Sunday, March 27, 2011

Living In Interesting Times

A few thousand years ago the Chinese developed a saying that went "May you live in interesting times". This is, believe it or not, intended as a curse, not a blessing. By "interesting times" of course, they meant that by looking at history, it is the eras of peace which are most dull and uneventful - and the chapters of violence, war and chaos, the more interesting to read.

With natural disasters and the collapse of tyrannical rulers and their regimes progressing in a kind of tsunami in the Middle East, the changes in Egypt, the civil war in Libya, the other threatening revolutions in various exotic places and the disaster in Japan, our times appear to be most interesting indeed, and looking to be more so each week.

Wow what an interesting few weeks this has been in South Africa.

I'm proud that South Africa went to the aid of Japan, and I'm proud of the people who went into dangerous places no-one else would venture in order to rescue the living and recover the dead, and to make things better for a stricken people. Seeing things like that show me there is a spirit of humanity - called ubuntu here - that runs through this nation, regardless of race, color or creed - and yet our country is such a paradox when dealing with our own natural diversities. I felt proud too, when South Africa supported the most recent UN Statement last week, but that unfortunately was short-lived.

First, Mr Gay SA won Mr Gay World, for the second time running since South Africa began participating in the international contest two years ago - also winning the right to host the next Mr Gay World in Johannesburg in 2012 - and our entire community got a complete flat ignore by 99.9 percent of the straight media, despite letters asking the media to cover the event, and complaints that the straight media did not report the win. On Wednesday, only two straight media bodies made the effort to show up at a press conference held by the organizers. To their credit, they were an ETV news team (who also do news inserts for Kyknet) and Beeld. Aside from the Pink media, broadly speaking, there was a near-total news blackout on the win. Journalists from several newspapers contacted the organizers for interviews, which were given - but the stories never appeared, which makes one wonder why.

The interesting thing is, while articles on the contest were not posted, a few letters by the organizers complaining that the contest received no attention, were posted - and the sheer array of hostile remarks tinted with lunacy, religious fundamentalism and brute ignorance were astonishing. Of course, this indicates the sort of readership of many of these newspapers - and to whom they cater. Printing news about Pink successes on an international scale would be like printing Israeli news in a paper catering for anti-Semites.

Of course, this is a worrying indicator. Originally in 1994 it appeared that English and Afrikaans language newspapers would cease to cater solely for the readership of particular race groups - but despite this change, it appears that a certain part of society is still excluded completely, despite being part of these language groups. The exceptions of course, are when there is a nice fat gossip story involving *gasp* homosexuality, or *shudder* a "tranny" getting fired for changing sex. All too often, the victim gets media treatment to make them look like they "deserved" it. Our community in general only appears to be reflected in the news when there is a negative connotation. There are exceptions of course, but they are few and far between.

Let me just state clearly that I did not oppose the Protection of Information Bill put forward by the Government, which threatens to censor the Media, just so that the very same media I chose to protect from government interference can deliberately exclude items of morale-building and positive value about my community because of its own heterosexist and sectarian religious prejudice.

I will be most interested to see if the SABC will be covering the Mr Gay World event in Johannesburg next year, or if it will be ignored completely as the national competition has been since its inception here. Like I could ask some newspapers whether they are newspapers or church newsletters, I can ask of the SABC - are you a national broadcaster or ruling party news service? Hmm? We are part of this nation, SA Media and Press - and the lack of interest in us and our achievements is an insult and a form of self-imposed censorship.

Parliament was also blocked by several very small religious fundamentalist political parties with exceptionally large chips on their shoulders, from congratulating the organizers and Mr Gay World 2011, Francois Nel. Not that I have heard any of the political parties who wanted to send congratulations doing so independently. I find that rather odd, don't you? Funny thing is, these people will be looking for our votes soon - and then be shocked when we ask them "what have you done for me?".

South African representatives at the United Nations dragged out their refusal to add South African support to a UN statement on opposing violence based on sexual orientation, to the very last moment. South Africa did sign the UN statement, at the last moment, when faced with mounting negative media attention and pressure from human rights advocacy groups who quite rightly pointed out that by refusing to show support, South Africa was working in contravention of its own Constitution.

In the days before they eventually signed, the South African government had the nerve to issue a statement accusing those who are raising awareness of this betrayal, of being "a misinformation campaign", as South Africa "fully supports" the human rights clauses in the Constitution - and that South Africa was working on another alternative to this Statement by the UN. When South Africa signed, incredibly, and at the last minute - many took this as surprising and encouraging news, only to be disappointed and shamed by our government yet again.

Next, we discovered what this "alternative" was when South Africa made a proposal to the UN which would undo decades of hard work by human rights groups and essentially segregate Pink human rights from the actual concept of mainstream human rights. This action would allow countries which wish to abuse the human rights of their Pink communities and to persecute them, the freedom to do so - because the UN would be too bogged down in an endless circular debate and legal technicalities while trying to "clarify" known and generally clearly understood terms such as "sexual orientation" - which are included in the South African Constitution. These terms would essentially be divorced from the global description of human rights, preventing UN action on human rights abuses directed against people on the basis of something which would no longer count under human rights.

