Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mob Rule

Unfortunately, it is human nature for people to hate and despise what they don't understand, and to torture and kill those whom they don't want to understand. When such groups of people are presented to larger groups as a threat, or a scapegoat, they often seize the opportunity to point out that "there are more of us, so you must be wrong, unnatural and evil". It also needs to be said that such people, when placed in control of a government - certainly don't need to understand. They just need someone to blame.

"It is their fault for the bad rains, the earthquakes, the floods, the tsunami's - all because we tolerate their existence" these people claim. Some can see reason and sense in the likelihood that nature and tectonic crust movements could be governed by noble morals and the ritual sacrifice of minorities made guilty of manufactured crimes by prejudice and bigotry. People in the hot-seat point fingers in order to shift blame and to cling to power. Give the mob someone to blame, anyone to keep them busy and focused on someone else, anyone else but me. Ah, the ancient art of misdirection. It is an old, old story, as old as the pyramids, if not even older.

Pedophilia? Naturally, it is the gay's fault for choosing a sinful un-Christian lifestyle. They do this to defy God, nature - and us, of course. Muti murders? It is witchcraft, and anyone who does not attend church every Sunday is a witch and should be killed for it, according to traditional biblical values. HIV/AIDS? Why, that's a gay disease, of course, despite the facts that show how HIV strikes anyone, anywhere, regardless of sex, gender, orientation, race, religion or class. And my personal favorite - speaking out against gross human rights abuses is "giving in to the homosexual lobby" and "furthering the gay agenda" - never mind the contradiction in finding any good in furthering legislation that institutes bigotry, violence, hatred and genocide - and the fact that continued silence gives consent.

"Moral decay" and "moral regeneration" is the new watchword of the government in South Africa. Obviously this is taken from a religious perspective, as "morality" is a very Christian concern indeed. Despite this, the leaders of this "God Squad" wanting to rid the country of human rights and legal protections for some groups, while entrenching them for others - are also the same people who endorse by their own behavior, prejudice, bigotry, hypocrisy, polygamy, infidelity, and divorce. It strikes me as ironic that a move to institute "moral regeneration" could ever be built upon foundations of immorality and hypocrisy. And we all know how much fun irony can be.

Something I have been hearing for some time now is the "It's only a matter of time before SA becomes Zimbabwe." story. I know many people who have already left the country for what they feel are greener pastures, regularly writing back to say how much better it is for them over there, and how clean and how safe. How honest the people are there, how accountable the public service and the politicians. Do I have blinkers on, that I resist the urge to join them? Don't I see what they mean when they compare SA to it's corrupt and broken down neighbor? Yes, I have noticed the similarities myself. I notice it every single day.

That being said, it all depends on us. Are we going to sit by and watch this country that has so much promise, decay and deteriorate through corruption and mismanagement? Or are we going to get off our butts and get involved in processes which will re-build and continue to bolster the South African dream founded in 1994 instead?

I know what my choice is. This is my home. I love this county. I love democracy, liberty and equality. Even if the political process looks like it will roll over us, we must try. And even if we fail, we fail trying - and not failing to try.

I'm not going to just give up and not try because it looks like SA is in trouble and the window for my escape to foreign lands may be closed off.

Even if one day I must leave these shores, I will not stand by and let radicals pick away at the laws which grant equality to us all, unchallenged. I will not remain silent in the face of hatred and intolerance and hypocrisy, for silence gives consent - and I do not. All I ask is that you do the same. Speak out in the face of injustice, speak out in the face of bigotry. Look prejudice in the eye and stare it down, back into the dark cave it comes from. Speak out to protect the South African Constitution - which is the one law in this country we all need to protect at all and any cost.

I await the day when certain groups in this country challenge the Constitution in court because they feel that certain other groups having the same legal rights as themselves somehow infringe on their rights to believe whatever they choose to. I anticipate the day people who have been campaigning and lobbying to change the Constitution, will attempt to rip to shreds those laws which grant human rights to people they happen to dislike or blame for their own ills.

Over-zealous puritans and hypocritical radical charlatans - these are the things we must guard against in this country. Our future depends on it.

Let's make the biggest hill we can for them to try to roll over! Let's make it a battle they will dread winning because it will cost them far too much in terms of resources and international condemnation! Let's give those who seek to take away our rights and humanity and destroy us, a fight that will ruin them as well as us.

Let's make their war to strip us of our equality and our humanity - a fight that they will dread winning.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Enough Is Enough

Dear Mr Ssempe lays it all on the line for SA - send Jon to Uganda - or else face protests and a boycott of SA businesses in Uganda.

"We take this letter to remind you that South Africa has vast strategic economic interests in Uganda in the areas of communications, energy, banking, food and mineral sectors. These include household names such as MTN, Eskom, Stanbic, Nandos, and many others. The de-selection of Mr. Jon Qwelane and sending to Uganda someone who pleases the homosexual groups in South Africa threatens the good social standing of these companies in light of our nations values. You need to carefully weigh what is South Africa’s strategic interest in our nation and region. Is it business or sodomy?" "Cancelling Mr. Jon Qwelane appointment and sending someone else due to the pressure of the homosexuals will trigger a widespread civil society protest which stands to affect the South African businesses in Uganda."

A big, burning question I would like answered is: Why is SA even trading with those fascists in the first place - and why is SA still - after two years - refusing to speak out against Uganda's laws which abuse human rights?

Why is Eskom - that's right, our own struggling Eskom - supplying electricity to tyrants in another country, probably at a lower cost, when South Africans are facing a drastic electricity shortage and a massive increase in costs? Surely this is unjustifiable?

Why are South African companies, as listed by Ssempe, trading in Uganda? I know that business is business, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Franchises can be cancelled, trade agreements sidelined or suspended. If I owned a franchise being used by shops in Uganda, I wouldn't want my brand associated with that country and it's disgusting policies. I am sure that companies which traded with Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa faced penalties, what is the difference here?

