I have been asked by someone living abroad if homophobia in SA is as bad as I seem to be saying it is. They have friends,they say, even gay friends living in SA who tell them they have noticed nothing. Perhaps I am an alarmist? Perhaps I am exaggerating?
I would say the answer to these questions, as with everything, depends on who you ask.
I know gay and transgender people who struggle with discrimination in the workplace. In some cases it is minor things like the HR department not recognizing civil unions or gay marriage certificates, or failing to manage family responsibility leave correctly when the employee takes leave to care for a sick partner, for example. Yes, I can quite understand how this can impede the eyesight of some HR practitioners. Sometimes it is the occasional slur or frustrated homophobic comment. Employers in some areas are homophobic and transphobic and just make life so difficult for GLBT employees to make them quit without having an inconvenient case for unfair dismissal come and bite them in the ass later on.
Fact is, when discrimination in the workplace is illegal, those who want to continue discriminating are forced to stop - or just not get caught out. I know of one trans-woman who was given a hearing by her Johannesburg company solely on the word of her supervisor - who was seen as "beyond reproach" because she happened to be a pastor at her church. The "pastor" even turned up for the hearing with a bible tucked neatly under one arm, professing how "immoral" it was to have a "dirty" transsexual working at a front desk interacting with clients. There must be something wrong with me for not seeing the relevance of this biased personal prejudice in the context of work and labor law.
I talk to gay and transgender kids who are so afraid to come out because they know their parents are very homophobic. Some parents send their kids to "Christian schools" or even "home school" - while completely failing to realize that it is too late - their kids are already gay or trans, and always have been. Some find out and then send their kids to such places to "make" them straight. Some parents try to "beat it out of them", while claiming that it is "biblical" and "loving correction" to do so.
I always thought parental love was supposed to be like God's love - unconditional - and that the bible was meant to be aimed at people's hearts, not their crania. Silly me.
Parents and religious political groups place the "blame" for this on all the usual suspects - a liberal "permissive society" and "promotion of the homosexual agenda" in the media and in school sex education - but if they really want to know who to blame for having gay or trans kids, they should just take a look in the mirror. It is a sad but pertinent irony that if straight people were to stop having gay babies, then none of us would be having this idiotic argument over who should have rights and who not, and who is more human than who.
Yes, it's our fault for being born gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or intersex. In their minds, we chose this, but despite this, no matter how much they hate us, attack our humanity and dignity, persecute us, terrorize us, or hurt us - we will always be what we were born. Some choice.
In December 2008, the SA government refused to sign the UN Declaration to decriminalize homosexuality, and the Presidency is currently cosying up to anti-gay religious groups such as Rhema's NILC - who have made it perfectly clear that removing gay rights from the constitution is their main aim. This of course clarifies government's reason given for not signing the UN declaration as "having principles". Well, I suppose now we know. Considering current developments in Uganda, I can see we have something to worry about.
Ask the average GLBTI person in SA about Ray McCauley, Rhema, NILC, Zuma's "God-Squad", Erroll Naidoo, Family Policy Institute, Christian Action Network, Frontline Fellowship, Peter Hammond, the ACDP, the CDA - and nine out of ten, they will give you a blank, clueless look. Few will be able to tell you anything about them. Few will even think twice about it and even fewer will bother to go and find out.
You know what the usual defense is?
"South Africa is okay - our rights are protected in the new Constitution" is one favorite.
"Hey, we can even get married now - no worries!"
One only needs to say something like: "Yes, but for how long?" to trip them up.
"I'm not interested in politics" is another regular comeback, that actually tops everything off. And that is why I still get questions like: "is homophobia in SA is as bad as you seem to be saying it is?"
At least, it will be - until they wake up one day being not only 2nd class citizens, but criminals for who they are - and then they will wonder why didn't "somebody" do something when there was still time?
"Somebody" should do something. Who? If not you, who else?
People should pay attention to the things that affect them. Politics, religion and law are the top ones that first come to mind, and then the things that fall under them - social intolerance, prejudice - and then their linear consequences, which are either peace, stability, equality and acceptance - or violence and persecution.
Let's take a simple example, like "gay-bashing".
"What's gay bashing?"
One person who saw one of my posts on Face book did not know - but he did take the trouble to find out. What was his reaction?
"I just Googled gay basher and am horrified that this takes place in a modern society, why does this not get headlines when it happens, The pics I just saw shook my foundation, I almost can't believe it, I have been living in a dream world, What the hell is going on? I'm shocked!"
Far from taking this person to task, I am in fact pleased that at least one more person has become aware of the problem, that one less person will spend the rest of his or her life blissfully ignorant of the dangers out there, that we face regardless of whether we know of them or not.
Somebody has to warn the pink community and shake them out of their apathy and disinterest, or the nightmare that is happening right now in Iraq, Jamaica and Uganda - and many other places, will become a reality here as well. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
Who is the more courageous? The big, tough gay-basher, or the GLBTI person who faces their threats on a daily basis and carries on being honest about who they are regardless?
Let somebody tell me again that a gay man is a lesser man just because he is gay. For if they do, I will point this out to them - that it takes more guts, more courage and more bravery for an effeminate, even obvious gay male, or a lesbian, or a bisexual, or transgender or intersex person to walk the world openly in the face of danger and even death - than it takes for some person who is insecure about internalized homophobia to confront their victims, hurl abuse at them - and even to inflict violence upon them. I take the same view of all GLBTI people who, all around the world, face danger and persecution - even in places we today take for granted as "safe" and "civilized".
The most dangerous places on Earth are places where people have no human rights or equality. As far as I am concerned, the second most dangerous places on this planet are places where people have human rights and equality - and don't care about their preservation.
Is that South Africa?
I hope not.