Monday, August 30, 2010

Are Militant Homosexual Activists An Extinct Species?

Back in the day, opponents of equality and human rights for us Pink folks used to call anyone who dared speak out against them or shoot down their ridiculous arguments "militant homosexual activists". Typically, they used to show their blatant ignorance by calling transgender activists the very same thing as well. But regardless of the details, today I have to wonder where all those "militant activists" have gone?

The Radical Right is still here, attacking our humanity, our right to exist - and I have to ask, where are all those bold voices who used to speak out against them? Why aren't they still here, taking them on and calling them out on their prejudice, hypocrisy and bigotry?

Time passes, sure - and 1993 was almost 20 years ago now, when those right-wing folks opposed dismantling the laws that made gay and trans people into criminals in South Africa, when all the nut-jobs went to Parliament to tell the fledgling democratically-elected "government of national unity" (remember those days?) why treating gay people like human beings would lead to the fall of civilization - and allowing transsexuals to be logged correctly in the population register would "endanger children". Of course, back then there were activists who stood up to them, and took them on - exposing their propaganda and misinformed bigotry - and explained that just because the rest of Africa wants to murder people based on their gender or sexuality, it doesn't mean that South Africa has to follow their example - or bless it with religious fervor.

This was shortly followed by the publication of a nasty little book which sought to turn the Pink Community into the new most-hated and feared social group in the "new" South Africa. This attempt to scapegoat Pink folk brought plentiful support from right-wing fruit loops into the fray. The newly formed African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), neck-deep in the promotion of the book, was there too. And yes, there were some dedicated voices speaking out against them, bringing undeniable facts into the argument in opposition to regurgitated junk-science borrowed from the works of foreign fantasy writers like Paul Cameron and James Dobson.

Just a few years ago the fight for marriage equality brought more nuts out of the woodwork, claiming that gay marriage would threaten or "devalue" straight marriage - and miraculously "increase the divorce rate". Not only have neither of these idiotic "threats" come to fruition, but the statistics seem to have brought to light same-gender relationships that have lasted decades, giving them much needed positive exposure - and blowing clean out of the water the Religious Right fantasy that gay people can't commit to long term, loving, wholesome relationships.

Despite the claims of people like "Dr" Peter Hammond of the "Christian Action Network" and his side-kick Taryn Hodgson - that human rights activists at the time were "militant", I have to point out the painfully obvious to anyone who visits the exercise in paranoia 101 that is the CAN website, reads their articles or press interviews - that at least the Pink Community is not known for advocating the use of firearms to make their point, stock-piling weapons, ammunition or emergency supplies, undergoing para-military training - and of course, home-schooling. But of course, we who speak out against them are the "militant" ones. Go figure.

Time seems to have caught up with the CAN, it has fallen all but silent of late - and not much has been seen or heard of Hammond, at least since that messy business that earned him the nick-name of "the Paintball Pastor" in the press, when a trick-or-treating child was shot in the face at close range with a paintball gun in mysterious circumstances on Halloween a few years ago. His younger ally Erroll Naidoo, who used to speak for the CAN, in particular at homophobic events, now leads the fight against human rights through his own foreign-backed group, the "Family Policy Institute", located close to Parliament. He spends a lot of time these days in meetings with government officials, such as the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, plotting new ways to extend Religious Right control over what goes on in government, the media and society.

What I find disconcerting is that he isn't just bragging when he speaks of the Religious Right's success in influencing what appears to be a conservative and sympathetic government - we can see it in the new laws being tabled in Parliament. We see it when Ministers of Art & Culture storm out of tasteful public arts exhibitions, calling them "immoral" and "contrary to nation-building". We see it when the government starts deciding what people should see and what they shouldn't - and what they should think or feel, or believe - and what not.

These days I see Pink Community events in many places, hear about Pride in various centers, read about parties and jols everywhere. There is an impression that everything is just fine, but is it? Black gays and lesbians and trans people are still raped and murdered almost with impunity simply for existing. I still see people afraid to be themselves in public places, despite their freedom and equality being guaranteed in the laws of this country. I still hear of people too afraid to come out to their parents and co-workers, I still read about people being raped, murdered or assaulted for being honest and open and making use of the Constitution that promises protection and equality - the same Constitution which various elements - some of them influencing and infiltrating government - wish to replace with their holy book of choice. Why do I still smell the scent of fear in our community, but hear no strong voices speaking out to set things right? What happened to those "militant homosexual activists" of the past? Why have so many of them disappeared and fallen silent? More importantly, why has no-one stepped up to take their places?

Do you think if there were more vocal intersex gender activists on the scene, the athletics authorities in this country would have dared to dally so long with Caster Semenya's test results, or given her such a rough ride? Do you think they would have got away with it so cleanly?

Why is there a deafening silence, a near-absence of voices from within the community to speak out in opposition when things that make Pastor Naidoo smile come to fruition? Where are all the "militant homosexual activists"? Where are they?

Perhaps, as a colleague of mine in human rights advocacy has sarcastically remarked, they are "too busy washing penguins" to notice they are needed.

We need more people who care about staying alive and standing up to people who would like nothing better for us to disappear off the face of the Earth, and resisting people who would like a shot at making it happen.

We need more "militant" gay and trans activists.

2 comments:

  1. Three possible reasons you are seeing less "militant" queer activists come to mind.

    1) Many queer activists are now engaged in other areas of struggle particularly around health and poverty - and in alliance with our community's allies in the labour movement.
    2) Given the irresponsible populism and demagoguery reigning in the ruling party many are wary of making our community a target for scapegoating.
    3) Many (most?) of the 1st generation of post-apartheid queer activists have moved on to other endeavours in the private sector, academia, or overseas. Given the lack of investment in developing a cadre of young queer activists to counteract this natural attrition we are faced with a stead loss of organisational capacity and memory at the top and coupled with a dearth of committed and articulate voices at the grassroots.

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  2. ...hence "We need more "militant" gay and trans activists." ;)

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