I think it is time South Africans grow a backbone and a sense of moral outrage at the prospect of inhuman laws which would institutionalize genocide - and the increasing likelihood that our government is quietly approving events in Uganda. I think they should withdraw their business interests from such places, which already victimize and destroy the lives of innocent people, who like everyone else, are simply trying to live normal happy lives - and seek to pass vile and evil laws which attempt to legitimize genocide and cruelty in the name of religious fanaticism.

If this new law in Uganda, which will provide for the mass murder of people simply based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, passes, I wouldn't want it known that my brand was feeding the abusers of human rights and the perpetrators of the Pink Genocide. I could add, "Genocide generously sponsored by... fill in the blanks." And believe me, these brand names have now been openly associated with Uganda by Martin Ssempe, one of the architects of what is being called the Ugandan Genocide Bill.

Look at the values being paraded in Uganda, South African people, whatever you color, language, faith or hue. Ssempe and his political allies in the Ugandan government are advertising a crack down on human rights, a removal of freedoms we take for granted here. They are intent on killing innocent ordinary people simply for who they are - and in passing a neat little law to make it look "right", "just", "moral" - and they are even dragging religion into it in order to make it look "legitimate". They are intent on committing murder in the name of religion. I was under the impression that the Dark Ages ended six centuries ago, clearly I was wrong.

Have a good look at current events in Uganda, have a good look at the circumstances, back ground and the players involved - and then decide what kind of move it would be to send Jon Qwelane - a man who has made no secret of his hatred of gay people - to Uganda to act as a South African ambassador. And then to have the cheek to expect the Pink Community in South Africa to still pay for his salary out of our tax money?

It is time South Africans stood away and divorced themselves from association with groups of people such as "pastor" Martin Ssempe, and his many backers in Ugandan politics, who seek to ruin lives and oppress human rights - and to say "Enough is enough - not in my name!"

I urge the South African government to consider the value of human life and dignity and the threat to human rights in Uganda - and the freedoms and human rights guaranteed in the Constitution of South Africa, and to act in this matter accordingly.

Overturn Jon Qwelane's appointment, Mr Zuma - and condemn Uganda's human rights abuses as the folly, danger and evil they are.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Friendly Advice

I find the older one gets, the harder it is to find and make true friends. Some time ago I had many real life friends, some with whom I had kept relationships going since junior school, people that I shared and did everything with - even until long after high school. And then one day, about ten years ago - I lost every single one of them, every single one - including a best friend I had known 14 years.

The event that precipitated this? My coming out as transgender. It seems that suddenly people didn't know me anymore (or want to know me) and were suddenly far too busy to call, talk, or socialize. Suddenly, everybody was a workaholic. Suddenly, people weren't talking to me as much as at or about me. Even my best friend at the time - a guy I had known since starting high school, who was as a brother to me, and who had been quite comfortable with the thought of me being bisexual (as long as it was closeted) - was suddenly afraid to be around me in case people started doubting his manhood.

It seems that when you keep your nature a secret, and when you lie about who you are, people love you - and when you reveal yourself and live honestly, they despise you and even fear you for it.

But life goes on, you make friends, you lose them, you make new friends, they move on, you move on, friendships become less close as this process continues. It is rare these days to find friends who will really stick with you through your whole life - and who prove it.

The thing I've learned is to give abundantly of myself to my friends, and to accept what they are willing to offer in return, without expecting anything. That way I don't get disappointed. That way, they don't get too close. It saves me a lot of hurt in the long run.

So my advice to you is, when or wherever you find friends - appreciate them, love them. Enjoy life, enjoy them - they won't be there forever. Neither will you.

Hiding In Plain Sight

I sincerely hope Mr Shapiro doesn't mind my including his brilliant cartoon of the issue with my article, it is remarkably apt and fitting to the situation, it puts in one picture all the words I could write a hundred articles about this subject! Kudos to him!

Last week, the storm around the appointment of the homophobic News24 columnist Jon Qwelane broke mainstream news. Immediately, there was an outcry by human rights organizations, specifically from the Pink Community, even resulting in some advocacy bodies in other countries lodging objections. Why did they object?

Well, because Mr Qwelane has made a habit of targeting groups of people in his articles, derogating them and using his articles as a forum to incite distrust and even hatred against them. Although he is known for his intolerance of women equality, and racist sentiments against White people, his particular favorite appears to be gay people.

Thus far, the only official response by the ANC has been a rather shamefully ignorant statement made by its spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, who is reported to have asked a reporter for the Mail & Guardian:

"Do you have any scientific evidence that [Qwelane] is a homophobe?"

I have to wonder if this man understands or is aware of the reasonable and clear definition of homophobia? Should I define homophobia as a measure? No, let's go there. Here it is, from Wikipedia: If you are unsure of what a homophobe is, please read it and familiarize yourself with it.

"Homophobia is a term for a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality and people identified or perceived as being homosexual. Definitions[1][2][3] of the term refer variably to antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, and (irrational) fear. Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination[1][2] and violence on the basis of a non-heterosexual orientation. In a 1998 address, author, activist, and civil rights leader Coretta Scott King stated that "Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood."[4]

Among some more discussed forms of homophobia are institutionalized homophobia (e.g. religious homophobia and state-sponsored homophobia[5]), lesbophobia - the intersection of homophobia and sexism directed against lesbians, and internalized homophobia - a form of homophobia among people who experience same-sex attraction regardless of whether or not they identify as LGBT.

Two words originate from homophobia: homophobic (adj.) and homophobe (n.), the latter word being a label for a person who displays homophobia or is thought to do so."

