For Free Gender Khayelitsha the protection of black women’s lives and bodies matters most, writes Cheryl Roberts.
Free Gender Khayelitsha is not only an NPO (a not-for-profit organisation) but a fierce, brave, critical home for black non-heterosexual women. Free Gender was never founded on the thought of being an NGO/NPO to “attract funding, especially foreign donors”, but as a pivotal need for the black lesbian community to have a comfortable and safe home.
While many funding-dependent NGOs have been and are struggling to survive and organise, this is not so with Free Gender.
For sure, they battle to administer and work without money, but answering to foreign donors and national funders and sponsors is not their mandate or reason for their existence. For this community-rooted black women’s voice, it is protection of black women’s lives and bodies which matters most.
Formed in Khayelitsha by battle-weary and resilient human rights activist Funeka Soldaat, Free Gender gave hope and freedom to young black women and black people to know and believe that they could and should exist in South Africa on their terms, according to their sexuality and lifestyles.
Because Free Gender was never founded on foreign donor and funding allocations, the doors of this fierce and strong community voice are never threatened by closure. They don’t have an upmarket city office.
For many years it was the humble home of Soldaat and her partner that was used as a meeting and gathering space. Late last year the organisation acquired its first official office space in Khayelitsha, the community it serves and exists for.
Most LGBTI/Queer human rights organisations and structures cannot exist without funding. That is understandable, sometimes. What Free Gender demonstrates is that passion, heart and commitment can carry your community voice, despite operating in adverse and financially constrained conditions.
Free Gender organises in community, around community and with community, without lavish financial resources, yet pulls off victories so needed and so vital for protection of life, whatever one’s sexuality.
Free Gender has been in existence for just over five years. It has been a welcoming space and home, especially for young black gay and lesbian women coming from homes in Cape Town.
The foundation of Free Gender is the much respected and internationally admired Funeka Soldaat, who founded and launched the community structure.
Funeka knew the need for a community voice in Khayelitsha such as Free Gender; she had worked in and with LGBTI and human rights organisations outside Khayelitsha. Free Gender didn’t have a lavish launch to announce its arrival. It simply plunged into advocacy and resistance.
Attacks on black women’s bodies because of their sexuality have been consistently, openly and fiercely condemned by Free Gender, with Free Gender showing fearless commitment and resolve with street protests.
Young black gay women have grown into beautiful, fearless and proud beings within the organisation that is Free Gender, which also encourages them to speak out, to find their voice and protect them from the vicious assaults of ill-informed and negative community members. Free Gender does not wait for those outside the community to look after them; Free Gender acts when the need and demand arises.
As a protective, fierce and brave organisation, Free Gender has also spearheaded many queer/LGBTI campaigns and has presented several memorandums of demand to the government, for serious and pivotal government intervention into the assault on black lesbian bodies and lives.
Forget about heaping praise and recognition on internationally funded organisations who can work only when international donor money is in their bank accounts. It is unfunded community organisations like Free Gender that deliver!
It is Free Gender that speaks for the community of black lesbian women and protects them. It is Free Gender that is the voice of black women’s sexuality.
And this is the voice that achieves, advances, resists and protests without big sponsorship, City of Cape Town funding and international donor support.
In Free Gender, black lesbian and queer women have the voice and power that is organically and authentically theirs!
* Roberts is a social activist
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.