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UJ: Prof David Bilchitz on the advancement of lesbian and gay rights

​​The advancement of LGBTI rights (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex) was the focus of a ground-breaking conference held in Beijing, China on 27-28 April 2015.​

David Bilchitz, one of the co-organisers and Director of the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC), a leading South African research centre within the Faculty of Law at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), explained that the rationale for the conference was ‘to encourage academic scholarship and cross-cultural understanding on the topic of lesbian and gay rights.’

Says Prof Bilchitz: “Radical changes have occurred in the past 50 years in the law relating to LGBTI people. In South Africa, we moved in eight years from decriminalisation of sodomy to same-sex marriage. China decriminalised same-sex sexuality in 1997 and is considering further rights for LGBTi people. Yet, there has been little engagement between scholars in China and those in other parts of the world relating to LGBTI rights. We hope this conference will remedy this gap.”

The conference, a joint collaboration between the renowned Faculty of Law at Renmin University and UJ’s SAIFAC, explored the cultural and scientific shifts in the conception of LGBT people and the legal revolution that has taken place in the past half-century.

Prof Bilchitz pointed out that discussions were based on the different models of partnership rights that have been developed for same-sex couples and the possibilities in China. “Anti-discrimination legislation was also an important component of the discussion as was the duty of governments and academics to promote LGBTI equality,” he said.

International experts who presented included Prof Nicholas Bamforth (University of Oxford) and Prof Kendall Thomas (University of Colombia). Prof Bilchitz and fellow South African colleagues Prof Frans Viljoen (Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria) and Prof Pierre De Vos (University of Cape Town) also presented.

Prof Bilchitz summed up his impressions of the conference by saying that the presentations were of a high quality and, most importantly, there was a frank exchange of views. “I learnt a large amount about the position of LGBTI people in China. The conference, it seems has unleashed exciting energies and there was discussion about follow-up conferences, the formation of a course on sexuality and the law in China, publications on the topic and, hopefully, the development of LGBT student societies to reduce the stigma LGBTI people often face,” he elaborated.​​

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