Monday, July 13, 2009

The Dogs Of War

When the new SA Constitution became fact and law back in the early 90's, discrimination in South Africa against gay and transgender people passed into history and lore.

No?

You don't agree?

Why not?

If you are one of the folks who think I have been smoking my underwear and you insist that "of course we have equality now" - let me point out the following:

In South Africa, despite so-called "compromises", gay men are still not allowed to become blood donors, based solely on the mistaken premise that "anal sex" increases the risks of HIV infections. Despite this, women and heterosexual men are not penalized (no pun intended) for indulging in anal sex, as so many do. I even know of a post operative trans woman who was rejected as a blood donor, despite the glaring fact that she is now a woman. Although the answer to the safe blood question is regular HIV testing for all blood donors, it is simply cheaper, more convenient and more satisfying for the SANBS to continue a discriminatory policy based on prejudice and bigotry because they need to make the public feel "safe" by excluding at least some "risk factors" from the donor group. This, despite repeated shortages of valuable blood and the general willingness of many gay or trans people to donate blood.

In South Africa, last year alone there were three much publicized murders of a lesbian couple who were murdered for their sexual orientation, and one transgender woman who was murdered for asking her murderer to not call her 'queer". So-called 'corrective rape' of lesbians in SA - particularly Black lesbians - is a frightening fact - and despite the glaring shortcomings of current laws on hate crime, some groups vehemently oppose the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in current laws as giving gay and transgender people "special rights" and censoring their religious hatred of innocent people.

In South Africa, male rape victims are still not accorded the same rights as female rape victims, because the courts refuse to recognize the stark reality that males are not invincible and can also be raped - and that "aggravated assault" is not the same charge as rape - and carries far lighter sentences.

Some people are still discriminated and conspired against in the workplace, being refused employment - or being deprived of it after the fact based on prejudice and bigotry which has nothing whatever to do with their ability to do the job or related to their work performance but solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

GLBTI people who report hate crimes to the police often report that the complainants are victimized by police or even prevented from laying charges by unsympathetic or indifferent officers who just couldn't be bothered.

There are groups in SA who view every little expression of our freedom as some kind of threat and an excuse to parade their glowing paranoia and intolerance for diversity. Pride parades in particular are one of their favorite targets, which attract an annual flurry of propaganda, lies and hate speech - often in public media - which surprisingly go unchallenged by all but a few GLBTI advocacy groups. Oddly enough, government does not seem the least bit concerned by expressions of intolerance based on sexual or gender diversity - but only on matters of race.

The use of the descriptive terms "gay" or "lesbian" are still being used to insult or slander some straight people publicly, despite the fact that such abuse actually insults and offends gay and lesbian people. Being gay or lesbian is not an insult - but that some people see it that way is insulting.

A man who expresses his own intolerant views against a minority group in SA society in a public newspaper can rise to be the president of this country, despite also offering our equality and civil rights as a bargaining chip to win the fundamentalist vote.

The government of SA has remained utterly silent on the matter of the persecution of gay and transgender people across the continent of Africa, while loudly addressing issues such as nepotism, corruption and HIV/AIDS. Countries such as Uganda still enjoy full diplomatic relations and the involvement of SA's government with all its international initiatives, despite Uganda's rampant human rights violations against its own pink community as is widely publicized around the rest of the world.

A few years ago the high Court of SA instructed Home Affairs to begin allowing the legal change of gender description with or without actual surgery being done for transgender people - the Home Affairs department refutes this, choosing to interpret this finding as it wills, demanding that transsexuals first present a letter to prove that final surgery has taken place - leaving things exactly as they were before the court case. Which is why today many trans people living in their correct gender and in the process of transition still bear the embarassment of carrying ID documents and drivers licenses - and bank account details - which reflect the opposite.

That is just for a kick-off. Let's dig a little deeper.

