Friday, 13 July 2012

Qwelane, 4 years later

20 July 2012 will mark the fourth anniversary of the now infamous article “Call me names, but gay is NOT okay” which featured on page 14 of the Sunday Sun.
Quite the outrage erupted and a record number of complaints were sent to the Press Ombudsman and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). I believe that those records still stand.

The South African LGBTI community was up in arms and protests were held in Cape Town and Johannesburg while various campaigns brewed. Media24 was targeted because one of its publications published the hateful drivel. They responded by removing Jon Qwelane’s column from the News24 website.

Louise Reardon’s Facebook group Appalling Homophobia In Our Midst quickly grew in size and served as a platform of discussion and dissemination of protest tactics and campaigns. It was also on this group that the South African Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (SA GLAAD) was born.

After months of nothing happening SA GLAAD held its maiden protest at the SAHRC headquarters on 4 December 2008, at this protest the CEO of the SAHRC made it public that Qwelane would be sued.

In the meantime the political landscape changed and Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was elected president after the 2009 national and provincial elections.

After a strange sequence of events involving the clerk of the equality court trying to serve court papers on Qwelane we learnt that Jon Qwelane had been deployed as High Commissioner to Uganda. Yes, Uganda of all places; a place where the Anti-homosexuality Bill of 2009 was just freshly introduced after some meddling by American lobby groups.

By 31 May 2011 we learnt that the Johannesburg Equality Court found Qwelane guilty of hate speech and fined him in absentia. Qwelane however launched a rescission application and on 1 September 2011 the guilty charge was effectively quashed on a technicality.

The latest according to the Sunday World is that Qwelane has submitted an application in the South Gauteng High Court for a stay on proceedings in the Equality Court pending the ruling on the constitutional validity of sections 1, 10(1) and 11 of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (No. 4 of 2000). Qwelane’s lawyers also said that if the stay on the proceedings is granted the constitutionality of the Equality Act will be tested in court.

This in my mind amounts to an attack on the fundamentals of equality and human dignity as contained in the Constitution and moreover an attack on the founding values of our most revered progressive Constitution.

This is an assault on the most basic principles that underlies our new dispensation. Chapter 1 of the Constitution requires a 75% majority vote in the National Assembly to be amended and by that strictest requirement I consider it above other provisions.
Chapter 1 starts with section 1 of the Constitution that states that:
“1) The Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on the following values:
a)   Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms…”

Furthermore section 9 in the Bill of Rights (Chapter 2) enunciates on the right to equality:
“3) The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
4) No person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds in terms of subsection (3). National legislation must be enacted to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination…”

The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, No. 4 of 2000, was promulgated based on the prerogative given by section 9(4) of the Bill of Rights. Note that Qwelane is basically attacking this piece of legislation which was meant to extend equality.

Now there is an unexplained gap in section 16(2)(c) of the Bill of Rights. It states:
“16. Freedom of expression
1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes
a) freedom of the press and other media;
b) freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
c) freedom of artistic creativity; and
d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
2) The right in subsection (1) does not extend to
a) propaganda for war;
b) incitement of imminent violence; or
c) advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.”

You might note that “sexual orientation” is conspicuous in its absence in section 16 (2)(c).  Was this an error of omission? This same error of omission is also quite prevalent in section 37 of the Bill of Rights’ Table of Non-Derogable Rights.

Qwelane, I guess, is basing his defence on section 16 of the Constitution.

Despite our progressive and inclusive Constitution hate crimes directed at the LGBTI community remains rife. Jon Qwelane called for the Constitution to be rewritten in that fateful article of his and amazingly we had Patekile Holomisa from the Constitutional Review Committee who via the House of Traditional Leaders suggested that the “sexual orientation equality” clause be removed. It seems Jon has an ally in CONTRALESA.

Where does this leave us? In 2008 a call was made was for gay rights to be scrapped and now a mere four years later we have the ANC MP and chairperson of the Constitutional Review Committee heeding that call. Uncanny isn’t it?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

We didn’t start the fire

Legend has it that the Montagues and Capulets had a feud for as long as anyone could remember; one source traces it back to Dante's Divine Comedy. The story is somewhat of an allegory of course and it says as much of society today as it does of feudal Italy. That Shakespeare turned this into a convoluted love story just makes it ever the more senseless and tragic.

