The LGBTQI+ Community in KwaZulu-Natal has expressed concerns over delays in the implementation of more gender-affirming healthcare centres that were promised by the KZN Health Department last year.
Bulelani Mzila, a gender non-conforming political activist and founder of the Isibani Civil Society Forum based in Pietermaritzburg, said gender-affirming healthcare centres are facilities that offer hormones, surgery, supportive psychosocial and mental health services, and other procedures and services that affirm their gender identities.
Mzila said currently only Edendale hospital in Pietermaritzburg offers affirming healthcare in the whole of KZN. This means that many trans persons outside of Pietermaritzburg who seek to affirm their identity cannot access these services, or have to travel long distances to access such services.
“We also experience stigma, discrimination and prejudice based on our sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics when we try to access general healthcare and other services. This infringes upon our human rights to dignity, equality and health,” said Mzila.
The forum has since produced an in-depth documentary, called Stand With Us, featuring four transgender identifying individuals who speak on the lack of accessing gender-affirming healthcare. So far the forum has only released the trailer of the documentary. The full documentary is set to premier on their social pages in the upcoming weeks.
Speaking in the film, Mercury Duma, a transgender man, says “transitioning in South Africa is literally a privilege”.
“The dream that I have is for trans people to be treated like human beings, because when you’re treated like a human being, you feel like a human being, you’re no longer scared, ‘cause right now we’re scared,” says Duma.
Mzila said the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health last year announced that they were looking at establishing a gender-affirming healthcare clinic in Durban. “Since the announcement in September, we haven’t heard anything from the MEC. It is highly important that the MEC is reminded of Section 27 of the Constitution that states that everyone has the right of access to healthcare services.
“Over the years research has shown that while our Constitution is one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, it does not translate to the lived realities and experiences of LGBTQI+ communities.
“There is no doubt that even after 26 years of democracy, LGBTQI+ people do not enjoy the benefits of the Constitution compared to the general population,” said Mzila.
Mzila said this has contributed to prevalence of HIV/Aids amongst trans women and men who have relations with men, lack of access to employment, a high level of dropout in the education system, and homelessness.
“We call on the department to remember trans people and urge the MEC to not buy face but be active in taking a stance in supporting LGBTQI+ communities and paving the way forward on the foundation of ubuntu. This will be achieved if the department keeps its promise by implementing the gender-affirming clinic.”
Spokesperson for the KZN Department of Health, Ntokozo Maphisa, said: “The MEC stands by her utterances and remains committed to making good on her promise.”
Maphisa said Health will continue working to make more of its clinics LGBTQI-friendly. “The department acknowledges challenges faced by the LGBTQI community when trying to access healthcare services, as well as their specific health needs.
“In fact, in December 2019, in a bid to specifically address these challenges, the department launched a programme known as Fabulous About Health. Unfortunately, the emergence of Covid-19 shortly thereafter disrupted a number of innovative programmes that the MEC had introduced, which are meant to improve access to healthcare, and improve overall client experience.
“At the opportune time, these programmes will be resumed, and receive the full attention that they deserve.”