Now look at Mr Qwelane's portfolio - all the articles in which he has undermined the constitution, attacked gay rights, and belittled the pink community - most specifically his article from 2008 "Call me names but gay is not ok", which is considered a still-stinging slap in the face to us. If anything, this appointment is a resounding backhand which compounds this insult as prejudice, injustice and inequality thumbs it's nose at us.

There is your "scientific proof" of his homophobia, Mr Mthembu. The definition, and the evidence in the perpetrator's own hand. The bullet and the smoking gun. In fact, perhaps there should be a picture of him beside the definition.

Jon Qwelane clearly does not even respect South Africa's own constitution, which is why he can make careless and irresponsible calls for "politicians with balls" to rise up and change it to remove the human and civil rights of the Pink Community from it.

How can this country, knowing the state of current events in Uganda, send him as an Ambassador to that country, which is overrun with homophobia - if he clearly does not even respect human rights?

Perhaps the reason Mr Qwelane and other homophobes seem to not care about their homophobic attitudes, is because they haven't bothered to read the definition - if they had, they might note the striking similarities to another rather nasty word in the dictionary - being "racist".

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mentally Ill

Assume for a moment that I were to commit a crime of passion - say in true Colombine fashion I were to walk into a shopping mall or a high school carrying a shotgun, and start pumping - or if I were to start playing "Carmageddon" for real. Would I be considered "sane"? What do you think, huh? Would I make a good case for a shrink to make his career with? Would I be justified in making an insanity plea in court?

Would I?

What do you think my chances are?

Some people like to claim that transsexuality is a "mental disorder" - and as a case in point, while advocacy and human rights organizations and many, many psych professionals around the world are trying to get transsexuality removed from the list of mental disorders, a particularly nasty group of shrinks is trying to entrench us in the next edition of the Manual.

In other words, according to them, I am mentally ill. Yet I am not on any medication, not having any counseling, not locked away in a padded cell - and I live a full, productive and happy life - but am supposedly "mentally ill" just because of being transsexual.

Yet at the same time transsexuals have to go through a strenuous evaluation process to qualify for HRT and surgery - paradoxically to establish that they are in fact NOT mentally ill. That's right, if you manifest signs of bipolar disorder, or personality disorders and in some countries, even severe clinical depression, you are disqualified. So in other words, we are just perfectly sane and healthy enough to know that we want surgery - but just "mentally ill" enough to need it. How does that make me feel? Just peachy, thanks doc. Tell me about your mother, lol.

Is this perhaps because what I am and represent challenges some people's rigid little rules about who fits in which pigeon-hole?

In 1973 homosexuality ceased being viewed by the medical profession as a mental disorder. It has taken all this time, all of thirty six years for this to sink into ordinary society - and even today there are still people who like to claim that a person's natural in-born sexual orientation is somehow a sign of "mental illness". In fact, there is a whole industry founded on this fallacy, telling people they can "pray away" their own nature - and of course, charging them a mint for counseling, courses, membership fees, conferences, workshops and refresher courses. Thirty six years later, transsexuals are still facing this same scenario - along with bearing the social and medical stigma that the homosexual portion of the pink community shed so long ago.

It's not all bad though, most clinics and health services require a medical diagnosis in order for trans patients to be allowed to have feminization surgeries and hormone treatments. So, cool - the health service will pay for my treatment if I consent to being classified as having a "treatable mental disorder". Sounds fair, don't you think? No? Why not?

If you feel the way I do, then your blood is boiling. I know many people would even defend this ridiculous and insulting system, for the simple reason that surgery and medication are not cheap - and were it not for this system, they would not be able to afford to transition and possibly spend the rest of their lives as transvestites or drag queens - to seemingly justify those who get off calling them "perverts" and "deviants".

There is a growing international move to declassify transsexuality as a mental disorder, in fact, France did that last year. Vive' la France.

I have often pointed out that it is surely strange and ironic that "cosmetic surgery" can cure a mental disorder. It is clear that some compromise is in order - and it is in reclassifying transsexuality from a "mental disorder" to a medical condition.

That way, transsexuals would no longer be stigmatized or discriminated against for something equally as natural as sexual orientation - gender identity - and can still receive medical treatment where applicable in terms of regulations covering medical conditions. In short, what is required is not just a change in wording of policies, but a mind shift.

At the same time, there are shrinks who fly in the face of prevailing opinions and actually encourage keeping transsexuals in their manual. They have even developed laughable crackpot theories like "autogynophilia" (LOL) and "HBS", intended to entrench us in there so deeply we will be lucky to ever dig our way out of there. They confuse sexual orientation and gender identity as inseparable issues, when in fact their profession regards them as separate and independent. They divide the transsexual community insultingly into "HBS" or "True transsexuals" who are supposedly straight in orientation, and the rest of us freaks who are just gay men who get a sexual thrill from living as women picturing ourselves as women and actually prefer men.

So once again, outsiders are telling us who we are when we already know - better than them - who we are. They are telling some of us that we are "better" than others like us, or that others like us are the "real deal" and that we are pretenders because of our sexual orientation - and that we belong in a separate category.

This bucket load of horse manure is all about one thing to me - divide, conquer and maintain the status quo. In short, oppression.

Somebody needs to educate these amateurs that 1) we are not mentally ill, 1) Sexual orientation has bugger all to do with gender identity, 3) I am an adult and will sign any surgery consent forms I choose to; and 4) I pay their bills, and as their client they answer to me and I will have their service and their respect.

Why do we have to justify what we feel to others? Why should we have to justify who we love and who we are to others? Why do some people persist in going into a panic if they know I am going into the ladies room as a pre or post op transsexual? Do they think I "whip it out" or stand and pee on the toilet seat like their myopic boyfriends? Oh wait, I forgot - it's because the world will come to an end, isn't it? All because the tranny used the ladies room, sat in a cubicle and did what comes naturally to us all. And yet this simple example proves my point - IGNORANCE.

