Free Gender Khayalitsha 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 black lesbian community to have a place known as a comfortable and safe home.
While many funding-dependent NGO’s 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 woman’s voice, it is protection of black women’s lives and bodies which matters most.
Formed over 6 years ago in Khayalitsha, on the Cape Flats 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 Funeka 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 Khayalitsha, the community its 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 under ten years, just over five years. It has been a welcoming space and home, especially for young black gay and lesbian women coming from family homes out of 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 Khayalitsha such as Free Gender; she had worked in and with LGBTI and human rights organisations outside of Khayalitsha.
Free Gender didn’t have a lavish launch to announce its arrival. It launched with a plunge into advocacy and resistance. Attacks on black women’s bodies because of their sexuality has 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 to protect their being from the vicious assaults of ill-informed and negative thinking community members. Free Gender does not wait for the outside of community to look after them; Free Gender acts when the need and demand arises. As an advocacy, resistance, protest, protective, fierce and brave organisation, Free Gender has also spearheaded many queer/lgbti campaigns and has presented several memorandums of demand to government, for serious and pivotal government intervention into 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 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 and advances and 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!