online by Lindiwe Dlhamini (@IAmAFallist) who tweeted, “#TransphobiaOnIdolsSA this is wrong”, and said that the show must apologise to Madlopha.
The video was further slammed by others on social media, with the openly gay Mhlongo in particular being called out. Glow (@dreamthatglow) tweeted: “Wow! @somizi with so much power, you choose to use it to disempower others? Weren’t you lamenting the Grace Bible church not long ago?”
Others saw the incident as “humiliating”, “violent” and “disgusting and unacceptable”. Wandile (@Wandile_Dlamini) pointed out the “dehumanising use of ‘it'” by the judges to describe Madlopha.
Acclaimed South African LGBT photographer and activist Zanele Muholi (@MuholiZanele) also chimed in: “Dear Idols SA Judges: Trans-shaming Is Not Funny. Apologise To Ashern Madlopha.”
Cape Town LGBT rights group Triangle Project commented on Facebook about the furore: “Transphobia is not funny. Bullying is not funny. And when people use their platform to mock others, it’s just sad.”
Idols SA and the judges have yet to comment on the matter.
While it’s not clear how Madlopha identifies in terms of gender, transgender people in South Africa face extraordinary levels of discrimination.
According to a 2016 Love Not Hate report, 24% of transgender people faced threats of physical violence in the previous two years, 13% were sexually abused or raped and 13% had been physically attacked.
An astonishing 38% knew of someone who had been murdered for being LGBT.