Do they actually think that males have to stand and urinate? Are they that socially conditioned? Do men have some kind of muscle or nerve connection that prevents them to pee when seated? What in their wildest dreams makes them assume that a trans woman who is in transition or post-op would want to stand and urinate? And yet there is this perpetual fear of transgender people using the ladies room. So many trans people tell me how their biggest obstacle is the rest-room hurdle! Women should be "protected" from these "deviants" and "freaks". Ha! If only all those "real" men (LOL) who I peed next to, standing at the trough in my earlier days, knew what I am now - how they would wish I had been using the ladies room instead!

How many women like to stand and urinate? Do YOU know any? I sure don't. For one thing, even when I was still physically male, even before coming out I used to hate doing that standing up because it was a masculine impulse to me, which I detested. I sat. And even after my surgery, I still sit - for your information, I could stand and pee, just like any woman can - but it would be just as messy, unhygienic and to my mind, plain dirty - and the next person in that cubicle would know all about it. If I were to do what these people accuse me of, they would have a REAL reason to complain, and not have to sit around all day and think crap like this up. But hey, that's just me.

This exemplifies to me the concept of heterosexual and cisgender privilege. Do straight, heteronormative people have to continually justify themselves to doctors, politicians, clergy and their families? Why then, do we?

It seems to me that this nameless, faceless "society" we refer to sets the goals, determines as an absolute the measures to which everyone must match up to, who is in, out, ugly, beautiful, desirable, undesirable, good, bad - and what is the norm and what isn't - and what should be accepted and what not.

It all comes down to the basic principles of society - which sad to say, are still based on the basic principles of organized religion - which is, was and always will be about CONTROL.

So, coming back to my earlier hypothesis, friends - if I blow somebody away - and go to court, does their diagnosis that I have a "mental disorder" for being trans mean that I can make an "insanity" or "reduced mental capacity" plea - and get away with it?

I didn't think so.

Case closed.

Back to the drawing board, Messrs Zucker and Blanchard and Anne Lawrence MD et al.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On The Spot

This morning I lost my virginity... my TV interview virginity, that is.

Those who know me, know me as a fairly quiet person, so the last place they would expect to see me is on a live TV broadcast on ETV morning news, talking about international matters. Come to think of it, that's the last place I would expect to see me. Never the less, I found myself there this morning, a bundle of nerves, like a lamb being led to the slaughter.

As press and media liaison for the group, I had written and distributed the press release sent out this week, and was invited to answer a few questions, which I did. Bearing in mind that it is a bit harder to articulate words as well live, unprepared and in one take than it is to write articles such as I do every day, I did the best I could - considering it was my first time in front of a live TV camera. I had participated in a live radio interview before, but this was a bit different as all the instructions were given to me via a headset and the sounds in the background were a little confusing.

Also, I was tense and had a dry mouth - and as people who know me are aware, I have issues with my voice. And there I was, live on ETV morning news, dressed to the nines and afraid I was going to sound like Bea Arthur in front of the whole nation. Well, at least that part of it that was awake at 7am and watching ETV news. So many people were going see a woman on screen, and give the box a smack thinking it was getting the wrong audio channel. I drew comfort from my rather warped sense of humor and a wry grin spread across my face as we went live. Donovan, the video journalist/cameraman/receptionist and resident psychologist, had done his best to make me relax and feel comfortable. He smiled at me and gave me an "OK" sign behind the camera.

To hell with it, I reasoned. I was there for the community, not for myself. I have a voice, whether I like the sound of it or not, and I'm going to use it to do good. "Just do the job", I told myself.

The topic? The appointment of homophobic journalist Jon Qwelane as South African Ambassador to Uganda, which is why this matter is so topical at the moment. Qwelane makes no attempt to hide his prejudice and intolerance for gays, women, or White people - particularly Afrikaans speaking White people. In his infamous column article of 2008 "Call me names but gay is NOT ok..." he called the need for inclusion of gay rights in the SA Constitution "ridiculous", said he would disown his children if they were gay. He also praised Robert Mugabe for his violent oppression of gay Zimbabweans - AND encouraged South African politicians who have "the balls" to rewrite the constitution to remove gay rights from it. I find it quite ironic that in the mean time, there has been an increase in the incidence of politicians and public figures who are trying very hard to do just that. And let's not forget the politicians who are facilitating their efforts.

In Uganda, gay people face increasing homophobia, hatred, intolerance, prejudice and tightening restrictions which strip them of their human rights - simply because of who they are and how they were born. What they need to hear is South Africa condemning Uganda's harsh inhuman laws which turn them into criminals with a death sentence hovering over their heads, not showing tacit approval for it by this appointment and their continued silence on the issue.

The last thing the pink community in Uganda needs is a homophobic, racist and sexist Ambassador from South Africa. The last thing the pink community in South Africa needs is their own government appointing such a man who is currently still facing charges of hate speech and incitement to hate against them and affirming a country with an appalling and rapidly decaying human rights record.

This appointment is a slap in the face to me, to my gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex friends; an insult to the ideal of a non-discriminatory, equal-opportunity South Africa - and a blight on the human rights record of this country.

At the end of the interview, I realized that my voice had held firm, and that I had kept my wits about me and it was all over. I hope I managed to get the point across and I hope I did justice to the cause of the human rights and dignity of the pink community in South Africa - and Uganda. I hope critics will remember this if they have anything to say about it, and if they feel they have to make negative comments, they should save it for the sound of my voice - and not for what I was saying.

Hatred and prejudice is based on fear and the loathing of that which is perceived to be unknown and different. We all understand and need love and the freedom to be ourselves. Everyone is the same. Everyone is different. If you know us as people, as we know you - then what does anyone have to fear?

