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Public lecture: ‘Youth Speak Out: A Strategy to Strengthen the Rights of LGBTI Youth in Southern Africa’

1:30 pm
U11 Umthombo Building, the University of the Witwatersrand

Gabriel Khan, GALA's youth and education officer, will be delivering a special presentation as part of the Wits Transformation Office's 'Who Do You Think You Are?' lecture series.

Titled Youth Speak Out: A Strategy to Strengthen the Rights of LGBTI Youth in Southern Africa, the lecture will draw on GALA’s exciting Art for Activism project.

A full abstract is provided below. For further information, please contact Ella Kotze, programme coordinator, on 08 2721 7863.

Youth Speak Out: A Strategy to Strengthen the Rights of LGBTI Youth in Southern Africa

Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) is a South Africa-based centre for LGBTI culture and education.

GALA acknowledges that young people are significant catalysts for change and so for the past year the organisation has been piloting a creative-based approach to youth engagement. This innovate youth program includes a number of targeted interventions including citizen journalism, youth exchanges and arts-based activism. By adopting a multi-faceted approach, GALA's youth program seeks to actively engage young people while simultaneously empowering them with the skills to advocate for their rights and to work towards positive social transformation.

LGBTI youth in southern Africa face formidable challenges, including, among other things, limited access to services, discrimination within educational institutions, difficulty finding work, and sexual violence. The strict hetero-patriarchy of many African societies, often coupled with the idea that homosexuality is ‘unAfrican’ – a belief perpetuated by many politicians including South Africa’s own president – has created an environment in which many young LGBTI people are denied their basic rights. While nominal legal equality has been won for LGBTI persons in South Africa, the battle for social equality has only just begun, particularly for those who face multiple and intersecting oppressions. Rather than merely advocating on behalf of LGBTI youth, GALA seeks to engage them directly in the struggle for equality and to ensure that their voices are heard on their own terms.

This paper will profile and unpack GALA’s youth-based work through an in-depth case study of its Arts for Activism initiative. This project introduces participants to a range of arts-based techniques as a way of building young people’s skills around campaign building. The workshops use a participatory methodology to engage young people in discussions about human rights and to reflect critically on the challenges they face as LGBTI youth. Participants are then supported by GALA to create their own advocacy campaigns by applying their knowledge of human rights to the arts-based techniques they have learnt. For GALA, this is the most exciting part of the Art for Advocacy project: its methodology allows young LGBTI Africans to develop advocacy campaigns that specifically address the issues they face in a way that they – as young LGBTI activists – want.

As well as providing a detailed analysis of the methodology behind the Art for Activism project, this paper will present some of the creative materials and campaign strategies developed by the youth participants. The paper will thus provide a unique insight into the way in which LGBTI youth in southern Africa understand both their experiences and the myriad challenges that they face. Moreover, it will provide a fascinating glimpse into the networks and alliances being developed by LGBTI youth in southern Africa and the way in which these young activists are engaging with broader society.

The Art for Activism project, which has been successfully run by GALA within South Africa and, by the time of the conference, will be extended regionally, has proven effective for fighting discrimination, promoting equality and increasing visibility.

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