Some people have called me an "alarmist" in the past, but if you look at my articles written on this topic over the last three years, I think you will see that in the long run my logic and deduction has been sound.

If you look at the Stanton Report - the "8 stages of genocide" presented to the US State Department by Genocide Watch in 1996, Stage 1: Classification - describes how people are divided into "us and them". Gay and transgender people are purposefully separated from the mainstream society. One need only look at the rhetoric and vitriol from most African states who claim that homosexuality and transgender are "un-African" and even "inhuman" for some red flags to go up at this attempt to redefine sexual orientation and gender identity as not being human rights. I wrote about the Stanton Report in detail in January last year. I would say it is up for debate on which stage this action forms a part of, but I'm seeing correlations with several of them - Stage 3: Dehumanization looks very fitting - "One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases."

Of course, it occurs to me that if this obscenity passes, what would prevent the government of this country from amending the Constitution, or simply repealing Act No 4 of 2000 - our current protection against hate speech and incitement to commit violence - on the grounds that the term "sexual orientation" is invalid and not recognized by the UN? Since Act No 4 was designed to fill gaps left in the SA Constitution - and is not actually part of the Constitution, what would prevent the Government from terminating it? I'm not a legal or Constitutional expert, but that seems to be a fairly logical outcome to me.

One would expect a country governed by people who experienced for so long the pain of segregation and oppression of one by another to have learned from the mistakes of the past - instead of striving continually to repeat them.

Uganda appears this week to have killed the Bill that would have instituted a veritable Pink genocide. The Kill the Gays Bill - Killed. Not because it's the right thing to do, but because "the West won't give us any more money if we don't". The "morality" of some "Christians" is astounding. Or should I say, the lack of it. Oh well, I'm glad it's been killed at the source. Now let's see how they rework existing legislation to include portions of the Bill into the already draconian anti-gay laws - or resurrect it again in a few months time... That's right, I'm a cynic.

Ugandan Information Minister Kabakumba Masiko in a statement to Uganda's NTV this week claimed that 95% of Ugandans "do not support homosexuality". So sorry to disappoint him, but not every straight person hates us Pink folks, and we make up AT LEAST 10% of any given general population. Either he is purposely skewing the figures, or like his regime, he doesn't view Pink Ugandans as Ugandans - let alone worthy of human rights.

As far as I'm concerned the USA should declare the group bearing primary responsibility for this charade in Uganda - "the Family" - a misnomer if ever there was one, a terrorist organization and arrest all its members and charge them with crimes against humanity and conspiracy to commit genocide.

This opinion of mine extends to groups like Exodus International and Narth who cheerfully incited the Ugandan hate into a mob foaming at the mouth and then reacted with surprise when they realized with a shock they were facing blame for inspiring a genocide. Of course such action is unlikely if you consider that according to this article, the US government appears to have many of "The Family's" members among them. What is it with the West these days and this conservative BS and fanaticism and hatred masquerading as Christianity and morality? If they keep at it any longer they may as well put up posters of Christ in an SS uniform and be done with it.

A while back I saw the response by the South African government to the complaints against homophobic columnist Jon Qwelane being maintained as SA High Commissioner to Uganda. Qwelane was appointed personally by the President, despite facing charges in the Equality Court on inciting hatred against several minority groups, including race, gender and sexual orientation - although that story also died a quick death in the press. The remarks made by government representatives in defense of Qwelane indicated that no matter what opposition, he would remain in his post. "No matter what opposition"? If that isn't a clue as to how our Government - to which we pay taxes too - sees us, then I don't know what is.

Let's see how the rest of Africa handles Pink human rights if this shameful South African proposal passes at the UN? Let's see what South Africa does if it passes. Incidentally, did you notice the price of getting your South African passport skyrocketed last week from R120 to R400? Interesting, don't you think?

Remember, South Africa was a big supporter of Qadaffi's "United States of Africa" idea back in 2009 - and as anyone should know, such a partnership can only work if all member states share similar policies - and currently South Africa takes a heavy amount of flak from homophobic African states for being the only country on the continent having human rights laws protecting sexual and gender diversity. Draw your own conclusions there. I have.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why I Do Not Celebrate Human Rights Day In South Africa

Did you see Mr Gay South Africa win Mr Gay World in the news last week? No? Neither did I.

Many South Africans will be celebrating Human Rights Day in South Africa on Monday 21 March, but I won't be one of them. Why? Because despite our Constitutional provisions of equality and democracy and human rights, I am still part of a minority group which is discriminated against, and whose concerns are sidelined by the lack of interest of others who like to look down on myself and those like me - and who view our existence and achievements as an embarrassment, or at best, uninteresting.

