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UCT under fire for 'hurtful' seminar on LGBTQA+ individuals

UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng has come under fire from gender-diversity groups, with the Gender Diversity Coalition saying medical and pathologised diagnosis have no positive outcome on their lives.
UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng has come under fire from gender-diversity groups, with the Gender Diversity Coalition saying medical and pathologised diagnosis have no positive outcome on their lives.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER

The Gender Diversity Coalition has called for the University Of Cape Town (UCT) to act swiftly, alleging that the university’s recent seminar on science and LGBTQA+ was hurtful to the transgender and intersex community, who are vilified daily by some medics.

On Tuesday the coalition said UCT’s open lecture that was held on Sunday - titled “What does science say about LGBTQA+” — not only provided misinformation on intersex-born children, but has caused further harm to these individuals and their families “who feel the daily violence of medical and pathologised diagnosis that have no positive outcome on their lives”.

The coalition criticised Dr Kgomotso Mathabe, a practising urologist and a member of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital’s gender clinic, citing that she provided misinformation regarding intersex-born children. At the seminar, Mothabe reportedly said: “Intersex is a condition that is potentially life-threatening. And what intersex is in its simplest terms is when a baby is born, we must be able to look at the genitals, the external genitals of the baby, and be able to say whether it's a boy or a girl.

“And if a trained medical health professional can't make that call, then we call that intersex and then it opens up a whole door. I mean, you know, these are done a certain pathway. So because we have had to get the skill sets to be able to manage the intersex baby, because you look at the baby and you're like, I'm not sure way that this is a small penis or whether this is a large clitoris ... And then in terms of aesthetics, because how you are in the world depends a lot also on your physical appearance.” 

The coalition condemned intersex genital mutilation (IGM) and the harming of intersex- born children. It said: “Human bodies include a wide spectrum of healthy variations in sex characteristics at birth that are part of human diversity, which must be valued, respected and protected, not medically and surgically violated.”

The body said Mathabe further confuses what trans-affirming healthcare is, reportedly stating that, “It's about having conversations. And so the transgender community at Steve Biko all start with a psychiatrist. He must spend a lot of time having conversations, figuring out together with them what is going on, because we need to know, is this just a cross-dressing situation? So we speak very much in medical science about individualising therapy.”

The coalition’s utterances came just after UCT said it noted some views regarding its seminar hosted by Phakeng, and will review the matter.

In a statement UCT said it “respects the rights of the LGBTQA+ community on our inclusive campus and beyond”.

“Consequently, the matter is 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. Prof Phakeng respects the rights of the LGBTQA+ and has decided to put on hold any other sessions on LGBTQA+.”

The university said it will communicate further once the review has been completed.

In some of its demands, the coalition noted:

  • We call on UCT to issue a strong statement with an appropriate response and commitment to action. This includes engagement with the community by the vice-chancellor, the UCT council, and the heads of UCT’s medical and clinical schools. 
  • We demand an engagement with the Steve Biko Academic Hospital gender clinic, in particular with Dr Gerhard Grobler, as the head of psychiatry and Dr Kgomotso Mathabe.
  • We demand a meeting with the minister of health to discuss IGM (intersex genital mutilation) and trans healthcare practices within SA.
  • We demand the department to urgently develop a circular for all health facilities to integrate hormonal replacement therapy, including affirmative SRHR service.
  • We demand an investigation and national inquiry on IGM by the Commission for Gender Equality.

It described the Steve Biko Hospital gender clinic as a violent and medically unsafe place for intersex-born children and for trans people “who wish to medically transition, either through hormones and or surgeries”.

It said the gatekeeping of psychiatry and the medical intention of correcting trans bodies and diagnosing trans people as mentally ill was condemned by the World Health General Assembly in 2018 ... which adopted new ICD11 codes which places gender incongruence under a new chapter called “Conditions related to sexual health”.

“This reflects evidence that trans-related and gender-diverse identities are not conditions of mental ill-health, and classifying them as such can cause stigma. There is sufficient evidence that shows the link between trans suicidality and poor gender-affirming care due to dysphoric pathological practices and medical gatekeepers that have and continue to harm trans people. This seminar has done just that and confirmed the gatekeeping and immense medical harm that resides in the false notion that trans and intersex people require medical validation.”

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