We as the Pink Community - as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people - are your friends, your colleagues, your family , the stranger who lends you a helping hand, the friends you don't know yet. We are human, we are born of straight parents, we give rise to straight children. We are one.

We feel just like you do, we dream like you do, we hurt like you do - we love like you do.

How is love "inhuman"? How is love "un-African"?

Why does South Africa's government still not condemn the Ugandan Bill which will enforce state-sponsored genocide against people like us in Uganda? Why does South Africa's government not support the UN Declaration to Decriminalize Homosexuality? Why does South Africa's government think it appropriate to appoint a bigot and a homophobe to the post of Ambassador to a country which is boiling over with a gay-hating frenzy?

I call on this government to act responsibly and to justify the confidence their supporters showed in them on election day last year:

Equality and dignity for all of us in our sameness and our diversity. No more hate - and no more tolerating or rewarding of hatred.

Speak out against injustice and wrongdoing, not only because it is the "moral" thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Immoral Support

Like others in South Africa over the past few years, I have long been asking the South African government for an explanation for not signing the UN Statement to Decriminalize Homosexuality in 2008 and what they meant when they said they did so on the grounds of "having principles". It seems they have been answering my question in increments.

I got an inkling of what this might mean when our new president, who is on record for making homophobic statements in the media, went on stage in the hall of the Rhema cult and placed gay rights on the bargaining table for right wing religious fundamentalists less than a month before the General Election in 2009.

Not long after that, the ANC and Ray Macaulay started working together in a joint venture called the NILC (the National Interfaith Leadership Coalition) more commonly referred to as "the God Squad" which has ousted the long-standing South African Council of Churches in religious dealings with government. The God Squad leadership includes four ANC MP's, including the Chief Whip of Parliament and has in press statements put out through government email, put removing gay rights from the SA Constitution right at the top of their list of priorities.

Yesterday I was utterly appalled to discover that Jon Qwelane, the homophobic and racist journalist who has for years been critical of gay people and their fight for human rights - and whom human rights groups have been lobbying for almost two years to see appear before the Equality Court - has just been appointed Ambassador to Uganda! I take issue with this appointment, because this man has proved himself to be utterly intolerant, and prone to inciting hatred between races and sexual orientations alike. He is not a peace-maker, but a blunt instrument who would - if anything, make matters worse for the pink community in Uganda.

This man is so unbelievably bigoted that he even went so far as to write in his column that if he required blood transfusions, he wouldn't accept White blood under any circumstances! His criticism of Black people who embrace Western culture are referred to in derogatory fashion as "coconuts", being black on the outside and white on the inside. Of course, many people ask how can a Black person be so racist? Well, duh. Because he obviously has a major chip on his shoulder about White folks - and gay folks. Oh, and women too. Considering the history of this country, how can such people be allowed to perpetuate the old hatreds from that time and to reinforce them instead of lay them to rest?

People like Qwelane belong under a microscope, to see where society has gone horribly wrong - not placed in positions where they can infect the minds of impressionable people and give rise to more hatred.

Uganda is at present a hot-spot for homophobic and transphobic activity on the part of social organizations, local and foreign churches and the Ugandan government - which is under pressure from the UN and numerous countries to rescind existing laws and to not pass proposed laws which make life impossible for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Uganda. The proposed law would legalize the death penalty for people, purely based on their sexuality!

Qwelane is still facing charges in the SA Equality Court brought against him by the SA Human Rights Commission for matters arising from an article he wrote in the Sunday Sun in 2008 "Call me names but gay is not ok".

This matter has still not yet been resolved and is still outstanding after nearly 2 years.

WHY Jon Qwelane? He isn't qualified for the kind of work required of an Ambassador - he clearly has no skill or aptitude for the job - nor the temperament for diplomacy whatsoever. I would think somebody like Bishop Tutu would be better suited for the job - at least he has the noble interests of peace and stability at heart, not hatred and violence. Well, it seems this hack journalist has been putting his weight behind Zuma as part of the press machine, so I have to ask myself again, why? Is this payback? Is it part of the new "cadre redeployment" program we read so much about these days?

This is either a bungle or deliberate. Considering the process that should be followed in checking the suitability of candidates for such high profile posts, I can't bring myself to believe that this is not deliberate.

What kind of message does it send when a country like South Africa, which is supposed to be a pro-human rights haven in Africa, after REPEATED calls to do so - refuses to condemn the policies of a country it trades with - a country which discriminates unfairly against its own citizens and callously and unrepentantly violate their human rights, indeed even going so far as to table laws which would institutionalize genocide?

What kind of message does it send to a country like Uganda when South Africa appoints a blatant homophobe and human rights violator, who is still facing charges on hate speech against the pink community - as an "ambassador"?

I know what it says to me - it says, "We support you, Uganda - and your policies of discrimination!" It says "We stand with you against those western pro-homosexual, pro-human rights lobbyists". Solidarity. That's what it says to me.

How can president Zuma in all good conscience appoint such a person - who is known for his hatred of gay people - to the post of Ambassador in a country which is currently STILL being slated for both existing and proposed draconian laws that rob such people of their equality and human rights and threatens to slaughter them like cattle?

Will Qwelane still appear in the Equality Court to answer for his hate speech? I can't wait to see the answer to that question.

This appointment is yet another slap in the face to the human rights, dignity and equality of the pink community in South Africa - and in Uganda too, for that matter - delivered by our own government.

For those who are still wondering what the future holds for human rights and gay rights in South Africa under the present government, I have one thing left to say:

Stop wondering.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Right, Wrong and Justified

I don't know why some people just seem to get their jollies on hate speech, I really don't - and add to the insult and injury caused to those who are targeted by these people, they seem to lack the courage of their convictions - or at the very least, courage - to post their hatred to Face book groups or newspaper websites under their real names. No, "Witwolf" or "Boerseun" sounds far more impressive. And a lot less likely to carry consequences.

