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The HIV/AIDS Centre hosted an online Webinar Dialogue on Sexual Diversity and COVID-19, last week.

The HIV Centre Unit Manager Thobile Zulu spoke more on the reason for hosting the webinar, saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences beyond the spread of the disease itself and efforts to quarantine it, including cultural, financial, social and psychological implications.

“As societies try to defend themselves through severe restrictions on people’s movements and interactions, the disease continues to decimate families, crush economies and tear through the social sector. Whilst numerous effects are implemented to mitigate such consequences, there are some key and vulnerable populations that are somewhat left behind,” she said.

Zulu explained that the webinar aimed to explore the challenges (from a student’s perspective) faced or experienced by the LGBTIQ+ community amidst the COVID-19, exploring mental health within this vulnerable population and how students who identify as LGBTIQ+ are dealing with the lockdown regulations (quarantine), especially living with family members who are non-accepting of their sexual identity.

“Furthermore this dialogue explored the LGBTIQ+ access to health care facilities, provision of Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP) and various barrier method commodities amidst COVID-19. Lastly, the webinar emphasised that DUT still remains a safe and inclusive environment for all,” she said.

Speaking at the online webinar was Lethokuhle Zondi, a former Durban University of Technology student who studied Chiropractic.

During his tenure at DUT he was a member of the DUT Shadow in the Rainbow which was the beginning of his activism and advocacy. His talk focused on a student’s perspective of lived experience of LBTIQ community amidst COVID-19.

The second speaker was Sithembile Ntshangase, who currently works for the Aurum Institute. She is also a Case Manager for the Aurum Pop Inn Projects in the Ethekwini District, a project which makes provision for Sexual Health Care Services for MSM (Men who have sex with Men) and the Transgender population. Her talk was on the provision of PREP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) for this population and other health screening services.

The webinar was well attended with over 50 participants and was an informative dialogue in which a number of issues and topics were raised, ranging from issues of coming out, discrimination of LGBTIQ population, use of inclusive language, safe spaces and LGBTI friendly health care facilities.

“We live in a patriarchal society which is deeply rooted and entrenched in heteronormative values and roles, that ultimately exclude, pathologies and stigmatises humans who don’t fit in the norm. People come with their own set of lived experiences and our main object as the HIV/AIDS Centre becomes to try and let others understand that experience irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation. Hence the creation of an enabling and safe environment (DUT) where LGBIT persons are no longer bullied victimised or harassed,” stressed Zulu.

Going forward, Zulu indicated that it is the HIV/AIDS Centre’s mandate to host such events, in addressing social ills.

“We have a range of annual activities and awareness programmes that are conducted. However, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic the only safe way to continue our work is to conduct webinars. The HIV/AIDS Centre will continue to host more webinars on various topics particularly in the month of August addressing women’s issues and also webinars which address topics linked to the national health calendar. As the HIV/AIDS Centre our aim is to also to Prevent, Support and Empower,” concluded Zulu.

Pictured: DUT Alumni and guest speaker, Lethokuhle Zondi.

Siphesihle Ngubo/Waheeda Peters

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