Social groups - note, not churches themselves in this case - continue to discriminate against gay and transgender people based on religious prejudice. As a recent example, the well known group FAMSA has allied itself with a fundamentalist religious grouping called TCN (Transformation Christian Network) in Port Elizabeth to pursue a strategy to strengthen the "traditional family" to the exclusion of all other diverse forms of family under an iniative called "Family 1st". All attempts by two GLBTI organizations to be included in this project with them to further their claimed concern for wellbeing of 'the family' resulted in rejection and the smug suggestion that GLBTI should continue to "discuss this in your own groups".

Upon doing a little research, I discovered that the name "Family First" is used by a specific sort of group worldwide. For example I can name at least three around the world with the very same name who have strong political affiliations to conservative right wing fundamentalist political parties and also very strong views on 'the family', marriage equality and homosexuality. In Australia, New Zealand and the USA there is little preventing them from venting their hatred and intolerance for marriage equality, civil rights for gay people and their full intentions on their website. Here in SA, legally, such groups cannot openly afford to state the obvious without losing whatever credibility they might still have or drawing unwelcome legal attention.

Meanwhile, since 2006 when the religious right "war to protect marriage" flopped with the passing of marriage equality for the pink community - this focus shifted on a "war to restore marriage" - i.e. to reverse this milestone in human rights and equality. TCN is one of the groups which touts this view - and is represented in both FAMSA PE as well as in their "Family 1st" committee.

To dig into a little history let's look at this little gem found on the SACLA website:

http://www.sacla.za.net/public_html/regions/easterncape.htm "1.4 Family in Crisis In partnership with FAMSA, Family Transformation International and Transformation NM Bay will be hosting a workshop, led by Drummond Robinson and Erna Jonker, in the City Hall on Friday 15 October 2004, to formulate a Nelson Mandela Bay Marriage and Family Commitment Policy."

Drummond Robinson and his wife are part of the Harvest Christian Church leadership team and also head up Family Transformation Ministries. Erna Jonker is the head of FAMSA PE. "Transformation Nelson Mandela Bay" is co-ordinated by Mr Trevor Jennings and Rev Mvusi Gwam - who are executive member and coordinators respectively for TCN. Jennings and Jonker are also both involved in the current TCN initiative called SASCOL. And we all remember SACLA and its co-leader Michael Cassidy's cameo appearances in close proximity to Erroll Naidoo in the press in their "war to defend marriage" in 2005/6, don't we? All neat and tidy - "kop in een mus" as they say in these parts.

During my research I discovered that the Western Cape branch of FAMSA (WC) displays the following statement on its website http://www.famsawc.org.za/ : "Families come in many forms including: extended families, single parent families, gay couples (with or without children)..." "FAMSA recognises all forms of family and strives to make a positive impact in our communities through our counselling and support services." FAMSA PE however displays no such statement nor makes any mention whatever of diverse forms of family or even gay couples. In fact the mention of gay people or anything non-heterosexual of any nature is conspicuous by its absence.

TCN and Erna Jonker seem to go hand in hand with FAMSA PE in tow, wherever TCN hosts a funtion or "initiative" Erna Jonker seems sure to go and FAMSA will follow. http://www.tcn.org.za/news_details.php?ID=148&pagetitle= I wonder how an organization founded to look after the interests of family life and to provide counseling got roped into such a narrow minded view and close relationship with the fundamentalist religious right in Port Elizabeth?

FAMSA PE - a group which is supposed to be impartial and which claims on its website to "be non-judgmental" and "tolerant" and yet consorts with a known fundamentalist fringe group in opposition to principles entrenched in the SA Constitution.

