Johannesburg, 14 October: The recent Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual, Queer (LGBTIAQ) marches held across Gauteng that culminated in Pride Month came at a contentious and opportune time, considering the recent, somewhat more explicit articulations of homophobia made by political leaders across the world. Needless to say, these ‘official’ endorsements of prejudice, inequality and human rights abuses deny millions of people the right to life and what it means to live.
Curiously, our bigoted leaders perceive LGBTIAQ people’s fight for an equal existence a threat to human existence itself.
Just last week Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh told the United Nations General Assembly that homosexuality is deadlier than all natural disasters put together. He claims homosexuality is ‘anti-God, anti-human, and anti-civilisation’. In March at the opening of Parliament he said, ‘Homosexuals are not welcome in the Gambia. If we catch you, you will regret why you are born.’ In 2008, he ordered gays and lesbians to leave the country or have their heads cut off.
Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe also officially encouraged homophobia in his inauguration speech in August, saying homosexuality ‘destroys nations’ and is ‘a filthy disease’. During the recent elections in Swaziland, some chiefs not only advised the electorate not to vote for women in mourning or women wearing pants, but also not to vote for ‘gays’.
Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin and the Orthodox Church, Russia recently passed the ‘anti-homosexual propaganda law’, formally known as the ‘anti-non-traditional-sexual-relations law’. This not only criminalises demonstrations or LGBTI activism, but fuels hate crimes against LGBTI people in the country. Ironically, his role in averting a US military strike against Syria makes Putin worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize nomination!
Putin has openly blamed homosexuality for Russia’s declining birth-rate. This is almost as ridiculous as a statement made by Errol Naidoo, a South African Christian pastor, implying that feminism and a ‘homosexual agenda’ led to the Marikana Massacre last year.
Because birds of a feather hate together, Jon Qwelane will feel most at home as South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda. In 2008, after a number of lesbians were murdered, he published an article entitled ‘Call me names, but gay is NOT okay’. The Equality Court found Qwelane guilty of hate speech, but he recently challenged South Africa’s Equality Act, saying it hinders free speech. He also refused to apologise and called for LGBTIAQ rights to be revoked from the Constitution.
In yet another formal approval of homophobia, last month the Commonwealth elected Rebecca Kadaga, Ugandan parliamentarian and public supporter of Uganda’s ‘kill the gays’ bill, as chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians. The list goes on.
At the launch of the UN’s first global campaign to promote gay rights in July, Desmond Tutu condemned hate crimes perpetrated against the LGBTIAQ, also saying, ‘I would not worship a god who is homophobic.’
During the same month, even Pope Francis spoke out against homophobia and discrimination. It is certainly a pity – in this case, at least – that the Pope’s power is as inert as the ink with which International Human Rights law is written, and gender equality instruments are signed.
With these official endorsements of crimes against humanity, our ‘leaders’ have blood on their hands. They are complicit in the rape and brutal murder of Duduzile Zozo, Eudy Simelane and countless more women. They shoulder the blame for the torture and killing of Cameroonian journalist and human rights activist Eric Ohena Lemembe, Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato, and so many more people.
They share guilt with the mob of men that threatened and attacked the dance members of VINTAGE at Bree Taxi Rank in Johannesburg, after performing at Soweto Pride last weekend.
Our prejudiced leaders share responsibility for the murders of all the LGBTIAQ people whose names were printed on the innumerable white placards held by demonstrators on the road to Constitutional Hill, during Johannesburg Peoples’ Pride last Saturday.
It is against this persistent brutal backlash that people march. However, this backlash ironically forces the LGBTIAQ to conform to these arbitrary constructions and acronyms in order to stake claim to humanity and equal rights. Yet these are the very constructions that reduce people to ‘sub-human others’ that deserve only discrimination, rendering their life and any discussion of their lived reality to one solely defined by victimhood.
This limitation reduces people to a single identity and their rights to a single issue, denying the multiple layers of people’s identities and ultimately their humanity. It is this reduction that is exploited by Israel, the US and Western racist imperialists to ‘pinkwash’ and justify the invasion, occupation and oppression of the Middle East and many parts of the Global South. In which military intervention is spuriously justified by claiming Muslim or Arabic culture is homophobic, while Israel stands for gay rights.
That was the significance of the Joburg Peoples’ Pride march. It was a rejection of the pinkwashing of apartheid, which persists in this country and beyond. It was a response to the apolitical, racist, classist and corporate parade, which expected people to leave their multiple identities and diverse lived realities at the door of the ‘official’ Gay Pride, which disbanded earlier this year. It was a powerful demonstration calling for peoples’ justice and freedom in all areas of life and a call to be recognised as complex people with many interconnected struggles.
We will never achieve gender equality until the LGBTIAQ are included in this aspiration. Nor will this be a meaningful inclusion unless it moves beyond one defined and ‘rationalised’ solely by victimhood. Until people are no longer reduced to a sex, a gender, a race, religion or a class, but accepted as a complex whole that is first and foremost human, we will never achieve equality. To Mr Backlash, in tune with Nina Simone, ‘You’re the one who’ll have the blues not me, just wait and see.’
This article was adapted from one originally published as part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service. Katherine Robinson is the editor and communications manager at Gender Links. She writes in her individual capacity.