The Black Lawyers Association, in collaboration with the Faculty of Law at the University of the Free State (UFS), held a public dialogue on the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community in the legal profession on 25 May, on the Bloemfontein Campus. On the panel were prominent activists for LGBTIQ+ rights, Justice Edwin Cameron, Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Maralize Conradie, UFS lecturer in Mercantile Law; and Sivuyile Mphatheni, a Law student and member of the Black Lawyers Association.
Liberal but not yet free
The Constitution of South Africa is considered to be one of the most liberal and inclusive in Africa and the world by protecting the rights of same-sex partnerships pertaining to family rights; marriage and adoption. Yet despite these provisions LGBTIQ+ legal professionals still experience discrimination in the workplace. “The LGBTIQ+ community should be regarded as a demonstration of the complexity of human nature, rather than a minority group,” said Conradie. She said the shift in mind-set could allow for more open dialogue, sharing of knowledge, building of trust, and upholding the rights of minority people. Speaking on behalf of law students, Sivuyile Mphatheni said that despite the many victories, there was still a long way to go to achieving full equality for the LGBTIQ+ community.
Discrimination still holding back society
Speaking to students from all walks of life, Justice Cameron gave a breakdown of various forms of discrimination and the effects they have on the human pysche. Actions such as racism, sexism, sexual harassment, the stigma of people living with HIV/Aids, and the upholding patriarchy in society all infringe on the rights of others, causing a society that is fraught with fear, hate and pain.
“South Africa is one of the most progressive countries in Africa regarding human rights, including freedom of speech,” said Justice Cameron. He added that unlike in some African countries where same-sex relationships are still criminalised, the youth of South Africa have a voice. He therefore encouraged students to use it to become change agents, and to eradicate discrimination of all forms.
The Black Lawyers Association, as thought leaders, held the event as a call to action to the entire UFS community to begin to sensitise those around them to the plight of the LGBTIQ+ in the law profession and in society as a whole.
Source University of the Free State