Friday, October 21, 2011

Pastor Demonstrates The Power Of Hatred And Hypocrisy

Regarding the matter of the Rev Oscar Bougardt, who delivered a letter filled with astonishing hatred and venom this past week to the Pink Community, I believe that his hatred (self-admittedly) demonstrates what is wrong with organized Christian religion today.

The comments in Bougardt's letter are typical of the right wing Christian bigot who doesn't know a thing about human sexuality, or their own holy books, but merely interprets these to suit their own prejudices and phobias. The majority of Christians appear to be indifferent towards the goings-on in the private lives of other people, or choose to live and let live rather than start a full scale war on them, unlike Mr Bougardt.

Nobody forced him to view the website to whose Webmaster he sent his letter, nobody provoked his hatred - but he took it upon himself to act out his hatred in a calculated demonstration of vindictiveness and malice against what is still a persecuted and marginalized minority in our country today.

Gay people in South Africa of all races, religions and cultures, still face remarkable intolerance, discrimination and danger which is still the result of ignorance which is reinforced by societal and institutionalized prejudice - and which is largely fostered and encouraged by people in Bougardt's position - that of a low-level religious leader who doesn't know what he is talking about, but who acts out his personal prejudices in the name of that ignorance and encourages others to follow suit.

Instead of following the wonderful example of people like Arch Bishop Tutu (whom he castigated in his letter), Bougardt chooses to vent his personal opinion that the Christian God hates gay people, or at the very least, supports his own all too obvious personal fear and prejudice of gay people, or hates those who embrace and include all people in the loving embrace of the Christ most Christians believe loves all of God's creations.

In doing so, he alienates not just the gay people he obviously hates and wishes removed not just from his own church, but from society - but also other members of the faith he claims to represent, and embarrasses not only loving and tolerant Christians who try to live as Christ did, but even those who share his views but do not actively participate in campaigns of persecution and intolerance against gay people - which is exactly what his letter appears to incite.

One would expect a man who is so obviously proud of his theological accomplishments, a learned man, to be more aware and sensitive that his words and deeds have consequences, that they may reinforce ideas and prejudices which run strong in some parts of South African culture, and which see many South Africans suffer injury, persecution, loss of dignity and even loss of life, based on the very same sentiments he expressed in his letter, and no doubt echoes from his pulpit.

His letter demonstrates a very clear lack of a basic understanding of the nature of human sexuality, and even of the mechanics of the very religion which he purports to represent - as well as a complete disregard for human rights and the SA Constitution, which grants gay people the very same rights to respect, dignity and protection under the law from precisely the form of discrimination he espouses and encourages.

In his letter he makes wild and unsubstantiated claims against gay people of drug abuse and pedophilia which echo exactly what is being said in the anti-gay propaganda in Uganda, where people live in fear of being murdered by their family members or the government on account of their sexuality - and all in the name of the "Christian" faith.

In this respect he demonstrates a complete disregard for truth, scientific or otherwise, and a propensity for embellishment and blatant thumb-sucking which also echoes the trend prevalent in the United States, where groups recognized and monitored as hate-groups use fraudulent "studies" and pseudo-science to prop up their lunatic claims about gay people in order to win support for their genocidal hatred in the name of freedom of speech and expression and in the guise of democratic liberty.

Most striking to me, he seems to display no single token or sign of Christian love or charity towards the millions of gay, transgender or otherwise non hetero-normative people in the world around him, who daily face the challenges and perils set by those who, like him, choose to act like those who nailed Christ to the cross instead of like the Christ who allowed himself to die for everyone's sake. Nor does he express anything but bitterness and contempt for others of his faith who do, but arbitrarily condemns them to death and destruction while using the name and authority of God as if he wields it like a hammer.

He appears to see no wrong in his attitude, or his words, or his deeds, which show to me no sign whatever of actual "Christianity" - but more likely, indications of what drove people like Adolf Hitler to purge "undesirables" - including gay people, Jews, blacks and others - from the human race.

On a personal level, I find his arrogance, ignorance, cruelty and hypocrisy, staggering.

Indeed, Bougardt is misrepresenting Christianity as a religion of intolerance, prejudice, oppression, violence, bigotry - and very prominently, hatred - and along with his own obvious personal feelings. He is misrepresenting himself as a spokesperson for his God, a sort of prophet if you will, who has intimate knowledge of the workings of God's mind as regards God's views on gay people, and he is involving others in his campaign of hatred, by so brashly and callously declaring "war" on gay people, and encouraging others to do the same in sympathy with his own bigotry and hypocrisy.