I'm talking about the consistent unconstitutional acts of the SA Government at the UN in either actively opposing or abstaining from decisions aimed at enhancing the human rights of the Pink Community - and back at home claiming that those active in providing awareness of these acts or omissions are part of a "misinformation campaign"; the continued refusal of the government to withdraw a homophobic columnist appointed by President Zuma as ambassador to Uganda where draconian anti-gay enactments are pending; the continued failure of the government to integrate the provisions of the SA Constitution protecting LGBTI human rights in its foreign policy; the government's persistence in spending South African tax money and resources on assisting countries which attach no value to the human rights of the Pink Community; the fact that two tiny lunatic fringe political parties holding 7 parliamentary seats out of over 400 could derail a parliamentary motion of congratulations; the near news black-out by especially print media of the remarkable feat of winning Mr Gay World twice AND getting the hosting for 2012 (none of which was a given and in both instances we were up against the mighty USA).

It seems the bulk of South African press haven't allowed any coverage of this event. I say 'allowed', because while all the main papers were notified of Francois Nel's prestigious achievement in winning the title of Mr Gay World, and the team's coup in bringing home the rights for South Africa to host next year's contest in Johannesburg, very few responded to the organizers to ask for details in order to write a story about it. So far, only one or two articles have appeared in, surprisingly, local Bloemfontein newspapers, while mention appears to have been made only on ETV News (and that because of the ACDP angle, not the win itself) and two radio stations (and thanks to those media who did report). And yet, this morning, papers are carrying on business as usual. Instead, the Rapport is still publishing religious propaganda about that homophobic preacher with the silly hat, Angus Buchan, appearing in Paarl - as if it is actual news. It seems to me the poor reporters who asked for details about the Mr Gay World contest might have done the stories (as they asked, and then say thank you when these were sent) but still no stories appeared - was the story killed by their management?

I am reminded of last year's Pink Jacaranda Music Festival in Pretoria, when the Beeld published a large picture in full colour of two men in Voortrekker dresses on page 2, and focused on the negative remarks made by another small group that probably would be more at home in Orania than in this supposedly enlightened post-apartheid South Africa which seems ever in danger of having bits torn out of its Constitution. The festival hosted celebrated artists like Karin Zoid en Elzabé Zietsman, but this was ignored in favour of highlighting how "unacceptable" and "un-patriotic" it was to allow the Pink Community to host an event at an Afrikaner landmark. As usual, the press chose to ignore the positive in favour of the negative.

Likewise, in this case, South Africa has won a contest for the second time consecutively in the second year of its participation in the contest - quite a remarkable achievement - and also won the right to host Mr Gay World next year - against the USA. When you consider that other Western countries like Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA were in the final top 5 of the Mr. Gay World title, it is simply astonishing seeing that South Africa also won last year - only a second time in the history of the major international titles (Venezuela won Miss Universe in 2008 and 2009).

Is our news not good enough to be shared with the rest of the country? Are our achievements not meaningful or impressive enough to inspire all South Africans? Are we not good human enough alongside other South Africans to have a reason to celebrate Human Rights Day in South Africa?

This continued sidelining and ignoring of our community by the media is hurtful, unacceptable, and I hope the Pink Community voices their feelings on this exclusion to the press.

PS - In the light of the apparent news media blackout in terms of coverage of the recent Mr Gay SA and Mr Gay World triumphs, it seems only appropriate to give credit where it is due. While most news outlets have opted to ignore the news makers in the Pink Community, there are the few who have reported news without bias and without the tint of prejudice.

For this service, we wish to convey our heartfelt appreciation and thanks.

Christina Engela,

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Are Good Christians "Too Forgiving"?

Are good Christians "too forgiving"?

That's quite an interesting question, especially if you look at the "inerrant' scriptures which set the precedent for "turning the other cheek". Why do I think "good" Christians might be too forgiving? For that matter, why do I think there might be Christians who are not good, but bad? Why indeed?

I just read this article by Michael Hamar, and it - and the comments - brought a few things to my attention. First, that I am clearly not the only one being accused of being hostile to Christianity in general - having to also occasionally post reminders that I am taking on bigotry and bigotry originating from various religious groups - and not specifically targeting all adherents of the whole religion.

Which brings me back to the point. There are "good" Christians, who to most people are the folks who welcome all people and treat them with respect and tolerance for their diversity in general - which appears to be in keeping with the way that Christ lived - and since he was the founder of this religion, hence the name, one would expect this to be the backbone of the faith itself. But is it?

If those are the "good" Christians, then who are the other "Christians"? I am tempted to label them "bad" Christians - the folks who hijack their religion and turn it into a sort of nationalist movement, called "Christianism" - the folks who make targets out of anyone who displeases them or offends their narrow and scriptural and blatantly "pharisee-like" view of the world. Another term which appears to fit this sort of "Christian" or Christianist, is "Levitican". The Christianists can indeed best be defined by those they hate.

In one of the comments left beneath this article by Michael Hamar, a religious minister indicates that in his church - as I am sure is the case in many others, the concerns for the well-being of others are sidelined or smothered out of fear of "upsetting" more conservative members of their congregations. Conservative here being the operative word.

So, if "good" Christians are the folks who welcome all people and treat them with respect and tolerance - including the other sort of "Christian" - are they being too forgiving?

They repeatedly back down for them, make excuses for them, and remain silent while these bigots and bigoted leaders make vitriolic statements and engage in inciting hatred against minority groups - speaking ambiguously and misleadingly on the behalf of "all" Christians as if they have their authority and backing to do so.