TCN is closely associated with a religious online forum for Christian churches in the Port Elizabeth area called "PE Church Net" - which leans heavily in favor of the fundamentalist point of view. This interesting networking group has provided websites to bodies such as Phillip Rosenthal's PE group "Family Alliance International" (which fell flat at the time their war on marriage equality flopped - He is now leading "Christian View Network") Rosenthal is well-known for his glowing review of 'the Pink Agenda" which derogates and defames gay people, employing pseudo-science and propaganda as tools of the character assassin, and was written by Christine Mc Afferty and Peter Hammond of CAN. Postings from acerbic anti-gay fundamentalist groups are regularly made directly to PE Church Net's wall, and this can clearly be seen in 2006 at the time of the "war to protect marriage". Posts from or about CAN, CVN and even Doctors For Life and TCN show up in places. Whether PE Church Net is closely affiliated to Christian Action Network (CAN) is still unclear at this point, although an email conversation with PE Church Net founder and director Shaun Gouws last year indicated a definite admiration for people such as Rosenthal and Hammond and which echoed the very same anti-gay stance. As far as PE Church Net is concerned, it is clear which side of their slice of the human rights hot potato is buttered.

Let's take a well known church in PE mentioned earlier: "Harvest Christian Church" http://www.harvest.co.za On their website under "Missions", Harvest Christian Church (Port Elizabeth) brags: "Uganda– Providing leadership assistance and resource to 10 churches in this nation." - one would think that if Harvest Christian Church showed a measure of love or tolerance to gay and trans people then this would reflect in the attitude of the churches in Uganda who call for gay people to be marooned on an island and starved to death as "punishment" for daring to be gay. They boldly proclaim "We believe in and subscribe to the Biblical principle of heterosexual relationships between a natural man and a natural woman and that this is the only marriage relationship that constitutes holy matrimony." So this excludes both gay couples and transgender people who have transitioned and yet are legally male or female and desiring heterosexual marriage. And yet the slogan of Harvest on their website is "Love extravagantly". Yes, indeedy.

Very Christian indeed, sirrah. One must limit the membership or else 'true' Christianity ceases to become an exclusive membership.

What is just as interesting is that leading members of this church also have their own little groups such as "Family Transformation Ministries" and "Church of the Nations" - each with their own nasty little views on gender and sexual diversity and their own interesting local and foreign connections. I doubt very much, the leaders of all three groups being the same, that the church they lead together would differ significantly in terms of outlook or policy - nor do I doubt would those attending such a church which makes its views so abundantly clear.

My own experience with Harvest dates back to the early 90's when I started experimenting with different churches in my city - perhaps to find love or acceptance or affirmation, seeing as I felt intimidated and unwelcome at my own. At Harvest I was quite welcome all of one youth service until right at the end when people laid hands on me to "cure" me of my "sin". Needless to say, none of their mumbo-jumbo changed me, made me straight or even happy to be male - it just gave me the most creepy feeling. In my humble agnostic opinion, that place isn't a real church, but a large well-moneyed cult. I was out of there pretty darn quick, ducking all the way just in case I ran into Elvis or any passing UFO's. I subsequently had similar experiences in other "charismatic" fundamentalist churches around town, but this was by far the most intimidating and invasive.

Frighteningly enough, this fundamentalist church has operated its very own "Christian school" since about the same time. I am immensely relieved that I was not unfortunate enough to attend school there.

Some years later, about 2003 - having been called to perform emergency repairs on the PC which operated their overhead projector one late afternoon before an evening service by a senior colleague of mine at work - I got the distinct impression that I was truly blessed to be paid for my services, while just lucky to not be frog marched out the door afterwards. A 'pastor' (and several others) gave me distinctly dirty looks and refused to greet me, leading me to believe my reputation as a transgender woman had preceded me. The only person there who would talk to me was my colleague who was also a volunteer at the church - and my clue as to how they might now something as personal as my gender history.

I am sure the others avoided getting close to me in case the almighty decided to strike me down with lightning for daring to enter their inner sanctum - but yet they needed my skills as a PC technician in order to influence their masses. It seems that even to them, the end justifies the means. In those days I was not yet an activist and not yet even aware of the widespread prejudice against gay and transgender people, so instead of making a scene, I quietly set their equipment right - and charged them double rates before mincing very obviously out the door without any assistance. You can be sure I pointed all this out to my colleague the following day.

