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‘Closet burning was a hate crime’

By Michelle Jones

Gay rights activists at UCT are up in arms about ongoing prejudice on campus after a symbol intended to highlight prejudice against gay people and to promote gay rights was burnt down.

A bright pink closet, meant to highlight homophobia and promote gay rights at UCT, was torched on Monday night, just hours after it was set up. Students have called on university management to investigate the burning as a hate crime. Photo: Sam Clark. Credit: Cape Times

The symbol – a closet – had been on display for less than 12 hours when it was torched on Monday night.

Posters put up around the campus yesterday said: “This closet was supposed to highlight the homoprejudice that still burns through the fabric of our society. Apparently, it also burns through our own campus.”

Students commenting on Twitter and Facebook have asked what hope there could be for gay activism in South Africa if the burning of such a symbol could happen at a liberal university.

Rainbow UCT, the student society which erected the bright pink closet as part of Pink Week, has slammed the burning of the closet and called on university management to investigate it as a hate crime.

The Pink Week campaign, hosted by the university and Rainbow UCT, a student-run lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) group, was organised to celebrate and promote sexual diversity.

The campaign was launched on Monday with the relaunch of The Closet Campaign at Jameson Plaza. The closet had previously been defaced with graffiti when it was displayed in 2007.

Dylan Jack van Vuuren, the outgoing chairman of Rainbow UCT, said the closet had been left where it was yesterday to draw further attention to prejudice on campus.

Van Vuuren said the group was deeply concerned about the “cowardly act of arson”.

“We request that university management, including Campus Protection Services, acknowledges that this is a hate crime and an indication of a larger problem found within the UCT community and broader South African society, which needs to be addressed.”

Van Vuuren said the burning would not dampen members’ spirits and Pink Week would continue.

UCT said in a statement yesterday that security personnel were investigating the “regrettable” destruction of the closet.

Vice-chancellor Max Price said: “One would have hoped that the rights of LGBTI are accepted and one need only celebrate that right, rather than still fight for it. However, it seems there are still people who do not acknowledge some rights embedded in our constitution, and that we definitely still have a lot of work to do to in this regard.”

Campus authorities have opened a case of destruction of property. - Cape Times

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