Aside from that, it also tends to taint good, decent Afrikaans people with that horrible shade of bigotry reminiscent of the bad old days in this country. Indeed, when I see posts like that, I have to wonder how far have we come in the last 15 years - and how far we still have to go before we live up to claims of being a "true" democracy.

Oddly enough - or maybe not, many people who are blatantly racist are also the same folks who indulge in homophobia and transphobia. Often their conversation or topic of their derogatory "jokes" will swing from one to the other. Next time you're in a group of people who are telling jokes to each other - or hacking away at the humanity of others, just listen.

It's funny what people will say if they don't know what you are who you are. I mean, they so often assume that I am Christian, because "everybody is" - or "should be" - and so it is perfectly okay to rant about non-Christians and rip their dignity and humanity to shreds in public because "everybody feels the same" about it. Whoa. Big surprise there, buddy.

I have often heard people going beyond political dissatisfaction and anger, and attacking the worthiness as people of those they dislike, taking things to a highly unpleasant, unnecessary and personal level. Their targets often vary from Black people and Colored people to Gays, Lesbians and Transgender - and to top it all off, Jews. Oddly enough, many people today - even the average racist - is sensitive to not actually attacking Jews in polite company, because many of them don't actually like to be called Nazi's - although they seem pretty bloody adept at trying on the shoes to see if they will fit - and still find it perfectly acceptable to say the very same things about other groups.

I am forced to conclude that such people are unstable, insecure and prone to hate - and express it in order to feel better than other people they perceive being different to, or a need to feel superior to - and in order to assert their own need for "superiority" and to establish their own position in the social pecking-order they want to identify with. Of course, this could well be supported by current research in this direction, indicating that racism and homophobia could well be signs of an underlying mental disorder. Then again, some of us have been saying that for quite some time, but it didn't look like anyone was listening. Go figure.

Look at the definition of racism, homophobia and transphobia and compare them, substituting the words "race" with "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" and vice versa. SAME THING, no? All these groups are characteristics which it has become generally accepted fact are equally natural and cannot be altered. The bottom line here is: Hate is hate - and that SHOULD BE the crime, not just WHO it is directed against - and certainly not just on the grounds of "religious" prejudice.

Many groups in South Africa - and the world - today are arguing that unreasonable and unfair prejudice and discrimination against one group is wrong, immoral and unacceptable - and yet perfectly acceptable, moral and even just against another, simply because it is a group they happen to dislike, for whatever reason.

I'm certainly not oversensitive about my race, gender, sexuality or even religion - in fact, I can laugh along at a good natured joke any time - but there is a marked difference between that and a joke intended to hurt or offend me - or other minorities. If you want to talk morality, then I shouldn't tolerate nasty "jokes" about any minority group. If they want to talk "morality", people shouldn't make such "jokes".

The thing is, there will always be people who dislike - or even hate - other people to the point where they will carry grudges, make comments or bad jokes - or carry their grudge to another level where they will actually support campaigns against any and all minorities that are the bigotry flavor of the month. Likewise, there will always be people who get hurt, either emotionally or physically as a result of these comments or acts - hence the description of the term hate crime.

Every time we see nasty comments, or hate groups online, some of us feel compelled to act and to speak out, report the abuse and to get it removed. And it seems that some hate crimes are judged more harshly than others, despite the obvious fact that hate is still hate, no matter at who it is directed.

Let's take two examples. In 2008 the SA Human Rights Commission was inundated with complaints against Jon Qwelane, a "newspaper columnist" for the "Sun" who, in an article with accompanying cartoon, equated gay marriage and human rights for gay people with bestiality and pedophilia. He even urged people to remove gay rights from the SA Constitution, thereby inciting intolerance. Rightfully, a large portion of the community, both pink and straight, were hurt, angered and outraged. While the SAHRC is doubtlessly still working on bringing this man kicking and screaming to court to answer for the offense and injury caused, it has been almost 2 whole whole years since the issue broke - and I am beginning to wonder if he will ever be forced to retract that brag that he would "never apologize" for it. The cynical side of me wonders whether they are just waiting for us to forget the whole thing so it can go away quietly.

Our second example is the Reitz Four issue, the group of students who posted nasty racist videos on Facebook. I can remember it broke news a matter of weeks after Qwelane-gate, and I can remember even more clearly that it took the SAHRC just 3 days to make critical statements in the media about it, and to get the Face book group closed down and the offending students on the red carpet. We all know what happened with this story because it had a widely publicized sequel this year - and some form of closure, even if it was technically only "forgiveness" - which I concede, is an awfully magnanimous thing to do in the face of such insult.

However, the pink community in South Africa still has no closure on the JQ issue. It still seems like homophobia is less of a crime than racism, because if you post homophobic comments, you somehow can slip through the cracks - but if you post racist slurs you will face the consequences - and very promptly and very publicly.

Moving on to that other front on the internet - Facebook, it seems that the social networking site, was unusually responsive the other day and actually heeded calls to remove a few racist hate groups - unlike our regular attempts to remove similar homophobic and transphobic groups, which regularly drag on for a week or longer, or are never resolved at all. I did check though - the racist groups I knew about have been removed.

I am loathe to conclude that racism seems to some people to be more serious than either homophobic or transphobic hate! Despite the provisions of the Constitution, we still have a prevalent mindset of "separate but equal" in the new South Africa, even 15 years into a new democracy. Some of reinforce it by their prejudices and inflexibility - and the rest of us have to face it in our daily lives. I would have thought that after experiences with Apartheid, people would have better understood just how "equal" people are when their human rights and civil rights are kept separately from others.

