Today the news broke that a Pink rights activist (or LGBT as they prefer in America) committed suicide in Brooklyn. This is short on the heels of the half a dozen young people who committed suicide in America in a spate of a month due to homophobic bullying and abuse. Subsequently 20 October 2010 was declared “Spirit Day” after a grassroots campaign by a Canadian Facebook user who started the event, on the social media network, went viral and attracted millions and helped to draw attention to the social evil of prejudice.
On 20 October 2010 probably millions of people around the world wore purple in remembrance of those who lost their lives due to homophobic abuse. The colour purple in the rainbow flag (also commonly referred to as the “gay flag”) represents spirit, ergo the colour chosen as a means of expressing solidarity of grief. Inadvertently an estimated 100 000 Jacaranda trees were also in full, magnificent, purple blossom in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Activist Dan Savage started the “It gets better” campaign which features several thousand YouTube videos from celebrities to Hilary Clinton and even Barack Obama. One aim of the campaign is to denounce bullying as a “rite of passage” as Obama puts it and also to send out a message of hope to many millions of young gay/bi/trans people who are attacked purely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I doubt that there is a gay person out there that hasn’t been victim of some sort of abuse or slight and I can attest from personal experience. Although I was never subject to physical violence I had my fair share of vitriolic insults and snide remarks.
Vitriolic remarks aren’t necessarily confined to interpersonal communications. On Friday 22 October 2010 a “herrie” broke loose at “Die Herrie”, a community newspaper in Oudtshoorn, after one of the staff members, a certain Karin Zaayman wrote on her Facebook profile that: “Aids is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals. It is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” The owner of the paper responded quite expeditiously and sent a generic response to all the diligent Pink rights advocates including me distancing him and the paper from the distinctly hateful and ignorant statement.
The article was quite the buzz in Rapport and to nobody’s surprise the pig-ignorant public continued in this vein and contributed a slew of hateful statements directed at the Pink community while expressing their solidarity with Ms Zaayman. Many lamented that they have a right to freedom of speech without knowing that freedom of speech is limited by section 36 of the Constitution and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, Act 4 of 2000. I have studied both and discussed the latter with the erstwhile CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission, Advocate Tseliso Thipanyane.
I don’t think someone who doesn’t intimately know how it feels to be persecuted because of some prejudice will ever fully understand. I don’t think the plethora of commentators will be aware of how much damage their flippant remarks create. I oftentimes receive email from desperate and often suicidal people and often see the pain in what they endure. I came across the following description of suffocation from an anonymous young person:
The closet is a lot like being trapped. Like being in a cage underwater with your air cylinder almost running out. It's like sufferingfrom the severest of asphyxiation phobia. It renders you a constantnervous wreck carrying around nasal decongestant spray to easebreathing, to make the suffocation that hits a couple of times a daymore bearable. Such is the same for being closeted and even worse whenyou are still under you parents’ care and you know full well that youmight be kicked out and destined to live on the street. So you suck itup. You swallow the anxiety, the panic and the pain and hold on fordear life to just at least further your education lest you be so muchworse off and god forbid destitute. Reduced to options ranging fromprostitution or meaningless like a job that slowly kills you wherebruises never heal.You throw yourself into your scholarly activities to forget the part ofyourself that's repressed. And it haunts you the more you repress it.Your repression turns into obsessive compulsive disorder as adesperate means to distract your attention. And you know that'sometimes' is never good enough, that you shouldn't forget to put that smile on your face.You do not contemplate suicide because it's the easy way out. Youcontemplate it because there is no way out. None at all. Theatmosphere presses down on you more than usual and late nights andearly mornings get coloured cobalt blue from angst. Your face is numb. Your soul is dead. Your innermost being is a wreck of paranoia and memories that you would die to forget.