Residence Accused of Discriminating Against Transgender Wits Student

Transgender students are forced to deal with a queerphobic gender binary residence system

Transgender students are forced to deal with a queerphobic gender binary residence system

Wits University’s LGBTIQ+ student group has filed a formal complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission against a privately owned residence for discriminating against a transgender student.

According to Activate Wits, the student, who has not been named to protect her privacy, was assured that all necessary accommodations had been made for her to stay in the mixed residence’s women’s unit.

Discriminatory Demands and Intervention

However, during check-in, the residence demanded that her unit mates consent in writing to live with her. Subsequently, they also required the consent of these students’ parents.

At one point, the residence even considered placing the student in a shared room with a male student, disregarding her transgender identity and history of being discriminated against when they lived in a unit with male housemates.

Activate Wits intervened and engaged with the university’s Transformation and Employment Equity Office and, through that, successfully secured assistance from the Office of the Dean of Students and the Campus Housing and Residence Life office.

Ultimately, the residence acknowledged that they had overstepped the bounds of what was acceptable, agreed to allow the student to remain in the residence and unit and committed to ensuring that management attends sensitisation training to understand the needs of LGBTIQ+ students.

Systemic Queerphobia in Gender Binary Residence System

While this particular case has been resolved, Activate Wits sees it as emblematic of the systemic queerphobia facing LGBTIQ+ students. They’ve escalated the matter to the Human Rights Commission to address broader issues of exclusion and invalidation of transgender and queer identities within the gender binary residence system.

“This is not the first complaint that we’ve received about that residence – there have been other cases but the students did not wish to pursue it further,” Rethabile Lebakeng, Activate Wits Spokesperson and Treasurer, told MambaOnline.

“We hope to create a precedent that allows for private residences to be held accountable for any discriminatory policies or actions. We have noted that there are instances where students are discriminated against however there is no accountability as Wits exercises limited oversight over private residences,” Lebakeng said.

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