Monday, September 26, 2011

NMB Pride Is Our Heritage Day!

This past Saturday saw a first for my home town. Almost 20 years into our new democracy, Port Elizabeth still had not had a Pride parade or Pride event, in fact it was sometimes a pit-stop for travelers on their way from somewhere else, to Pride events being held - well, somewhere else. All that changed last Saturday, when the very first Nelson Mandela Bay Pride was held - and I was so very proud!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Facebook Outted Me

Facebook outted me, not for being being gay or transsexual, but for being associated with Pagan, occult and other alternative communities on Facebook.

Be warned - Pagans, drag queens, transgender people, gays living in countries where they face violence and murder, non-mainstream religious groups - anyone not using their legal names in order to interact safely online without fear of exposure or persecution - Facebook has appointed itself in charge of moral policing and is gunning for you.

Lots of folks anonymous profiles are being disabled by Facebook admins - because they are not using their legal names. It seems even Pagans are falling victim to this modern form of persecution which appears designed to either force persecuted minority groups out of FB, or to force us out into the open in order to face direct persecution.

There are a great many people who feel the need to interact under a nom de plume online. Contrary to first conclusions, most certainly do not have ulterior motives including child baiting or acts of terrorism in mind. Nor is it a new thing. Since the start of the internet, people have had user names or handles that gave them a measure of privacy on forums and other social media - and yet their actions are mostly within the law. In any event, few realize that they can be tracked or identified by their IP address or ISP identifications - that is bad enough as it is - but it is most likely only governments which can obtain such information, or very smart hackers. However, this move by Facebook is a direct assault on several freedoms enshrined not only in South Africa's Constitution, but America's as well.

"Facebook is a community where people use their real identities. We require everyone to provide their real first and last names and real birthday so you always know who you're connecting with.

Your name can’t include:
- Symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, or punctuation
- Characters from multiple languages
- Professional or religious titles

Other things to keep in mind:
- Nicknames can be used as your first or middle name if they're a variation of your real first, middle, or last name (like Bob instead of Robert)
- You can always list an alternative name on your account:
- Only one person's name should be listed on the account – profiles are for individual use only
- Pretending to be anything or anyone is not allowed

If you’re worried about your privacy, you can restrict who can find you in searches from the “Connecting on Facebook” page. To get to this page, click on the Privacy Settings link in the Account menu at the top of every Facebook page."

So apparently "Captain Jack Sparrow" wouldn't be welcome on Facebook, nor "Lieutenant Dan Choi" and neither would "C3-P0" or "the Pope". Cute.

The "alternate name" setting referred to above only gives the option of displaying both names on the same page - making it that much easier to connect my profiles and activities in different communities. Yes, please.

If one looks at their policy, strictly speaking - then anyone who is at risk of persecution should not be a member of Facebook - and Facebook would only cater for privileged social groups.

Gay people in Uganda for example dare not interact openly online on Facebook for fear of being targeted for intimidation, violence and death - would Facebook ban their profiles as "fake" too? Or would they simply "out" them on FB under their legal names as they did to me?

What is next? No more avatars? Will they demand a photo mug-shot style as well to be used as a profile picture? Do they seriously expect people to participate in online communities under their legal names with the likelihood that they will suffer harm for it? Apparently what is clear from this is their ultimatum - interact under your legal name, whatever the consequences - or don't interact at all. I suppose you could also say it is implied that if you need protection or anonymity to conduct personal business on Facebook, then you shouldn't be there - and more to the point, neither should communities of people who need anonymity because they fear persecution or prejudice or wish to interact without it.

What about transgender people who are busy transitioning and interact on Facebook without having obtained legal documentation in their new gender? Will Jane Smith be disabled because someone reports her for not using her legal name "John"? Will Facebook block them or out them? What about drag artists? Will Facebook prevent them from participating under their stage names? What about practitioners of religions which are persecuted in certain areas of the world?

This is either a very poorly conceived policy, or a very deliberate one.

In the meantime, there are now hundreds of posts as well as emails and other Facebook communication all over certain Facebook groups, and personal messaging between myself and others, which now bear my legal name - and which have now tied me to my private activities in various alternative communities.

While I have done nothing illegal, I still have the right to privacy - and this has been denied me. The policy of Facebook policy might WANT Facebook to be a place where people communicate under their legal names - but the reality - like the rest of the entire interweb - is something entirely different.