I wonder at their grasp of human rights, freedom and democracy, right and wrong, justice and good and evil - if they can actually justify this outlook - and if they can sleep peacefully at night, their conscience.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cross Purposes

The issue of same-gender marriage is a hot topic at present around the world. The USA, the "bastion" of liberal society - at least in theory - is watching closely the current legal review of the Constitutional validity of the Proposition 8 vote which rescinded marriage equality for same-gender couples in California in December 2008. Proponents of Proposition 8 also pushed for the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) to redefine the legal concept of marriage to mean "one man, one woman".

At present, the trial is filled with emotional appeals of the gay community for the State to recognize human rights, dignity and equality, and opposing statements from the defenders of marriage against the nasty, inhuman gay people - whose existence "threatens" religion, society and "the family" - that marriage "always has been" between males and females - and that this inequality somehow justifies the enforced continuation of this inequality.

Apparently some people seem to think that marriage "always has been" between males and females - and that this inequality somehow justifies the enforced continuation of this inequality.

Oh well, but that is America, you might say - several thousand kilometers away. You may even wonder how it affects us - and up to a point, here in sunny South Africa, I might actually agree with you. SA after all, is the only country in Africa where the pink community has fully equal rights, including the right to marry and to adopt children - so I can't blame some people for switching off and thinking our rights are "safe" and that any discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is random and on a small scale. At least, until I see articles in the paper about President Zuma offering to "discuss" gay rights in the Constitution with religious radicals, and showing official support for nasty little groups of radicals who make it clear that we and our civil and human rights are in their target sight in a coming battle to change the Constitution.

The marriage equality that we attained in 2006 specifies that gay people may marry in churches whose ministers are registered as marriage officers under the new act - which is separate from (but supposedly equal to) the pre-existing marriage act - and also that churches or ministers who do not wish to perform or host wedding ceremonies for gay couples cannot be forced to do so.

To a large degree, this limits gay couples choices in terms of having either secular weddings, or finding the very few churches willing to marry them. Many who wish to marry in their churches, even in those which follow a policy of "inclusion" towards their gay and transgender members, are refused on grounds of discriminatory policies. Some churches even go so far as to exclude transgender people from marriage - even heterosexual marriage - by wording in their policies that marriage is between "a 'natural' man and a 'natural' woman".

To me, this stark comparison highlights the HYPOCRISY of the whole so-called "separate but equal" premise - because how can heterosexual marriage and gay marriage EVER be equal - especially if discrimination immediately applies to one group and not the other?

In 2008, employment law came under the spotlight, with the NG Church in Pretoria that unfairly dismissed a gay music teacher on the grounds that he was gay and in a relationship. Even before this event, the realization that many people - members, ministers and even bishops are gay, bi or transgender, is slowly occurring to church leadership around the world.

In South Africa though, a church denomination is now taking action against one of its own ministers - not for marrying in one of its own Methodist churches, not for performing an unauthorized gay marriage - but simply for being married.

Ecclesia and her partner Amanda were married at a religious ceremony by an ordained minister of another denomination - not from the Methodist Church. Technically speaking, since the MCSA was not involved in the arrangements or wedding ceremony, they should have no right to discriminate against her whatsoever, and the only way this effects them is as an employer, having to recognize her marital status as "married" for record-keeping, tax and the same benefits accorded to her heterosexual married colleagues.

What we have here now is a new form of discrimination against gay people - on the grounds of marital status.

The whole debacle is unfolding on a Facebook group this past week established to support this minister and her partner. Yesterday Reverend Ecclesia de Lange, an ordained minister at St Marks Methodist Church in Edgemead, Cape Town appeared before disciplinary hearing convened on the matter of her flouting the anti-human rights laws of the Methodist Church of South Africa (MCSA).

The creator and administrator of the Facebook group, Andrew Treu reported the verdict of the trial, which reportedly took the tribunal less than half an hour - 30 minutes - to hear argument, consider submissions, deliberate and deliver sentence!

"Friends, today the District Disciplinary Committee heard the charge against Ecclesia. While we prayed in the Church the Committee heard the charge, listened to Ecclesia and heard her defence (delivered eloquently by Rev Tim Attwell). The committee adjourned just before 19:00 to deliberate. A half an hour later Ecclesia and Tim were called back and the verdict was delivered. They were given the following in writing:

The Committee finds Rev de Lange guilty of failing to observe the provisions of the Laws & Disciplines and all other policies, decisions, practices and usages of the Church (L&D11th Edition 4.82 &11.3) by announcing her intention to enter into a same-sex civil union, and especially by doing this without consultation with her Superintendent and the Bishop.

Time already served under suspension.

As Rev. de Lange has subsequently entered into the civil union while the MCSA has specifically instructed that such action should not happen while the debate in the Church continues (Yearbook 2008 2.5.1 (vi)), the Committee recommends that she continue under suspension until such time as the MCSA makes a binding decision on ministers in same-sex unions. Out of consideration for the needs of Circuit and Societies, this suspension should be without station or emoluments."

We are deeply saddened by this but although we have lost this battle, the war has not been lost. Ecclesia has declared her intention to appeal this finding of the Committee. This appeal will be heard by the Connexional Disciplinary Committee at the end of the month."

Posting later to lay out the options faced by Rev de Lange and her supporters, Andrew Trieu wrote: "The first recourse is via the courts of the Church. Ecclesia will appeal the decision of the Committee. That appeal will be heard by the Connexional Disciplinary Committee towards the end of the month. If they find against her the final recourse inside the Church is to call for arbitration. Only if that finding is against her would it be worthwhile to seek relief in the civil courts. Let's hope and pray that it won't go that far, but if need be we will. She has not been dismissed - she is under suspension pending a decision of the Conference. I think it is at that level that we need to be concentrating our efforts but the way forward will reveal itself to us once our grief and anger has been vented."