I wasn't surprised by this unprovoked outburst. I have become rather used to the intensity of the hate directed against our community by people claiming to be Christians. Nevertheless, it is still shocking to me how someone can hold a position of leadership and guidance in a religious or community group and make such a mockery of their faith and their followers. The ferocity and intensity of the hatred in Bougardt's letter is very much like other so-called Christian pastors who run small fringe groups based on anti-gay hatred and persecution, and who often freely admit hating gay people in the name of God. Well known examples of this are Erroll Naidoo and Peter Hammond, who have in the past made strikingly similar claims.

This is the very first time I have ever been aware of this man. I have dealt with several other outspoken bigots and homophobic religious figures in the past few years, but he is completely new to me. As such, I can only guess what caused him to react in so violently un-Christ-like a manner as to declare "war" on an entire community - many of whom are also Christians, but in my opinion, it is often those who are afraid of people who seem different to themselves, or too much like them, that react so xenophobically.

I feel the best way to move forward, is for loving Christians who embrace the teachings of Christ, to address the problem of growing hate and promulgation of violent victim-blaming evident in their religion. It is time they spoke out against people of this sort, who take it upon themselves to act in their name out of their own personal hatred. People like Bougardt are an embarrassment to their religion, and to a society which claims to cherish human rights and freedom and equality for all, because they encourage the abuse of human rights, and persecution, and tarnish the image of the entire religion. They are part of the vicious circle of ignorance, fear, hate and violence - and somewhere, the circle needs to be broken.

To date, no Christian minister or church group has responded publicly to this incident, but I believe that is because this matter has not made it to public media as yet. Naturally there has been an outcry from Christian clergy who are part of the Pink Community.

SA GLAAD will continue to raise public awareness around the hatefulness, religious based persecution and the untruths and willful ignorance being employed as weapons in what can only be called an unfortunate example of religious extremism and institutionalized tolerance of such hypocrisy and the promotion of the abuse of human rights among clergymen.

We will continue to work for increased tolerance and acceptance of the Pink Community in all societal groupings and cultures and for the respect, dignity and civil rights of all citizens of South Africa.

Christina Engela

Thursday, August 18, 2011

EC Mirror Casts Poor Reflection

EC Mirror Casts Poor Reflection
Some of you know that my city, Port Elizabeth, will be hosting its first ever Pride event this year - an event which I am proud to say I am involved in, be it in my own small way. ECGLA, an organization I am part of, stands behind the Nelson Mandela Bay Pride - which will take place on the 24th of September - with one or two smaller events on the side during the month leading up to the main event.

I have to say that so far I have been pleasantly surprised to note that there have been no negative encounters, nasty letters in the press, and no hate mail specific to the Pride event. In fact, we were even surprised and excited to learn how positive the public appears to be about Pride. Of course, there always has to be one bad apple in the basket, doesn't there?

Today I was forwarded an email reply to a request sent out to newspapers in our area to publicize an event which forms part of the run-up to Pride.

On Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 11:18 AM, Ec Mirror Admin wrote:

"As far as I understand it, Pride is an organization which promotes and sympathises with the cause of Homosexuals. However, practising homosexuals are acting directly acting against God’s Holy Word as laid down in the Bible. So although we are not judging practising homosexuals, (God is the only judge of all our actions) we wish to try and live in accordance with God’s principles.

Therefore we will not be promoting this kind of function at all.
Please do not send us anything to do with Pride.
The Hope Clinic is a completely different issue, however, and we have tried our best to promote this for you because we feel the Hope Clinic does a huge amount of good work in the community. Congratulations on the Hope Clinic and we wish you all the best.

Thank You
The Publisher
EC Mirror"

After reading this letter, I wrote what I felt to be an appropriate response.

Dear EC Mirror,

Your response to a request for publicity of an event in NMB Pride has reference.

Pride is an event which promotes tolerance, equality and celebrates the human and civil rights of people who have suffered and still suffer daily prejudice and persecution - both in general society, as well as in their family and school and work situations - resulting from a lack of education and human rights values.

The NMB Pride is an event geared towards raising awareness of our existance as a community and our human rights shortcomings, while also building good will between the Pink Community and the rest of the Metro by means of peaceful social interaction while raising funds for local charities and generating tourism income for local businesses.