One of my favorite quotes is this one by Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men (and women) do nothing". Funny enough, this same quote has been used and abused by both sides in almost every argument about human rights since it was written and I cannot help but comment on the enormous irony in this - because according to Wikipedia, Burke was "an Irish political philosopher, Whig politician and statesman who is often regarded as the father of modern conservatism".

Lastly, the source of two of my favorite quotes of all time is Mahatma Ghandi, who said: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ". It is telling to me that such clarity should be available about a religion from someone who was not part of that religion.

Ghandi's second quote is this one: "Be the change you want to see in the world". And it is this one I live by.

"Good" Christians - and good people everywhere - need to be reminded of the unmistakable fact that silence = death.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Parliamentary Drowning Pool

Last weekend, Mr Gay South Africa won the Mr Gay World contest - the second time a South African title holder has walked away with the top honors of this prestigious event - and also incidentally, the second year of the Mr Gay SA event. To crown this achievement, South Africa has also been selected to host next year's Mr Gay World event in Johannesburg. This is no doubt a remarkable achievement, and something to be proud of, well, at least one would think so.

Yesterday the news broke on Twitter and Facebook that the DA (Democratic Alliance), the official Opposition party in Parliament, was to make a motion to congratulate Mr Gay SA and the organizers on this fine achievement. It was alleged that Upon hearing of this motion, the ACDP (African Christian Democratic Party) immediately declared that it would oppose this motion.

Many folks, myself included, felt that the ACDP stood a snowball's chance in hell of blocking this motion with its puny three seats in over 400 in Parliament, but it seems we were in for a surprise.

The DA filed the motion - and as promised, the ACDP voted against the motion with all three its little votes - joined by the Freedom Front Plus, an equally tiny right wing, racist and homophobic Afrikaner party which probably doesn't appreciate fully the extreme irony in it's name. Apparently, according to some obscure little regulation in Parliamentary procedure somewhere, only 7 votes are required to block such a motion - which is exactly what happened.

Now I have written exhaustively about the ACDP and the FF+ over the last few years, and I don't really see a need to do so yet again in this article - but I have to note: this is how petty, spiteful and full of hate the religious right ACDP is in South Africa. They will try to screw or nail our community (and not in a pleasant way either) at every single turn. "Live and let live" is not a principle they live by, nor are words such as "love your neighbor as yourself", which are oddly alien-sounding whenever one tries to reconcile their behavior with their protestations that they are supposedly Christians. They even bicker about crossed t's and dotted i's such as the use of the word "marriage" which they are still trying to remove from the Civil Union Act, even though it doesn't appear in the title. Perhaps they would like to register the word as their fundamentalist "Christian" trademark and call it "Marriage TM"? I wouldn't put it past them.

The ACDP and FF+ and other similar nationalist and "christianist" parties have since their founding been openly hostile to the most basic principles of democracy, equality, human rights, civil rights, and open-opportunity-for-all-society - and have over the years tried their level best to deliver on their threats to return us to our former ignominy as an unacknowledged, criminalized and persecuted minority, once again hiding in the shadows and fearing the tread of a policeman's boots simply because they need a scapegoat to blame their paranoia and political escapades on for the sake of their morality of convenience.

The ACDP remind me of a bunch of annoying little brat kids on a school playground, poking and prodding each other - in the eye, in the ribs, kicking each other's shins and shouting "Did! Not! Did so! Did not!" etc, etc. Perhaps they should spend some of the taxpayer's money on installing a sand pit in Parliament? Perhaps some swings and a splash pool? The Freedom Front Plus have made a career out of crying on the political stage, both local and internationally about how persecuted and victimized their cultural and racial group is - and clearly see no duplicity in sharing their bad karma with other groups to whom they wouldn't give the time of day.

I wonder whether the "reverend" Meshoe, or any of the other honorable Members of Parliament who could be so spiteful and childish, if drowning, would refuse to be rescued by a gay man? I don't know - would they? Because this is the level of immaturity and pointless counter-productive spite I see in their behavior towards valuable, upstanding citizens of South Africa. Perhaps the appropriate answer to this question is to say that we need more gay lifeguards.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Founder's Day

On Friday I attended a Founder's Day ceremony at my old high school. It was quite something to be there again. The school was celebrating its 85th year in existence, and I will be attending my 20 years reunion in May.

I'm a bit of a sentimental fool sometimes, and even though I was not very happy during high school, I still have fond memories of my time there. Many of my old friends of those days vowed never to return, and as far as I know, have kept to it. I was so looking forward to my 10 year reunion back in 2001, but it never happened. This year it will be different.

I didn't struggle to find parking, and walked up to the same entrance, through the same gardens that were there so long ago, and even though it felt like just the other day, the same shrubs and trees were there - only so much bigger than before. The old mesh fence had been replaced by a tall green steel security fence. There were two new side entrances I hadn't seen before.

