Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Price Freedom?

It seems almost undeniable that every modern religion has to have an enemy or a scapegoat. Without something to fear, clerics would have nothing to warn against, nothing to unite people under them with. No Bogie Man or big bad wolf to keep the flock encircling the camp fire in the dark night of the soul, so to speak. Without some threat, real or imaginary, they would have nothing to point fingers at and say THAT is why WE are God's chosen people and THEY are NOT.

An old saying which puts it "just so" for me, goes: "If you believe in God, it is because of the Devil".

Islamic fundamentalists for example, use the USA as their favorite enemy - even though many of the problems they blame on others are of their own making. Likewise, countries like Uganda, suffering from rampant Christian fundamentalism, see fit to blame unbelievable things on the pink community - things which considering the influence and role of American evangelicals there of late, sound exactly like the rhetoric of the US religious right.

In Africa, foreign evangelicals have been active for many years now, but over the years it has become apparent that their “mission” is more one of control than of “liberation”. Let’s take an example: In 2007, Uganda’s highest court struck down a law that made adultery a crime. Religious leaders took to their pulpits the next Sunday, which was Easter, to denounce the ruling. Gary Skinner, the Canadian founder and pastor at Watoto Church in Kampala, was among them.

“We condemn all inhuman practices including homosexuality, prostitution which people are pushing for their legalisation,” the Monitor, a Ugandan news outlet, reported Skinner saying.

Inhuman? I wonder what this man has to say on the topic of genocide and how it relates to his work as a “man of God”?

This problem of religious fundamentalism exists right across Africa and not just in Uganda or Rwanda. This of course, is not exactly a new thing, but it has seen a recent upsurge in action and support.

In South Africa for example, right up until the fall of the NP government, being gay was a criminal offence. We still hear horror stories of what the military did to pink folks under the old regime, from stories about the "blue pill" they dropped in the troopies coffee to the aversion "therapy" and forced gender reassignments carried out at military hospitals. What most people today don't know, is that more harsh laws - laws similar to some of those in the Ugandan Bill, were about to be passed in the early nineties when the apartheid government fell. GASA was one group which campaigned against it at the time and many of the older generation GLBT folk can tell us some interesting tales about those days.

There are many anti-gay groups active in South Africa today, who are religious-based, way off the deep end as far as fundamentalism is concerned - and most of whom have direct links to the US religious right. Some of these have been mentored directly (ie Family Policy institute and Focus on the Family. Even Exodus International, now infamous for its direct involvement in Ugandan atrocities, has affiliates here).

I am convinced that if not for our Constitution, things in SA would be quite different today. It is positively frightening that some of these same groups today openly state their intentions to change the Constitution in order to strip GLBTI people of equality and our civil and human rights.

Ray Mc Caulley, the NILC and Jacob Zuma are not alone in wanting to change the SA Constitution - they are backed by many others, such as Erroll Naidoo and his Family Policy Institute, Peter Hammond and his Christian Action Network and a host of religious fundamentalist crusaders, including wannabe political parties such as the ACDP and CDA trying to defend humanity against itself.

In Rwanda a bill criminalizing homosexuality was tabled yesterday. There is still no notice of the outcome, but less than 48 hours notice was given and it can be surmised that activists only learned of its existence at the last minute. This if nothing else, should serve as motivation to keep informed about matters affecting us in our own country.

Over the past few years I have joined with other activists in warning about matters which adversely affect us as a community, and I know this is December, and Christmas is coming and people are not in the mood for somber warnings and doom and gloom. I have been trying to encourage the pink community to be proud of who they are, to be aware and informed and to stand up and participate in society, in politics, in religion - in everything in the straight world which affects us. Because if we do not, and we remain apathetic, then we really will end up facing our doom like the community in Uganda, Rwanda or Jamaica who have no-one left in politics to speak out for them. If we follow such a trend of apathy and disinterest, that is what awaits us.

That aside, 2009 was a fairly good year in South Africa for the pink community. We survived thus far with our civil rights intact. We survive to face another year with new challenges. I look forward to facing them with you.

We cannot rely on others to stand up for us, we cannot afford to sit back and think we are safe. Current events around the world have shown us that freedom and equality have to be constantly defended and fought for. That is the cost of freedom. What you need to decide is whether it is worth the price or not.


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