UCT Vice-Chancellor apologises for events “hurtful” to LGBTIQA+ community

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UCT Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng

UCT Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng has acknowledged that two recent events that she hosted were hurtful to the LGBTIQA+ community.

Phakeng came under fire from gender rights groups for hosting a webinar on 5 September featuring Dr Kgomotso Mathabe, a practising urologist and a member of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital’s Gender Clinic.

The online event – titled What does science says about LGBTQA+ – was criticised for pathologising and medicalising LGBTIQA+ indentities and presenting gender and sex binaries as the desirable norms. 

This, the groups argued, perpetuates “the gatekeeping of psychiatry and the medical intention of ‘correcting Trans bodies’ and diagnosing Trans persons as mentally ill.”

Dr Mathabe was also accused of presenting “misinformation” regarding Intersex born children that could be used to justify intersex genital mutilation.

In July, another event hosted by Phakeng led to anger among LGBTIQA+ students after she selected Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the speaker for the Vice-Chancellor’s Open Lecture.

Adichie was infamously accused of transphobia when in 2017 she stated that “my feeling is trans women are trans women” after she was asked in an interview if transgender women are “any less of a real woman”.

On Friday, Phakeng said in a statement that she regretted hosting both these events. “I apologise without reserve for the hurt and distress these events caused, not only to the LGBTQIA+ community, but to everyone that are concerned about our shared quest for dignity and humanity for all.”

“To further that quest amidst the hurt and distress and anger, I have decided to have engagements with the LGBTQIA+ community over the next two months. It is in that spirit of humility that I offer my apology above, and in that spirit that we embark on the way forward,” Phakeng said.

UCT Spokesperson Elijah Moholola commented that the vice-chancellor’s apology “comes after some deep reflection on her part” and that “she is deeply saddened by the pain this has caused.”

Moholola added: “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. Unfortunately, even though the intention was good, she got it wrong in this one instance, and she has now offered an authentic, heartfelt apology.”

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