Everywhere there were young students wearing the same uniforms I remember, and flashing bright shiny smiles at the returnees filtering in at the front door. I arrived at the reception table beneath a bronze plaque that read "A child's mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled". It made me smile. I wrote my name on the tag handed to me, and the year I finished - 1991.

"Oh are you Christina?" the lady at the table asked, and called a graying gentleman in a suit over. The current principal greeted me warmly, having heard about me via the secretary of the old scholars association, and warmly shook my hand.

Feeling very welcome, I went on to the old school hall, passing old folks examining pictures and plaques on display along the way. Everywhere there were new features, and still everywhere there were things I remembered from the old days.

The hall had changed too, it now resembled an auditorium, and the wooden panel above the entrance now had almost twice as many names and achievements displayed on it since I left. I found a seat among a big mix of people who varied between 30 and 90, joking around and chatting loudly before it all started. There was a big band up front, resembling an orchestra, and a choir on the right hand side. On one side, high up, there were three smartly fashioned coats of arms, each bearing a name of one of the school houses, each being the name of noted past principals. I couldn't help thinking that they reminded me of the houses in Hogwarts, but in a good way of course - and I wondered if that wasn't something the current students said too.

There were folks present from every decade since the founding of the school - except the 1920's (time marches on after all) - and I was one of only about ten who had matriculated in the 1990's and 2000's. Still, aside from the odd teacher (and there were some odd ones as I remember hehe - in particular the biology teacher whose secret to being everywhere at once was a bicycle.) I didn't see any old students I remembered, and nobody from the class of '91.

The ceremony was pleasant, the music entertaining and the talent demonstrated impressive - and it certainly made me envious to think of all the opportunities the students at my old school had now that I missed out on when I was sitting in their place.

The school was even more diverse than when I was there. There were boys and girls, English and Afrikaans speaking - but there were also black and brown faces among the white - far more than in my time. And everyone looked so friendly and happy. I thought back to how grumpy and bored most of us were when we were there, and it felt like a dream to me.

The guest speaker was a man who had also been a student there, become a teacher himself, traveled to the UK, met someone, and was now married and had children. He was class of 2001, just ten years ago - and sitting there, surrounded by scholars who hadn't even been born when I left school - it made me think about my own life, having been outside in the big, bad world twice as long as he. It felt like comparing apples and oranges. I realized that each of us is a product of our own time.

After school, a mere month after final exams, I was drafted into the army for a time in my life I would prefer to forget - and yet there was the realization that everything in life that affects us, changes us and makes us grow - and adds to our flavor. Oh, if I had only known then the things I know now! Oh yes, this was a day to be sentimental.

At the end of the ceremony, I was surprised to notice that once they started playing the school song, I still remembered every word, and sang them for the first time in 20 years, and for the first time proudly - reflecting on their meaning for the first time as an adult.

The reception and tea afterwards in the tennis club behind the hall was a nice touch too. For one thing, on the way, I had to pass the brand new Olympic swimming pool where there had been only a dry empty patch of grass in my time. The old shooting range from my army cadet days was gone now, and on the other side of the netball courts I saw builders putting the finishing touches to the brand new art department.

I spoke to some of my old teachers while there, some of whom didn't quite recognize me until I explained who I was. You see, when I left here in 1991, I had been a strapping young man - and am now a moderately attractive and graceful (I hope!) slightly less-young lady.

The man who had been principal during my time at the school was also present, had been retired 5 years already and tried desperately to puzzle out who I was. Without giving too much away, we had a friendly chat, far friendlier than any I ever remembered from those days. It was a surprisingly therapeutic experience, chatting to old teachers - even those I had never had lessons from, who despite all the things that happened in between, still knew who I was, even if I had to explain a little bit first.

Whenever I had to explain to someone who I was, and who I had been while a student here, I got no adverse reactions. There were no embarrassed silences or snarky comments, and no cold shoulders. At every moment I continued to feel welcome - and the questions asked were not invasive or overly personal, just on the order of "where do you work now?" and "are you happy?"

An elderly gentleman, though not too elderly, sauntered up to me and began to chat. He explained humorously that the year he had written on his name tag was in jest and that he was not that old. Looking closer I saw he had written "1862". I wondered if anyone had noticed it.

When I was at that school, I remember there was none of this "ma'm" or "sir" stuff when we addressed visitors or ex-pupils on founder's day - we had too much attitude for that back in those days - and how things had changed. I was greeted, smiled at, directed and made to feel welcome in a way that made me wish I didn't have to leave.

I never thought I would be one of those old students wandering the halls of my high school saying things like "look at that - we didn't have that when I was here!" And yet on this day, I was hard pressed to not do that. This time, that was me. Oh well, life is full of surprises.

I concluded my visit with a solitary tour of the building, starting with my favorite spot - the corridor outside the library, with its wooden benches where I spent most of my break times with friends, most of whom I haven't heard from in years. The old stairwell beside the library where I remember spending a few troubled periods hiding under old desks to avoid unpleasant situations, was still there - only closed up with wood and turned into a store. The top of the same stairwell where friends of mine used to hang out - and one used to perch on the bannister - will forever be "Cedric's Perch" to me.