I have not deleted my second profile because of all the work connected to it, spanning several years - and the groups and Facebook friends to which I am added that would all be lost if I were to do so. I have had to close and limit access to my profile information, and remove everything from it that tied me to those communities. I now have to act like a paranoiac because of this ridiculous and unreasonable policy.

Facebook's appeal process does not allow any communications when appealing, and so I was unable to add any notes when I sent them a copy of my identity document, as requested, as proof that I was a real person operating that profile. I did so in good faith that my profile would be restored under the name it had originally. Instead, my legal name was entered into it, and locked so that it could not be altered again by me.

At any rate, this doesn't change the fact that I have been exposed - deliberately and willingly. Rest assured, if there were a viable alternative to Facebook, I would have closed my account and left.

This exposure has now revealed to persons within the communities in question, who might be regarded as hostile to me, my location and daily activities. People in my other social groups, my employer, colleagues and anyone who does a Facebook search for my legal name will now also find this profile and associated information.

It is a fundamental right for me to conduct business or to interact with privacy and under a pseudonym - and Facebook has denied me this. The damage is already done - I cannot recover my privacy and anonymity - it is now lost. I am bitterly and deeply aggrieved by this.

Speaking as a victim of this sort of betrayal and foulplay, I think this policy of FB is intended to force subcultures, alternative lifestyles and persecuted minorities either out of FB, or into the open where they can be targeted. It is abhorrent, and as an American company I believe it is acting contrary to the American constitution.

We need a broader international coalition of Pagans and alternative cultures and human rights activists to take this up with Facebook. If they will not listen to appeals from users, perhaps they will listen to an injunction from the US Supreme Court? Any takers on that?

This is all part of the "Big Brother's watching you" crap - because certain events around the world have featured people participating in violent protests like the riots in the UK communicating via FB to coordinate their strikes - and so they obviously have been taken to task by certain governments in order to prevent people from doing so under fake names so they can catch them. You can kiss democracy, freedom of expression and other liberties goodbye if this keeps up.

This measure and action discriminates against and endangers the privacy and and even the lives of LGBTI people, Pagans, Wiccans and participants in other alternative subcultures, and in fact anyone who feels reluctant to express themselves under their legal names for fear of reprisals and persecution.

What about those of us speaking out against this Facebook policy? Will Facebook delete this event and block those participating in it, or speaking out against their abuse of power? Will they continue to act like Big Brother?

Let's see.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

We Make Hate Great

Tolerance. Equality. Individual freedom. The right to self-expression. These are the things that make democracy great. These are the things that make life worth living.

And yet many people who claim to support these ideals, really do not. While they claim to, they see equality as something they are deserving of, while simultaneously they view anyone they do not personally approve of trying to gain equality with them as an attack on their own superior and privileged social positions. They distort facts and ideologies to serve their elitist and supremacist ideals, and hijack democracy in order to preserve a social order where words like "love" and concepts like "good" and "evil", and even terms like "family" and "marriage" become tools to exclude fellow human beings from equal, decent and humane treatment - and as weapons to destroy them.

The true ideals of democracy is not simply "mob rule" as some allege today. The underlying cause of the establishment of democracy as a system of government that led to the golden age of ancient Greece, was inequality.

People sometimes tend to forget that.

The same can be said of the ancient Roman republic - the Etruscan kings were deposed and replaced by a senate (which lasted until the time of the emperors). Through the centuries, people have always sought for some form of equal opportunity society, where all are equal before the law, where one class of people do not have autonomy to do what they will with the rights of the masses. Through the centuries, there have been a variety of experiments with different forms of government, and quite honestly, most of them are drenched in blood, and written in the ink of the hard lessons failure has to offer to the unwise, the impatient and the foolish.

To me it is equally abhorrent when people who participate in democratic government and who claim to have the best interests of "all" people at heart while they work tirelessly and without conscience to deprive a significant portion of any population of equality, dignity and right to exist in peace unmolested in the name of democracy - and employing the democratic system in achieving the goal of perpetually preserving specific groups of people with an "other" to hate, abuse and persecute in the interests of selfishness, unity and a hunger for power.

We need to ask ourselves why some people don't agree with equality for all people, and why anyone would oppose such lofty ideals? Why do they condemn the struggle for recognition by certain groups of people, while simultaneously claiming the same rights for themselves?

It seems reasonable to believe that someone who does not have full rights under law will not work to undermine their own rights - and so therefore those working to undermine the civil rights of the oppressed certainly consider themselves above other people and are working to prevent equality at all costs.

