On Tuesday 28 July a letter was published in the EP Herald, a newspaper considered by many, including myself to be a forward-thinking publication which frequently presents unbiased and fair articles touching on the topic of sexual and gender diversity. The letter was titled "Flaunting of gay lifestyles offensive" by a certain Mike Jones of Port Elizabeth. In his letter Mr Jones berrated the popular TV show "Top Billing" for "ramming gays down our throats every week", "as if their lifestyle is something to be proud of, particularly in a programme of this calibre" He also called gay people "deviates", and elaborated further on his personal prejudice by saying that he did not "regard homosexuality as 'cool'" and intimated how gay people whose homes were featured on the show "got up his nose".
The very first thing that popped into my head after a healthy dose of adrenaline and the thought of something a lot more satisfying I could get up Mr Jones's nose, was the question why a supposedly straight and vehemently anti-gay man would be remotely interested in watching that TV show? But, brushing such private generalization and sterotyping aside, I decided to look into it.
I found even more distasteful and shocking comments posted on the Herald website - left by very brave people hiding behind colorful though fitting pseudonyms such as "Madmark". Comments were made by people who supported Mr Jones, in which they called gay people "animals", "bastards" and one particular "Madmark" who criticized the HIV virus for being "defective" in that "Many of these bastards get to live another ten years or more after being infected. Death should occur within 48 hours after infection. These animals would then be unable to infect others along the way."
As far as I see it, a newspaper Editor should be able to use discretion in choosing which letters to publish, taking into account the content and whether or not it will cause offense or amount to hate speech and complicity to it. This instance clearly qualifies in my view. I am certain that a letter of this type directed at people on grounds of race would not have been allowed to see the light of day, yet for some reason nobody in the editorial staff seemed to think that bigotry against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation would be offending to the public - or cared that gay people might find it offensive.
The letter in question was published regardless of the offensive content - and even on the EP Herald's website, comments on the article were permitted to be posted which went even further than the article, where anonymous bigots called gay people "animals", "deviates", "mentally disturbed" and even criticized HIV for being defective because it takes an AIDS victim ten years to die instead of 48 hours. Bigotry and prejudice all in a day's work.
And the sad thing to me is that these people do not even feel ashamed to say these things - although it must be said they were posted anonymously so perhaps they think they are immune to the law and common decency. It is easy to be brave when nobody knows who or where you are. This misogyny was all permitted on the Herald site, despite an empty caution on the page which claimed "All comments are moderated and will be posted only if they are about the subject and are not abusive, vulgar and/or discriminatory". It seems to me that all of the comments made by Mr Jones's compatriots fit the bill - as does his letter. And yet there they are for the whole world to see.
As an individual I find such a lapse in judgement profoundly shocking because it indicates to me that either they are not properly reading the letters they receive - or they feel gay people do not deserve the same consideration they show other population groups on the basis of their own immutable characteristics.
It is also striking that the Herald has made no attempt to address this matter. There have been no emails of apology, no comment or retraction in today's edition - no comments removed from the website - and no acknowledgment at all that it ever happened.
This says to me that the South African Constitution means "equality for all - except for those people over there, because we don't like them." And what amazes me is the apathy of some of the pink community who still think there is no need to worry about our future in South Africa.
They think we have won true equality - well there sits the state of our equality in South Africa today - on page 5 of yesterday's Herald.