I found a nicely framed mission statement of the school in the foyer, and it included respect for diversity and tolerance. I wondered if that included sexual orientation and gender identity and how I as a transgender student might be received at this school if I had had the good fortune to have been born 20 years later. If there had been more information around trans issues back in those days, and if there were not such a negative stigma attached to these issues when I was growing up, things might have been much better for me.

I paused outside the old art class, at the spot where I landed with a concussion and two broken eardrums after a boy a head taller than I had a disagreement and he floored me with a swing and a bag full of school books through the face. The old media room where I spotted a friend getting romantic with another boy in the dark during a screening of "Macbeth" had been turned into an English class, but still had the same window blinds and painted glass.

Was it the place I missed and was sentimental about? Or was it the friends I had, the people I missed - or the good times I shared with them? Was it the missed opportunities, or the way things might have been if I had seen life differently? Still pondering this, I bumped into another old teacher from the old days who told me he had been boarded by the department, and the school had kept him on to teach part-time. From him I learned the fates of several other teachers I hadn't seen that day. Redeployments, retrenchments - and then the conversation changed into small-talk. As he left and I turned to continue my tour, it occurred to me that this had been the very first time he and I had ever spoken, and it made me feel rather sad.

I found my old home room, the first classroom I started at in 1986 as a little 12 year old, often bullied and afraid, uncertain of who I was. Gone were the old chalkboards I remember and in their place, bright shiny new white boards, prompting all sorts of analogies about changing times which I resolved to write down later. Gone were the old wood and steel pipe school desks I remembered, and the many I had drawn and doodled on as a teenager. Instead there were brand new looking synthetic tables and chairs, all clean and shiny. Overtaken by a wave of sentiment, I reached out for a white board marker, found an open space, and wrote a message to the students who would no doubt return there the following Monday morning.

"The eyes of the past are watching you," I wrote. "...and they are well pleased."

I smiled, hoping it would mean something to the current students - and while walking to my car, realized that when I was a child, things were different. I was different. I was troubled as a teen, and even as a young adult. I did things and said things I'm not proud of - in a way that most of us look back on and feel uncomfortable with, or a tinge of regret about. It took me years to find myself, and to understand me - and even then, it cost me a lot of effort to make the person I wanted to be a reality. We grow and we learn, and it's something that never ends. Life is a journey - I relish every moment. Every so often it is satisfying to look back for just a moment to see where I came from - and at the end of it all, to realize - I am whole now. And I am happy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sleeper Awake!

Sometimes it feels like you are the only one who sees the world for what it is, while it seems that all those around you are blissfully unaware - not knowing and not caring to know things that could make a difference in solving problems or bringing about changes necessary to improve things. One of the catch phrases I remember from the original Dune movie in 1984 was "sleeper awake!" and it describes exactly how I feel today.


Despite appearances presented to the outside world, South Africa - and Africa - is a human rights mess, and especially so on the front of Pink rights.

Yes, there are massive shortcomings and omissions and failures on the part of Government to act on domestic issues - but while SA's government may not have de facto "obligations" to advance Pink human rights around the world or in Africa, our government has been active in efforts to assist and buddy up to governments known to be breaking down the human rights of the Pink community in those countries - and complicit in causing the downfall of human rights by it's continued failure to act.

What should we as the Pink Community do? Sit on the sidelines and let them continue to do so unhindered? Or should we be pressuring the SA government to live up to its obligations to uphold the SA Constitution both locally and internationally?

Too often LGBTI rights and interests are sidelines on thinly veiled excuses of diplomacy while all too visibly other more conventional interests are tackled head on, and with full media coverage. Of course, defending gay or trans rights simply isn't considered "moral" enough for our government - while it is in apparent agreement with the notion that homosexuality and transgender is "un-African" and not deserving of their attention.

The stony silence of our government on these matters while it grins broadly and shakes hands with the enemies of human rights, speaks volumes.

A shroud of silence covers the mounting death toll of the slaughter of lesbians of color in the "corrective rape" genocide, and in Uganda, a country which is building up momentum to resume its genocidal campaign to exterminate all non-heterosexual residents - a xenophobic former columnist who committed hate speech and incitement to violence against women and the Pink Community represents South Africa and the very Constitution he called for people to rip to shreds. In Zimbabwe, a besieged Opposition flouts its own claims to support democracy and equal rights for all by denying the right to fair and equal treatment to the Pink Community in the draft of their new Constitution - and South Africa who has been brokering negotiations there for a decade, says nothing against this monstrous betrayal. At the UN, South Africa's representatives repeatedly embarrass our country - and our Constitution - by making homophobic and anti-human rights decisions and remarks.

We are activists for human rights and equality. Pressuring the government and society into acting on these things is what we are about. And in our personal lives, we affect how straight, cisgender people around us see us - and can be activists in our own right - as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex person, you should know this.

If you sleep around, have a different partner every night, or if you have a drug habit, or have sticky fingers - then your straight buddies are going to get the impression that we are "all the same", even though it isn't true. We can to a degree be responsible for our own stereotyping. What we cannot help, is the senseless hatred of some organized groups for us, and the viciousness of the slanderous propaganda they create. What we can, is to know the facts, speak out in the face of bigotry - and know our enemies - rest assured, there is no shortage of them.

