Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Is This Really Much Ado About Nothing?

DA Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, Manny de Freitas has reportedly said in a letter to the Press:

"Just like apartheid - you were either for or against - you either believed in LGTBI rights or not. That fight is now over. Pride parades are no longer opportunities for protest and the demanding equal rights for all."

On this point I cannot agree with Mr de Freitas, or the cavalier manner in which he makes light of the situation. 

Mr de Freitas is making out in his letter, somewhat condescendingly, that human rights advocates have been overreacting to the fact that the SA government's Constitutional oversight body has been debating a suggestion made by a Traditional Leaders forum to scrap sexual orientation protections from the Constitution of the country. 

The point of our advocacy on this matter, and on arranging protests around it - has not been centering on the issue of the suggestion or the potential for its realization - but more upon the insult to our dignity posed by the very fact that such a Constitutional watchdog body is actually debating this issue, giving the impression that our rights as human beings are up for grabs to conservatives who like to pick and choose who is deserving of equality or "human enough" to qualify for human rights.

While much of the gist of Mr de Freitas's letter I can agree with, in that no party appears to have come out in open support of this abysmal suggestion - not even the ANC - however, it is worth noting that to date, not one single party has dared to openly condemn the Traditional Leader's forum for making this suggestion, or the Constitutional watchdog group for opening debate on it, or the ruling party for - as the original report in Beeld suggested, instructing all political parties to discuss this matter in their caucuses. 

This fight is FAR from over, Mr de Freitas. 

The constant attacks by conservatives and religious fundamentalists on our freedoms, civil rights - and even on our right to self-identify publicly, and to live openly as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or transsexual people, refute his statement and the casual wave of his hand with which he dismisses our concerns. 

The continued venting of homophobic and transphobic hatred in public places, in the press, and by religious extremists and "traditionalists" and denialists and victim-blamers seeking to extend their influence over the government, contradict it. 

The perpetual attacks on the Pink Community by religious extremist bigots for assembling and holding Pride events in various centers around the country as a show of solidarity, and expression of our freedom and identity as a community, a culture and as human beings, calls it into question.

The continued campaigning of some political parties, perpetually using our rights as bargaining chips in election manifestos, letters to the press and staged protests against our equality, denies it.

The continued failure of the ANC-led government to fulfil its Constitutional mandate to promote human rights protections in all its foreign dealings, as well as its dealings with human rights abusing regimes around the globe in defiance of this mandate - and the blatant acts of sabotage, such as failing to support UN initiatives to decriminalize homosexuality around the world, as well as appointing and protecting a bigot, a racist, a sexist, and a homophobe like Jon Qwelane to the post of High Commissioner to Uganda, exposes its folly.

The failure of Opposition parties to remind and badger the ruling party about its Constitutional mandate and its continued dealings with countries who have poor and even abysmal track records in human rights, particularly the human rights of people like us in those countries, fails it.

The continuous reports of violence and so-called "corrective" or punitive rape and other intimidation and assault committed against lesbians, gays and members of our community across this country - and in the name of "tradition" and "culture", calls it a blatant lie. 

"Perhaps it is time that the LGBTI community find something worth fighting for." He says, as though addressing perceived threats to our Constitutional rights and equality do not fit the bill.

In saying that education is a problem in combating bigotry, he is quite correct - however, without decisive government support in such efforts, great strides in advancing education of rural and traditional communities - and traditional leaders - in matters regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, will make about as much progress as combating the same ignorance which sees superstitious villagers murdering old people, albinos and epileptics when accusing them of being "witches".

Mr de Freitas's patronizing comments which portray our concerns as frivolous or hysterical, demonstrate both an insensitivity to the cause of our very real fears in facing very real threats, based upon past experiences - and also suggest that he is out of touch with our reality.

Failure on our part to rise to every perceived threat against our human rights protections, or to draw necessary attention to these, would be to forsake these rights and to leave them exposed and vulnerable to continued attack from very real opponents who mean very real business.

This we will not do.

I would expect a representative of the main official Opposition party, which promotes the creation of an equal opportunity society in South Africa, to approach such matters with more sensitivity - and frankly, to have made a statement condemning such a move against the Constitution, rather than to pooh-pooh and make light of those who have made an effort to defend it.


Christina Engela 

South African Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (SA GLAAD):

Member of the Board, Press & Media Liaison

SA GLAAD on Facebook

SA GLAAD on Twitter: @SA_GLAAD

Original letter below:

Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2012 4:25 PM

Subject: DA: [de Freitas]: Letter: A new cause is needed by the LGBTI community to fight for

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

A new cause is needed by the LGBTI community to fight for

Over a week ago the social media was aflutter with claims that Parliament wanted to amend our constitution to remove the sexual orientation clause. I was puzzled at the time considering that I have the privilege of being a member of the national Assembly. This was the first that I’d heard about this.

Over the weekend someone tried to convince me that the proposals by the Middle Age Style house of Traditional Leaders was completely formal. He simply wouldn’t accept my more luke-warm attitude to these ludicrous amendments. Even if the proposals by traditional kings (and queens) were taken up, there are enough voices of reason in all parties to oppose them.

It was easy before the birth of our democracy. Just like apartheid - you were either for or against - you either believed in LGTBI rights or not. That fight is now over. Pride parades are no longer opportunities for protest and the demanding equal rights for all.

For a while in the 1990’s the new HIV/AIDS pandemic appeared to replace the gay rights fight of old. That fizzled away as medical advances ensured that infected people can live a pretty normal life.

Perhaps it is time that the LGBTI community find something worth fighting for. Allow me to provide a suggestion.

Very few people; irrespective of which side of the tiara your stand on, have even asked why kings and chiefs of the various royal houses have a problem with gays and their rights? Why are some people who are perfectly logical in all matters excepting for when it comes to matters of homosexuality?

I dare say it is because of a lack of education – this is not formal education I am referring to. I refer to the lack of understanding of what homosexuality is. Why homosexuals exist. That they pose no danger to society or children. No, children do not “learn to become gay” or “suddenly decide” to become gay.

It is everyone’s duty, irrespective of one’s sexual orientation to explain and educate those that we refer to as bigots. Often all it takes is a detailed discussion to start the process of getting a person to change their perception and to get them to start thinking logically

This is our duty – a campaign and concrete action that you and I can do today and in the future.


Manny de Freitas MP

Member of Parliament
Shadow Minister of Home Affairs
Member of Parliament for Johannesburg South
Democratic Alliance