Why do they feel the need to paint those seeking equal rights under the law with the brush of "radical liberal", "unpatriotic anti-social", "anti-family", with the tar of "homo-fascist" or "homosexual terrorist"? When has a gay man walked into a homophobic church and blown it up? When has a gang of transsexual women straight-bashed a bigot for complaining about them using the restroom? Why do they choose to equate our need to be equal to them under law as "hijacking" legal process, or democratic values? Why do they seek to cheapen not only our ideals, but to devalue our lives as well, and to work to deride and continually undermine our right to exist alongside them?

How, when religion is separated from the mechanics of state, can some try to justify withholding the legal use of a word common to language and not unique to their religion - coupled with the legal union it describes?

Why, when science and medicine prove our worth, do they employ lies and propaganda to try and bluff people into hating? Why, when religions are built on foundations of tolerance, love and peace, do they twist the structure of the message into a liturgy of hatred, persecution and war?

Is it vanity? Pride? Arrogance? - Jealousy? Fear?

How can there be equality when the law favors one above the other, and the law suits one group people, while disadvantaging another, and is intended to keep it perpetually so? How can it be called "fair" when a person's worthiness to be treated with compassion and justice is dictated by who he loves, by what is between her legs, or by what pronoun they choose to be called by? How can it be considered "right" and "good" when people who claim those words as part of their set of values employ those values in campaigns of hatred, oppression and violence against others?

How, when logic and reason show there is no harm or threat inherent in treating others with respect and dignity as themselves, do people still partake in breaking down everything for which the principles of a free, equal-opportunity democratic society stands?

Why, when people who mis-lead such groups against equality for others, and vent so much bile, hate and ignorance in public forums, do they impart only the message that they are filled with hate, bile and ignorance - and that they have completely missed the point of their religious studies? Why, I ask, do people continue to hear them? Why do they continue to listen, and to partake, and to support them?

Can they not see how they are being used as pawns in applying inaccurate stereotypes, junk-science and prejudice for the purposes of creating inequality, blaming scapegoats, and perpetuating injustice?

Is it because they don't know any better, or because they aren't interested in knowing any better? Is it because they either can't or won't think for themselves? Or is it because they agree with these messages of exclusion, support the ideology of separation, and cherish the philosophy that they are somehow "better" than anyone else - and somehow deserve to be more equal than them?

And yet, all they do is to empower hate, uplift elitist values and enshrine oppression in the name of democracy, justice and love. Isn't it sickening?

You have to admire the kind of mind that can pull that off. You have to pity the kind of people who don't see it. You have to worry for those of us who do.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Yes, Wiccan

I drive a Mazda, but I still know what a Mercedes Benz looks like. I have had Beetles, a Kombi, a Renault, a Toyota and a Golf as well. I realize they are all cars, and I at least have an idea of what makes each of them different from the other, and about the thing that makes them go. I also know that cars make traveling from one place easier and better. It doesn't mean I have to hate the other makes, or refuse to drive in whatever car my neighbor drives.

What I'm trying to put across in my own rather quizzical way, is religion. Yes, that. You may wonder what cars have to do with religion - but let me clear it up for you: I have been finding out the hard way how ignorant some people are about religions other than their own. Let's take Christianity as a prime example. Almost everyone in South Africa knows what Christianity is about, more or less - even non-Christians. Hindus know what is under the hood of Christianity, Pagans know how many gears it has, and Muslims even how many cylinders and how many liters. How can they not, living in a country where we are still bombarded with "Christian" messaging in media, entertainment and culture every single day? But answer any average Christian who asks you what your religion is with "I'm a Pagan" or "I'm a Wiccan", and they will astonish you with their ignorance.

"What's that?"

And then follows the Great Explanation. And then while explaining it, I am made to feel like a missionary, trying to prove the worth of my beliefs and experiences, as if I am like them, trying to convince them to believe with me. I'm not. I have my own opinions about things religious, and have no desire to convince John and Jane Smith to toss away their crutches to follow me into the forest.

In my experience, Christians are not encouraged to know details of other faiths and religions. They are indoctrinated from an early age to believe that Jews only believe Christianity half-way, Muslims are long-lost cousins who missed the boat, and anyone else who isn't a Christian, is somehow "trapped" in some form of satanism, albeit some milder than others.

They have no idea about the significance of Pagan symbology, and condemn all Pagan signs as being "signs of satanic worship". They rip into Paganism and Pagan holy days and festivals without even being aware that their ENTIRE religion is built upon a foundation of Pagan traditions, holy days, rituals, symbology and imagery.