So she has been suspended. Not an unexpected result. I can't say I'm surprised. And to add insult to injury - in the document quoted, they refuse to even refer to Rev. de Lange's relationship by its proper and LEGAL description - MARRIAGE - not a "civil union"!

Up until the announcement of the verdict of this clearly one-sided internal process, this group was filled with messages of support and solidarity for this clearly very popular and much loved minister. Since the posting of the verdict, it has become a hub of protest, anger, disappointment and outrage by hurt and disillusioned GLBTI Christians, fellow congregants, their friends and family members and even complete strangers.

One supporter, Wessel Bentley, wrote: "This hurts. And in this hurt, the questions arises: It only took the committee half an hour!? I wonder if the complexity of this matter was given justice? I don't call the integrity of those who heard the arguments into question - I don't know them - but having worked on the matter of civil unions etc. in DEWCOM, I would have thought that it was going to take longer than this."

Andrew Trieu replied: "I may also be speaking out of my own grief, hurt and anger but it seems to me that the very strong defence eloquently delivered by Tim (11 pages single spacing) was not even considered in the verdict. It seems that the whole affair was already cut and dried before the arguments even began."

It seems that some people refuse to recognize even our humanity, respect our dignity or our right to equality.

Many people in the pink community look for affirming churches who use the word "inclusive" to describe being welcoming to them. Very often it seems that "inclusive" only means "tolerant" - as in "we will tolerate you, but not accept you". "Inclusive" seems to have one meaning in the world and a different meaning in the church. Yes, it means "tolerating" - not "accepting". It means "you are welcome to attend as long as you don't make who you are our problem".

The Methodist Church of South Africa it seems, like other churches and bodies - like the SA National Blood Service - are asserting that we are welcome as long as we stop being who we are.

It is a blatant slap in the face for Ecclesia and Amanda - and ALL OF US too - and I hope those responsible read this comment - and know that this is not the end of it. I think she should be consulting a lawyer already at this stage. This is a case that could create a precedent - watch the press, pretty soon the right wingers and conservative groups will catch wind of it and start crying that "the Church" is "under attack", the precious "family unit" is about to collapse, and the world is about to end (again). I can't wait to get my copy of the FPI's next newsletter, with Erroll Naidoo's smug chops smiling at me from his poster-boy photo, doubtless he will have a lot to say on the matter, before asking folks to pass the collection plate.

Remember Moreletta Park v/s the gay music teacher they discriminated against and fired? Cranks from as far as Australia were saying how shocked they were that a court could penalize a church in favor of a "dirty gay man". Funny enough, they are still there, with their doors open - and preaching intolerance. Business as usual.

Some straights are really a bunch of drama queens.

Many people tend to forget the real meaning of marriage - LOVE. COMMITMENT. Love isn't about gender, or sex, or what religion you choose to believe in, or which church you go to, or what name you call God by, or which language you talk to God in.

Many people tend to forget that we all grow old, we all die. They overlook the fact that while we are young we seek out friends and soul mates and companions to keep us warm through life and when the cold of the grave inevitably approaches.

Many people tend to forget how privileged they are to be able to claim the word "marriage" as their own, and to use it to describe their own warm cosy relationships, made legitimate, privileged and superior by word of law and edicts of religion.

I read this following comment posted by an elderly gay man on the subject of not having had the privilege of marrying: "After Christmas service I came home to an empty home with just my cat as companion. I had a sandwich for lunch. While all the straight people could enjoy their marriages and families. All the children and grandchildren and receiving and giving of presents. And the Christmas dinner. I never chose to be gay. Why am I an outcast? I have come to hate Christmas!

It's so easy for heterosexual people who have the privilege of happy marriages to make decisions on how gay people have to live."

Another supporter, Ric Matthews asked: "What happened to Nelson Mandela's wonderful words at his inauguration: "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another"? How is it not oppression to insist, simply because of sexual orientation, that people who love each other may not get married (or even "joined in ...a civil union") until the Church may or may not allow it ? What happened to the Church that once fought so bravely for Nelson Mandela to be able say those powerful words as President of a land that once reduced him to a 2nd class citizen?"

Silly, we all "know" racism is a far worse crime than homophobia... why would they care about a bunch of "deviants" and "sinners" like us? After all, they're sitting there, "sinless" and "perfect", gathering dust atop their soaring pedestals and pointing their fingers at us, making us into 2nd class citizens and giving credence to the saying that "gay is the new Black".

Many people have suddenly seen this one issue as a glaring loophole in our human rights protection in this country where they thought discrimination had ended more than a decade ago. Many of them have just received a wake-up call. Some have asked what can they do?

Keep your eyes on gay rights and the Constitution. Spread news to friends and family. Talk about it. Find local human rights groups you can support and offer your assistance to. Keep informed, keep your eyes open and don't take propaganda at face value - do a little digging of your own to see for yourself. And above all, don't keep quiet when you see or hear bigotry and intolerance in action, but stand up to it and set things right.

Church leadership and those who attend church form a symbiotic relationship. Without people to fill church on Sundays, they have no purpose (and quite frankly, no money either). Without the pastors, reverends and leaders, there is no structure, no body corporate to act on their behalf as a group. A longstanding disagreement such as this will hurt both - as will standing by an oppressive and archaic doctrine which can in no way be justified by any reference to Christ.

This is an opportunity for the MCSA to resolve this internal conflict and do what is right - to recognize our dignity and equality and our worthiness as people. A time to say - "more than 'tolerance' - we accept you and we love you as our equals".

Look at Christ on the cross for inspiration - his arms are opened wide in welcoming love - and they were not forced thus - he opened them to us all, willingly.