Another colleague of mine who attended that same church mentioned to me that "friends" of his there who know he works with me asked him "how can you even work with a thing like that?". Hmm. A very Christian harvest indeed. To his credit, while he does not agree with "what I did", he no longer attends that church.

This as I may point out - is just one church in one city, and it has ties through a facilitating network to other like minded churches and groups around the country - and around the world. If you sit there and connect the dots with the links and where they go to, between such groups, drawing in the lines of support - you too will end up looking at a spiderweb big enough to blot out the sun.

'The struggle for equality in SA is over' I heard you say?

Not only religious bodies and churches connect into this pretty picture - there are also bodies which stem from their religious intolerance who share their intolerance and aim to do something about it. They mix religion with law, medicine and even nursing, psychology, pharmacy and dentistry - in fact, they mix their own private religion with whatever sector or business they happen to represent or be involved in - which takes the penetration of this bigotry to a whole new level of scary and frightening.

Groups such as Family policy Institute (FPI) keep a ready watch on matters in Parliament - and they openly declare war on gay and transgender equality and civil rights. Groups such as Justice Alliance of SA (JASA) and Doctors For Life (DFL) stand ready to assist with pro bono legal actions and "friend of the court" applications in order to squash any chances of further equality laws or ammendments to pass - or in the event churches need to fire gay employees without getting appropriately nailed by the law for it. In fact, if any challenge to our civil rights - including marriage equality is forthcoming - it will be from this sector.

In the recent Moreletta Park unfair dismissal case where the NG church was ordered to pay damages to a music teacher they unfairly dismissed on grounds of his sexuality, you should have seen the hate-filled rants in "letters to the Editor" given free air on the pages and websites of newspapers such as the Citizen. And yet this libel and hate speech was published - despite it being pointed out that the very same things being said about people on grounds of race would never see the light of day - or would result in legal action.

It would seem to me that some are indeed correct in saying that "Gay is the new Black".

A few short years ago people were expressing their hatred and intolerance against non-white people in newsletters, newspaper columns and in letters to the Editor - let alone in public - based solely on their inborn characteristics such as race - and using religion and so-called 'holy scripture' to justify it. While such public racist expression is now forbidden and punishable by law, there is no such luxury to protect people on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity (also inborn charactersitics) and the bigots can incite hatred and vent libel with impunity. And funnily enough these same "Christian" people can derogate our need for inclusion in the very same laws which protect people from hate crimes on the basis of race, language, culture or gender as "special rights".

How our inclusion into the same laws as everyone else amounts to 'special rights' is quite beyond logic or reason. That is simply an insult to our intelligence - and to yours - and yours... and yours.

Anti-gay fundamentalist groups are intent on reversing every human rights gain the pink community has achieved in the last 15 years. Whether they will ever manage it is anyones guess, but the fact is that is what they say they want - and they are not even shy in saying it in places where it can be found by anyone who bothers to look for it. "8.THE WAR AGAINST THE LEGALISATION OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGES:The battle in the Constitutional Court was lost on 1 December 2005.";"So the war now shifts to Parliament and that is where our intercessory focus should be from now on."

http://www.sacla.za.net/?component=ddb&operation=page&page=15 If they call it a "war" should we not be concerned by their zeal? That they are still quietly making aggressive moves under our very noses while we sit idly by in blissful ignorance?

To conclude, bigotry and prejudice is very much alive and well in sunny little South Africa - not so much a 'human rights heaven' as some people with their heads buried in the sand would believe then.

Do a little looking around, start on the web and see which local organizations near you have skeletons in their closets, who they connect to, what they say their stance is on YOUR humanity and YOUR rights to equal treatment - if they declare war on YOU, YOUR partner, YOUR friends and YOUR family for accepting and loving YOU. Don't just sit there, do something.

And if people continue to sit idly by believing that our fight to achieve and to maintain civil rights and equality is long over, they are living in a fools paradise.

How long can one kick a dog out of cruelty before it turns around and bites back?

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