Concurrently I am vividly reminded of the 2004 film “Crash” starring Ryan Phillippe, which centred on the topics of racism, retribution, vicious cycles, and the self-perpetuating nature of all that is ugly in human behaviour.

While watching said movie I thought about the conflict in Palestine and of stones being thrown by both sides while nobody could remember who cast that first stone. That is the tragedy of human interaction. We can be our own worst enemies and in getting beyond knowing this simply intellectually we are not relinquishing our majesty.

But nonetheless we never learn, not from the mistakes of others nor the mistakes of our own making:

On the 19th of May 2012 it felt good being gay. A grassroots mass of people organised and marched to the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg to express anger at the attempts of the House of Traditional Leaders to remove sexual orientation from the Bill of Rights' equality clause. For the first time in a very long time the local LGBTI community set aside their differences and stood together as one, a united opposition of indignation and a show of political unity.

It felt good carrying one end of a five metre wide by two metre high banner which read "human rights include gay rights."

A mere ten days later everything had changed. Infighting of epic proportions broke out and I was out jogging trying to make sense of the chaos around me. I saw ugly things coming from good people. I saw the worst part of what humanity is capable of. It counts amongst the most profoundly sad couple of weeks in my life.

After jogging a good eight kilometres with quite the fervour and having a quite a bit of time to think I proceeded to de-activated my Facebook account for the first time in five years. A friend of mine said it was quite a radical step of me to take, I explained that I wanted to rescind my gayness, hand in my gaydar and return to what I imagined a sense of normalcy looked like.

I saw that the House of Traditional Leaders needn’t worry too much, that the LGBT community was capable of destroying itself on its own accord. I thought some Members of Parliament who expressed that they don’t care for equality would have been pleased to see the infighting play out. What a soft target we must seem.

While I looked on at the destruction it was inevitable that phrases of George Orwell’s Animal Farm rang in my ears:

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Without appropriating figure for faction, because they are two sides of the same coin in any event, it was plain to see that the oppressed became the oppressor, the aggrieved, and the aggressor. 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Welcome to Misogynists Anonymous

I step inside the stale community hall, get myself a cup of very bad coffee, and take a seat in the makeshift circle of chairs. I’m careful to avoid making eye-contact.

There can’t be more than 20 people here, split about half along gender lines. It would seem that misogyny is quite universal. The meeting is about to start. I gulp down the rest of the caffeinated sludge.

The group leader is identified by a lapel label, today our counsellor is Eva. Very appropriate name, I think. The introductions: Eva instructs us to announce ourselves clockwise from her. It is my turn, there’s a bowling ball in my stomach, there’s a desert in my mouth.
  “Hi everyone, my name is Erick and I am an ex-misogynist.”
  “Hi Erick,” everyone retorts.

The support group came after years of harbouring a kind of disillusionment with the patriarchal status quo. As a kid I thought women were powerless and seemingly content with it. It wasn’t until much later that I realised girls were socialised to be dependent and vulnerable.

I am engulfed in my own memories and reflections while Eva continues the scheduled group therapy for the day. I do not listen at all. I have been a bad feminist a decade and half ago. Then again, I was juvenile and hardly politically aware but my conscience demands that I issue an apology.

By the age of 20, I had noticed how women continued to be taught to be dependent on the assistance of males. I get sick when I hear someone uttering, “She cannot drive all by herself at night!” Women can also change tyres. Admittedly, changing tyres is no fun and I do not relish in that ability, it is a nuisance methinks everyone would love to avoid.

Don’t get me wrong, my name isn’t Mao Tse-tung and I do not enjoy seeing women suffering hardships in the name of egalitarianism as Jung Chang contends in her and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story.

I realise I was wrong to blame women for how they have been raised. I recognise the folly of my reasoning that attributed defencelessness to a feminine trait where it should have been attributed to a system of patriarchal norms whereby the woman is made to be a defenceless object.

The notion of the empowered and independent woman is far from new. Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox sang the signature womanpower song titled Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves. Countless other anthems followed by contemporary singers. I think I am not alone when I call for a radical change to the way we raise girls and boys.