One of the things we've noticed and have been working against is the prevailing apathy in the community - this needs to be addressed, so if you want to do anything worthwhile, you could work to raise awareness in your circles. Talk about it, know it, be aware.

SA GLAAD is a non-funded non-profit group. All our efforts have been made at the members own expense and volunteers are scarce (there's that apathy word again). If you were to make an effort to research our activities as SA GLAAD since 2008, you will note that we have been pressuring government to act on local as well as international issues in countries where SA is involved in their domestic affairs. We do our best. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from getting off your ass and wading into the struggle to do better yourself. If you can.

People aren't interested in current events - they don't know about groups like the CDA, the ACDP, they don't know how much hate is in them for people like us, or in some surviving Afrikaner nationalist groups. They don't know anything about the lies told by groups like Exodus International, or their involvement in inciting homophobia in Uganda to the edge of genocide - or that they have offices and "ministries" right here in South Africa. They don't know who Errol naidoo is, or Peter Hammond, or the Christian Action Network. They don't care a toss about politics, or what they don't know. They get surprised when they hear of something happening, and angry that "nobody" did or said anything to stop it - whereas if they had been paying attention they would have known about it. Somehow we need to get them interested in affairs that affect them.

The "jol" mentality a.k.a. apathy is a cancer in the Pink Community in SA. And to some people, Pride is all about boozing, and cruising - not about securing our continued civil rights and hard-won pseudo-equality. These people enjoy the rights and privileges they have under the new Constitution - but could care less about protesting against prejudice or making an effort to stand up for themselves - they just expect "somebody else" to do it.

Whenever there is a party or event, Pink folks turn up in their thousands - but whenever a protest call is made, barely 50 people will turn up, including press and photographers. If the anti-apartheid struggle had been that poorly supported we would all still be living in the old SA, in the daily terror of being harassed or turned into political criminals with no Constitutional protection. Somehow this needs to be corrected, somehow we need to change that uninterested "let someone else do the hard work" mindset.

Politics and human rights is a numbers game. Who is going to care if only 20 people pitch for a protest?

There are loads of issues which the Pink and general communities need to be aware of - "corrective rape", the Jon Qwelane issue, SA's involvement in Uganda, SA's failure to push Zimbabwe to include Pink rights in their new constitution, the inequality in the Civil Unions Act, the impending challenge against Act no 4 of 2000 by Media24, the Protection of Information Bill, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, bullying of pink kids in schools, suicides, the lack of general knowledge of Pink issues, what it is to be g,l,b,t or i, anti-gay hate groups running rampant in SA, far-right propaganda, hate-mongering far-right political parties, the risks posed to freedom of expression by the Pornography Bill, the increase in religious fundamentalist influence over government, the number of religious ministers/pastors holding government offices, the threat against secular law and government etc, etc.

It's a mountain, and we need to climb it. Somehow we have to make them see it all. Somehow we have to make them care. Somehow I have to make YOU care.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Viva Secularism, Viva!

Many people today have moved beyond the confusion caused by mixing religion and affairs of the real world. Unfortunately there are still many people who cannot tell the two apart. To them there is no difference between politics, civil affairs, daily life and their own personal religious views. And for some unfathomable reason, whenever it is pointed out to them that they are being unfair for using their personal religious opinions to detract from the civil rights or equalities of others, they start whining childishly that it is they who are being picked on, and not their victims.

Fortunately, this sort of mentality appears to be gradually on the decrease, and those indulging in it are increasingly being exposed for the bigots, hypocrites and fascist leftovers they make themselves out to be.

This world is made up of all kinds of people, resulting in diversity - and not just diversity of race, culture and language, but also beliefs. This means that to expect people of all kinds of beliefs in particular to be satisfied while the government in their area proudly champions just one belief system or religion, while trampling the rights of others underfoot and preening its feathers at their cost - is not only naive', but plain stupid as well.

The logical mind would arrive at two possible outcomes; the first being to homogenize all belief systems into a harmonious gray sameness, where all people believe the same things, and have the same values. This is of course, unlikely at best, and has been something many social engineers have been trying to achieve since time immemorial.

The second alternative is to keep matters of government, law and justice and civil matters apart from religious belief systems, and to accord all religions equal status under the law of the land. This second system is called secularism - and for Christian fundamentalists in particular, is a favorite most-hated feature of the modern world - second only to homosexuality and other religions, chiefly Islam. It is nevertheless, this second system which history has demonstrated works best, although I am sure the Roman Catholic church would disagree - after all, their faith came about as a result of the first option, back in the old days when the emperor Constantine created Catholicism and then blamed it all on Christ - which I have to say, seems to be a favorite pastime of many modern cult-like evangelical churches today.

Nevertheless, secularism - the separation of church and state - is one of the tenets of modern civilization, and something which if applied correctly, favors no religion and prejudices no religion above or below another - and allows for all people to flourish on equal terms without using religious values to impede them. This is key if the world is to avoid any more religious wars in future.