These goals are made all the more difficult by individuals who eagerly apply prejudice and discrimination without any apparent thought or justifiable reason, and by contradiction, simply encourage animosity - which is counterproductive and hampers nation-building.

Shouldn't the "EC Mirror", as a public newspaper, be concerning itself with publishing news and items of public interest in the Eastern Cape - instead of policing or censoring these? How do personal religious values have any relevance to reporting on events in the real world? Is the EC Mirror a church newsletter, or a real newspaper?

The Pink Community is part of the public too - and as tax-paying and contributing citizens of South Africa and residents of the Eastern Cape, we do not appreciate being discriminated against or having our dignity and equal worth as human beings impugned. Are you aware that unfair discrimination is illegal? Have you ever heard of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, No. 4 of 2000?

If this is the attitude of your publication, your publication has been poorly named - because then the "EC Mirror" does not give a true reflection of events in the Eastern Cape, but rather only a cherry-picked, cracked and distorted view excluding the reality that we live here too - and that we might also be interested in being informed of social events in our area which concern us.

By your criticism and refusal to publicize the item forwarded to you, your claim to "not judge" is proven to be a blatant lie - add to that the very fact that your email was unnecessary. Why reply with offensive remarks when you could just have ignored the Pride email - or kept it to a request to not be sent future material about the NMB Pride? Surely that would have sufficed?

By your own words and uncharitability, you mark yourself as a poor example for professional journalism - and in my opinion, your hypocrisy and piety are an embarrassment to people of your faith who do good for others and try to make the world a better place, instead of breaking down those who do.

Your statement regarding Hope Clinic is nothing less than an insult - for you imply that one form of community service by the Pink Community is "good work" while community service which benefits our own community is not - based simply on who we are and who we choose to help, in relation to your prejudice. It is my understanding that you were quite willing to promote our efforts to support Hope Clinic in the past - considering that the Hope Clinic is where it is today primarily because of the efforts of those who helped build and support it, and got it off the ground - who are members of the Pink Community - you demonstrate a very skewed view indeed.

In closing, your remarks demonstrate to me clear opposition to the human rights values enshrined in the SA Constitution, as well as a lack of compassion, ubuntu, common decency and good manners. Consequently, we will no longer consider the services of EC Mirror, as a free community newspaper, sufficient, appropriate or befitting our worthy cause - and therefore we as NMB Pride and ECGLA formally disassociate ourselves from you.

Christina Engela

Eastern Cape Gay & Lesbian Association: Director

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

SA GLAAD Welcomes Qwelane Verdict in Equality Court

On behalf of SA GLAAD, I would like to express relief and satisfaction with the verdict delivered today by the Equality Court in the matter of Mr Qwelane's hate speech trial resulting from his 2008 article "Call me names, but gay is not okay...".

SA GLAAD as a volunteer organization came into being in 2008 as a direct result of Mr Qwelane's statements in his article, and also as a result of the outrage and offense it caused to the Pink Community and to women, and also to all fair-minded South Africans.

It has taken almost three whole years since this issue first broke in 2008, marked by protests, letter, fax and email campaigns, international and local scrutiny, and consistent pressure from local advocacy groups and activists to come to this point. It is indeed gratifying to know that the Equality Court, the SA Human Rights Commission and the structures supporting it have delivered a just outcome to this matter. For this, we give our most grateful thanks to all those concerned.

It would be remiss if we did not give honorable mention to various individuals who stepped forward to assist during this time: Cobus Fourie, Sarel Ras (SA GLAAD), Coenie Kukkuk (GaySpeak), Luiz DeBarros (Mambaonline) and also Louise Reardon (formerly of SA GLAAD), as well as the staff of the SA Human Rights Commission.

We are indeed satisfied with the verdict of the Equality Court in that Mr Qwelane has been found guilty on the charge of hate speech and fined the sum of R100,000.00, and the order that he must make an apology to the Pink Community and to women for his hateful and offensive statements - an apology which in his article he bragged that he never would make.

We sincerely hope that Mr Qwelane will be held to the decision of the Equality Court, to pay his dues, and to make his apology.

We also repeat our call to the South African government to recall Mr Qwelane from his post as High Commissioner to Uganda, on the grounds that we feel it is unfitting that a person found guilty of hate speech against a minority group be allowed to represent our country as a High Commissioner, least of all in a country where the same groups which bore the brunt of his hate speech are violently oppressed and persecuted.

Christina Engela,

Member of the Board: Press & Media Liaison, SA GLAAD