I wake up from my self-reflection only to disrupt the group discussion asking if it is anti-feminist to use the word “bitch.” There’s a shrill silence.
  “I am always hesitant to tweet the word. Has the word been liberated?” I muse.
The group looks at me reflectively. Some have expressions of sincere compassion as if I have just achieved catharsis.
  “We need to interrogate this subject, good question Erick,” Eva says while swiftly moving on with the programme of the day.

I look at each of the group members and I am astonished that there are so few of us. A demure looking lady in a grey woollen suit smiles broadly at me and only then I notice the broach she’s wearing. I strain my eyes only to read, “This bitch bites.”

I found that very appropriate.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What’s in a name?

Would “reparative therapy” pass public scrutiny easier if wrapped in a warm and fuzzy blanket and smothered under some shady PR spin?

Would a concentration camp be a pretty place if it had a view of the Adriatic Sea or would it have been picturesque if nestled somewhere on the Monaco coastline? Unanimous no. Right?

In this world we have euphemisms aplenty. For example: somebody isn’t in an insane asylum, they are institutionalised.

Another example: “reparative therapy” is offered to those with “unwanted same-sex attraction”. Note that the adherents of this ideology do not believe that people are actually gay but suffer from some affliction despite the fact the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of official diseases and disorders in 1973.

I was thus unfazed when I received a very amicable email from an organisation that offers “reparative therapy” under the guise of a fluffy new image.

My letter with the very amicable letter I received hereunder:

From:   Cobus Fourie
To:       New Living Way Ministry

Dear Mr Bekker

Thank you for your communique.

We note the more positive attitude of the organisation. Thank you for the welcoming nature of the letter.

I have to vehemently disagree with the aspect of the organisation that will deal with treating "unwanted same-sex attraction" though.

Basically every reputable medical (psychological/psychiatric) organisation has denounced so-called "reparative therapy" in the strongest terms. Below excerpts from leaders in the field of psychiatry:

In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the DSM and declared that it is not a disease of any kind. The American Psychological Association and various other medical associations followed suit not long after.
In 1997/1998 and again in 2000 the American Psychiatric Association denounced “Reparative Therapy” saying inter alia:
“[There] is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of reparative therapy as a treatment to change ones sexual orientation”

“The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour”
“Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.”
The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) has issued the following position statements:
“SASOP Position Statement on Homosexuality
SASOP acknowledges that in the past, use of diagnostic systems that classified homosexuality as a disorder, may have caused patients distress. SASOP actively distances itself from this previously held position and endorses the equality clauses in the present constitution.

SASOP endorses the stance of the American Psychiatric Association that homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgement, stability, reliability, or general social, vocational capabilities or increased psychopathology. (The APA removed homosexuality as a mental disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973 after reviewing evidence that revealed it did not fit necessary criteria to be categorized as a mental illness.) SASOP undertakes to do all that is possible to decrease the stigma related to homosexuality wherever and whenever it may occur.

SASOP opposes any psychiatric treatment such as "reparative" or "conversion" therapy designed to change a person's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual and supports the opinion of the APA that "there is no scientific evidence that reparative or conversion therapy is effective in changing a person's sexual orientation. There is, however, evidence that this type of therapy can be destructive." In fact reparative therapy runs the risk of harming patients by causing depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior...

SASOP recognizes that bias-related incidents such as acts of violence or harassment, arising from anti-gay and lesbian prejudice are widespread in society and continue to be a source of individual suffering and trauma. These incidents result in emotional and physical trauma for individuals, as well as stigmatization of affected groups. SASOP deplores such bias-related incidents and encourages its own member psychiatrists to take appropriate actions in helping to prevent such events, as well as to respond actively in treating the victims of such events.”

I thus have to implore you to rather focus on the positive aspects of your organisational goals (which I welcome) and to refrain from possible destructive "therapies" however well-intentioned.

Feel free to write us to debate these issues.