For those who doubt this, please read this related article on the matter.

Most Christians have no cooking clue about Paganism and what are and aren't Pagan beliefs. They spread the ignorance by contending that Pagans are "satanists", that they "sacrifice" cats in the neighborhood, and that the old lady living alone in the village is a witch and is to blame for last week's crop failure, or so-and-so's illness, or Jane's failure to bear children. The teach intolerance in that some still adhere to the intolerant views that led to the Holy Inquisition, referred to by Wiccans as "the Burning Times". Incidentally, a LOT of people were murdered by Christianity in those days, not just those accused of being witches or devil worshipers, but many others - including members of the Pink Community. And all this cruelty and death and suffering for wealth, power, control and to stamp out diversity, individuality and freedom.

I have to say that looking at this institutionalized blind ignorance, where believers are discouraged from learning about other faiths, or questioning their own, the criticism leveled at non-Christians comes across as arrogant. Well, that's just my opinion - but holding up a book written and edited by people ver the last 2000 years ago and arguing that this is all you need to know and worry about - and that - all that other stuff outside is of the devil - is just plain stupid. Not nearly as stupid as people who willingly fall for it, and encourage others to as well.

Despite the multitude of lemmings who will follow, and even lead their race to the edge of the abyss, who will joyfully roll boulders into the way of other people, point fingers at them, and even persecute - there are still a great number of Christians who are tolerant of other people's beliefs, views and of their right to live alongside them in peace and equality. One has to appreciate these non-judgmental folks for it, even if we question how they somehow did not succumb to the anti-diversity and restrictive doctrine of all Christian denominations (and even the Catholic ones).

What I find interesting, is that since I entered the Pagan and Wiccan communities, I have encountered many, many who tell of their experiences among Christians, and oddly enough most of them grew up as Christians, as I did - but who turned their backs on the religion because of all the intolerance, cruelty and oppressive nature of the beast.

I found an article today about the persecution of LGBTI people in history, and much of it is clearly shown to be grounded firmly in Christian practice and doctrine. It's a very interesting read on the history of European Christian persecution of gay and transgender people - as well as the detestable oppression brought by missionary Christians wherever they spread to, in the name of so-called "Christian civilization". Disagree with me? Well, just ask the Maya - oh wait, you can't - they're all dead. Convenient.

If we look at the mentality of certain religious leaders in the Christian community today, not much has really changed in the past 500 years, has it? Just the world around it has.

Some will claim that all religions in SA are now equal, post 1996. Is that so? While Pagans might not be legally persecuted anymore, many people simply accused of being witches (whether they are or not) are murdered each year in South Africa's rural areas each year. Just a month ago, a Christian fundamentalist cashier at a Cape Town supermarket had a religious experience and ran screaming when she saw a pentacle necklace on a customer - and the story made international news. Jewelry stores throughout the country do not know what an ankh or a pentacle is, let alone stock them - yet they all have loads of crosses, crucifixes and stars of David in stock. Shopping centers prevent Pagan and esoteric stores from renting space in their buildings. Fanatics picket and harass Pagan shops, and intimidate the staff and owners - and sometimes customers browsing in few tiny under-stocked esoteric book sections in larger book stores. Some towns only have Christian schools, or schools where the religion is worked into the curriculum - what of the Pagan children who live there? Why does the government census not include Paganism/Wicca under the religious section? Why does the spell-checker on my PC not recognize the word Wiccan?

What gives some people the arrogance to think they have the right point fingers at me, demonize me as a transgender woman, as a lesbian, as an agnostic, or as a Wiccan, and to intimidate me and to force me to abandon my opinions, and my beliefs in favor of theirs? And how dare they interpret my resistance to their efforts as "persecution" of their religion?

As I have stated so many times before, I do not criticize or condemn the beliefs of others, or their right to believe whatever they choose, or to live their lives however they choose, provided they do no harm to others - but I most certainly oppose people who will work towards the detriment and destruction of other people because of their beliefs.

Consequently, I stand against the spiritual warfare committed against individuality, human rights and freedoms, liberty, equality and democracy - regardless of where those attacks come, be it Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Shinto, or Pagan - or anywhere else.

Everybody is human, and therefore everybody needs human rights and equality. If there is no equality, then someone is on top of the wheel, and someone at the bottom - and wheels are known to turn.

I should think everyone would prefer being equal.