Decade of fighting for rights

Members of Free Gender and other parties in full song during the organisation's 10th anniversary celebration.

Since inception in 2010, Free Gender has fiercely fought for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) residents in the townships.

From its small beginnings with a few young girls it has now grown to be a much respected lobby organisation. It has facilitated many workshops and marches around Cape Town.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary milestone and as a token of appreciation to its members, Free Gender held a three-day special “women only” event at Isivivane, Khayelitsha. The event also featured other organisations that have been vocal about the LGBTQI community’s rights.

The 10th anniversary event themed “No Compromise” was marked with members sharing their experiences in the past 10 years. The lobby group has been a welcoming space and home, especially for young black gay and lesbian women coming from black townships in Cape Town.

Led by resilient human rights activist Funeka Soldaat, Free Gender gives hope and freedom to young black women to know and believe that they could and should exist in South Africa on their terms, according to their sexuality and lifestyles.

Ms Soldaat described the organisation’s 10th year as good and bad. She said despite their fight against injustice against LGBTQI persons, they still face obstacles, including their right to social protection.

She said there is not a lot to celebrate positively. She believes that there’s still a lot of work to be done. According to her and other speakers during the three days of celebrations and discussions, the LBGTQI community is still under threat and attack. Although many said black lesbian and queer women have a voice since the inception of Free Gender, they also said townships are still the scariest places to walk free.

“The most crucial achievement was the conference in partnership with the South African Police Services in 2011. The challenge is to have an understanding with Nyanga cluster where the majority of the killing of lesbians happened. Our people are still under a big threat,” she said.

She attributes the threat to a lack of good policing and a lack of education on the part of many people.

The participants not only shared memories from years back but looked for a way going forward.

Well-known black feminist activist ,Thuli Mjwara, encouraged the organisation to continue the fight for lesbians. She said they should not allow anyone to tell them how to behave. “We will allow how our sisters should behave. We need to make sure that we are visible and not scared of who we are. It is very good to be visible,”she said.

Yonela Nyumbeka praised the organisation for having a youth sector. She said the journey has not been easy but worth it. “Today we can sit together and discuss issues. It’s a good thing that we have a youth sector. Like the speaker said, it is very important to be visible. I’m very proud that we continue the legacy of Free Gender,” she said.

The lobby group was commended for nurturing young women but said lesbians are still raped, and humiliated. So the struggle continues and people should work tenaciously to overcome hatred from other sectors in society.