Kind regards

Cobus Fourie
Board Member
The South African Gay & Lesbian
Alliance Against Defamation
Twitter: @SA_GLAAD


On 6 February 2012 08:33, New Living Way Ministry <> wrote:
Good Day

I want to thank you for your support to International Healing Foundation (SA) over the past two years. God has guided us to register a non-profit company that has a broader vision than what we had for IHF (SA). New Living Way Ministry will replace IHF (SA) witch will close on 29 February 2012. On the “welcome page” of our new website you will read the following:
Welcome to New Living Way Ministry
New Living Way Ministry is a Non Profit Company and an interdenominational Christian organization that serves and reaches out in love to the gay community and their loved ones. Our vision is to have a care centre from where we will serve those suffering with HIV and AIDS, and where a residential program will cater for people with unwanted same-sex attraction. Temporary accommodation is envisioned for men and woman who are homeless and destitute due to a variety of circumstances, and those involved in prostitution are also close to our hearts to be reached out to. A chapel on the premises will enable us to meet some of the spiritual needs of those we are serving. We believe in serving a person as a whole - spirit, soul and body and will provide the necessary means to do so.
Being also an educational and counselling organization, we endeavour to empower men, women, and children to heal from past and present wounds, releasing them to live a powerful life, and to fulfil their destiny. We also aim at educating the religious and secular communities about same-sex attraction and early intervention. We work to promote healthy individuals and relationships, healing communities, families, and churches.
We value the right of individuals to live life as they desire, and love and accept them just as they are. We will accompany everyone on their journey to wholeness and affirm their right of self-determination, self-acceptance, and self-discovery, while respecting their faith and values and how it might impact their choices.
Not being ignorant of the fact that some terms like "homosexual," "homosexual community," "homosexual lifestyle" or "he is a homosexual," etc. might be offensive to some readers, I want to highlight that it is not our intention to offend anybody, should such terms be found on this website. Because our articles are obtained from many different sources, it's not always possible to avoid these terms. However, please know that it is not used with malicious intent.
As followers of Christ, it is appropriate for us at New Living way Ministry to repent and ask the gay community for forgiveness for the way individual Christians and Christian organizations have often treated you. We publicly apologize to those of you within the Gay community for the hate you have felt and experienced from the Christian community. That has been our sin against you, and we ask for your forgiveness. We want you to know that you matter to us and you matter to God. God loves you, He cares about you, and He has a plan for your life.
Please note that all our contact details remain the same except for the email address which will be and the website which will be

We are looking forward to continue serving you and our community.

Kind Regards

André Bekker
New Living Way Ministry


Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Does it really get better?

I will concede that the It Gets Better campaign has garnered a lot of sympathy for the plight of LGBT teens and mainstreamed awareness of the social ill that is the suicide of LGBT youth. Judging it by those parameters, it is a fantastic campaign. It went global, it was all the rage and political leaders, and other VIPs recorded their own It Gets Better YouTube couture.

Reminiscent of the NOH8 campaign it was about visibility and popular appeal. It somehow made an extremely emotive issue a rallying point. It was easy to paint any detractors of equality as simply callous (which they are in any case, one need not parade human suffering to get that point across).

Sure, being LGB and T gets more tolerable as one ages, but tolerance is far from "better". Acceptance is also a word thrown around. Acceptance is nice, won't deny, but it's not enough.

Methinks in our attempt at mainstreaming we might have settled for second best. Tolerance and acceptance aren’t issues we have to work on (from a progressive perspective), these are things that should be the bare minimum.

Sure, it gets better, but is “better” enough? Moreover, by whose standards would we measure this hypothetical “better”? Tolerable is also better than intolerable but I bet you won’t settle for that.

Are suicides in our community so rife and such a social ill that we need to present any form of positivity and encouragement no matter how lacklustre it might be to those radical activists?

I thought a lot about this topic, wrote, and erased, a close friend even suggested that I do the right thing and self-censor, and not publish the most morbid parts. I was awfully melancholy I must admit, but like the weather that changes too. Maybe this change gives us some fragment of hope.

We somehow know from experience that we are not our inflictions and that they are evanescing. I have dealt with the concept of suicide to an extreme extent. I have seen the undiluted desperation that chafes chronically. I suspect the intervention is about as desperate as the inflicted.

So, yes, we tell people that it gets better, because in a sense that is true. One’s circumstances change over time. One’s mood changes over time and so the impetus for execution is temporary but the execution has long-term consequences.

Before you make that final decision, stop and think, and if you cannot think contact someone, anyone. Speak or interact with someone, they will most probably not tell you cheesy lines but it will divert your attention.

Bertrand Russell must have been in a flippant mood, who knows, but he said one important thing that speaks to this topic too: “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”

Think about that.