A country which has no state religion, and in which religion is kept separate from affairs of state and government, is defined as a secular state. Wikipedia maintains a listing of secular states, among which are included MOST of the European nations, MOST of North America, South America and in fact even MOST of Africa. Few countries include a religion in state affairs today and make absolute mention of such religion in their national Constitutions and state machinery, but among them, there is most prominently, the UK (Church of England) and Indonesia, and of course, most of the Islamic states in North Africa and the Mediterranean area, and Israel.

This means that in most countries today, government and the running of these countries, should be progressing in a manner which should benefit people of ALL religions, or at least all people within these countries REGARDLESS OF THEIR RELIGIOUS PERSUASIONS. Now I have to ask myself, is this the case? I'm not so sure.

South Africa is listed as a secular state, although sometimes the lines between religion and state become a little blurred. Be that as it may, thus far, 16 years into the new post-Apartheid democracy, most of our civil rights appear to be relatively unscathed by this blurring as well as the mounting assault on the Constitution by far-right religious "transformationist" groups and religious political parties.

Uganda is not a secular state, but by stark contrast, a Christian fundamentalist one. For an interesting look at the recent affairs of the Ugandan state, go here. Yes, I'm sure many people, especially Pink tourists, would be tempted to go there for a visit. Not. There are quite a few countries around the globe making very similar moves, and not just in Africa, but in the Middle East, the Balkans, Jamaica and so on. And of course, the utterances and blunders of government in our own country sometimes gives us pause as well.

Politics is public and affects everyone in the country, and so everyone should be interested. Religion is personal and private and should only affect people who follow particular religions or spiritual beliefs - or who are interested. When religion is brought into government - or into political parties - it begins to affect everyone, and especially those not of those particular religions and consequently, not of their particular party support. It is because of this that people of religious or spiritual minorities, or any other groups not of the same beliefs or "convictions" as the term which is used - most often become the target of those who take power - or seek to take power.

You see, that's how you start defining Christianism: Christianists believe that because they are Christian, 'everyone else' is too, or SHOULD be... and it is then that you start having people behave as if other beliefs don't exist, or SHOULDN'T, and then take steps to make it so.

I have the pleasure of knowing a few people who call themselves Christians and who could be called "devout", going to church every Sunday, all dressed up, brainwashing themselves daily by reading floral-covered Solly Ozrovitch books etc... and every time some little issue arises in the news, such as Woollies not wanting to stock fundamentalist Christian magazines anymore due to lack of sales - they start beating that little drum, trumpeting about Christianity being "persecuted". I doubt they realize how ridiculous they make themselves, because when I appeal for them to calm down, they get even more upset.

I doubt they even realize how privileged they have been the past few centuries. Why do I say this? The Christian church had control of everything, and now that times have changed, and they are on an equal footing with everyone else, they don't like it. The fundies are getting restless. But then, fundies are always restless. They see conspiracies under every bush and in every corner. Everywhere they see little revolutions threatening to topple them from their remaining privileged seats of supremacy and power, and they don't even stop to realize that other people are not trying to climb above them and trample them, but are merely trying to claim their equal and rightful places in the sun beside them.

Morality can be distorted by any religion, remember that. Morality is what it is because people don't like to be lied to, cheated or done by unfairly, not because of what god they kneel to. Whatever gods there are, created by humans, will fit this morality - and consequently, the type of person defining the morality will define the face(s) of the god(s) they create. It's a case of art imitating life, imitating art.

In a country in which religion and government are segregated or separated by the Constitution, political parties which are founded on religious principles, ie the Christian Democratic Alliance and the ACDP - however small - and are operating on the promise that should they come to power one day in the distant future, or ever, they would run the country on the way they interpret the principles of the religion on which they supposedly base their values and policies - hence making their very existence and participation in politics and elections and potential government - UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

Wow. Really? Well, think about it. Certain of these "political" parties have already made it clear in the past that should they come to power, they would reinstate their religion as a state religion, ending secular government. They have also made it clear that certain sectors of the population would be treated as criminals based on their immutable characteristics - and resting solely on their personal interpretation of their religious laws as pertaining to them. Since their founding in the early 1990's, these parties have acted consistently - and even aggressively - against the civil rights and equality of some minority groups in - and outside of South Africa. Being part of several of these minority groups, I would object most strongly to one of them gaining any power at all in local or national government.

When I look at the track-records of groups such as these, I cannot see justification for their existence under a secular democracy, for if any of them came to power, there would be an end to such religious freedom and secular democracy in itself. Their existence is in my opinion, democracy falling on its sword for the sake of political correctness.

It is possible that allowing such unashamedly religious fundamentalist political parties to exist and operate may threaten the broader system of democracy in a secular state - but on the other hand, their screw-ups, blunders and the sheer stupidity, selfishness and thinly-veiled hatred in their policies - if continually exposed - may in fact provide clear reasons to the populace WHY they are a bad idea in the first place.

If people are to be treated with equal respect, dignity and given equal opportunities in a diverse society, then politics and religion should not mix. Simple.