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,
for SA GLAAD

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