All posts by Eswatini Sexual & Gender Minorities

About Eswatini Sexual & Gender Minorities

LGBTI activist in Swaziland

Semi-Centennial of Stonewall – ‘Love & Resistance’

In recent years I have found myself speaking before, and writing for multitudes of people, to make a case for the LGBTI community. As an activist for, not only LGBTI rights but also, human rights I have spoken at length about the need for legal reform regarding the treatment of the LGBTI identities, but just as important is the reform of hearts and minds in our country.

Today marks a bittersweet month for LGBTI identities. It has been 50 years since the first stone was thrown at police in New York, Manhattan at the Stonewall Inn riots. That stone set in motion a wave of public resistance to the discrimination faced by LGBTI people globally and today, that wave is still in motion. Our existence, as the LGBTI community has already been paid for and yet the journey has not concluded.

Today at home, our constitution dictates that we all have the right to:

1. The right to protection of privacy of the home

2. The right to protection from inhuman or degrading treatment

3. The right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law.

I would like to believe that as a citizen of this country I am rightfully equal before the law, but I am forced by reality to believe otherwise.

Should I be found guilty of the sodomy offence, or even found to have had the intention to commit ‘sodomy’, I can be arrested without a warrant. This in accordance with the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act of 1938.

Furthermore, the National Register for Sex Offenders would enlist me, under clause 56 of the recently passed SODV Act of 2018.

It cannot be justice to have my name branded as a sex offender for being in love, and being in a consensual loving relationship. Alas, that is what our government is saying to me.

Many will ask, why should there be a special event for LGBTI people to display pride in who they are when everyone else doesn’t. The riots of 1969 did not start out of a need to boast, they started out of a demand to live free from persecution and harassment for being who we are. Instead of wondering why everyone doesn’t march for this reason, it should make us think why, in 2019, are we still asking to be treated fairly and equally as valid members of society. The work remains to be done.

The work cannot bear fruits if we are not all committed to the project of social justice for everyone. The work, of pushing for decriminalisation, depends on the commitment of each and every one of us because we rely on humanity to carry us through. I am counting on the humanity of everyone reading this to see this work through, for when we look at each other, regardless of the multiple social positions we occupy, we should see ourselves. Human beings.

Yet another milestone has gone, a semi-centennial , but the work of inspiring a deeper humanity in all of us has not. May this Pride month, not only be a display of fun, but a testament to the power of humanity. Let it be a display of community and reconnection between people who have been separated by fear.

Today we launch Pride Month. I hope for the Kingdom of eSwatini we today launch a new humanity that cannot be moved.

Statement by MELUSI SIMELANE

The Evolution of LGBTI Eswatini

With every worthy cause, evolution is imperative if the cause is to keep on serving its constituencies. This year, marks the start of the evolution.

Melusi Simelane

The LGBTI Eswatini movement has gained in leaps and bounds over the years, owing to the efforts of activists and ordinary citizens alike. In the face of brutal repression in an authoritarian society we have dared to speak out, to show up, and to live. The movement, which has been propelled by every one of us, has gained international attention, something I have personally facilitated with great pride and responsibility.

As a human rights defender working with various organisations in the past, I have been honoured to represent our LGBTI community and mission regionally and internationally. Through all the collective work I contributed to, I have learnt many lessons and sharpened my skills of understanding what I want as a gay man in Eswatini and also what all LGBTI people have expressed to me thus far. It is because of these lessons that I have decided to start the expansion of our movement.

Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM) was founded to take the movement beyond the current politics as we understand them. Revolutionary movements tend to find themselves stuck when not healthily contested and challenged. ESGM aims to diversify the approach to activism and advocacy, as a whole. The time for complacency and personality politics is over, the movement of the people must be returned to the people, themselves. This is the mandate of ESGM.

For activism and our efforts in advocacy to be effective it is compulsory for us to adopt intersectionality. Intersectionality is the understanding that we find ourselves differently positioned in a system that seeks to annihilate us and that some of us are more vulnerable than others. It is this understanding that informs ESGMs mission and mandate. Every identity that falls under the LGBTI banner is accorded its own importance.

Our logo, naturally includes the LGBTI flag which has previously aimed to be representative of all sexual and gender diverse identities. History has proven to highlight its shortfalls and inadequacies. For this reason we have included the trans diverse flag within our identity not only as an acknowledgement, but also as an expression of responsibility towards changing the tradition of excluding trans diverse identities from our efforts at attaining liberation and equality. We are deliberate about inclusion. The flag also embraces the inclusion of black and brown identities which find themselves excluded within the global LGBTI movement. This has perhaps been a result of the race discrimination so many of us have faced within LGBTI spaces, which propose to be inclusive but ignore intersectionality.

With all of this in mind and on paper, ESGM hopes to bring a more deliberate effort at driving the decriminalisation of LGBTI identities and lives in which ever form they present themselves. For this reason the organisation will be people driven and membership based. This means that ESGM is open to being informed by the will of the people and welcomes membership by those who form the lifeblood of the LGBTI movement in Eswatini. This is both the LGBTI community and allies alike.

Eswatini Sexual & Gender Minorities is embarked on advancing the protection of human rights of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intesex persons in the Kingdom of Eswatini. The organisation is further working on reducing harm that affects the wellbeing of Emaswati based on sexual orientation and gender identity & expression.

MISSION STATEMENT

It is time for a movement that moves beyond the need for visibility and onto the need for tangible changes to the structures that currently exist. Contestation within activism will always serve the vitality of the greater movement and the formation of ESGM aims to start the processes of diversifying the visions of what LGBTI Eswatini can achieve. I am hopeful that our efforts will be received in the best spirit possible.

I wish to express that the aim of ESGM is not competition, but enrichment of a worthy movement that deserves all the support it can receive. At the moment, ESGM is embarked on trying to register formally, through the Companies Act, of 2009. Our hope is to be fully registered as soon as we can.

I take this moment to request any form of support from Emaswati. The support can range from office space and equipment, legal and organisational expertise, human resource, and financial support. Our contacts are listed below.

The sooner we register, the sooner we can begin the registration of interested members. This will mark the start of the community mobilising, both for the sustenance of the movement, but also building a strong community.

Social cohesion in Eswatini, where LGBTI persons attain full rights and social well-being, resulting in high quality life for all.

VISION STATEMENT

For more information, and perhaps pledge of support, please contact Melusi Simelane on MELZ.SIMELANE@GMAIL.COM

TWITTER: @eminorities

INSTAGRAM: @eminorities

FACEBOOK: @eminorities

Eswatini Lesbians We Celebrate You

The word “lesbian” can bring to mind a lot of different images based on the stereotypes associated with the term.
Although the origins of the holiday are somewhat blurry, it is accepted that Lesbian Visibility Day was created in 2008, adding to a long list of LGBTQ recognition and celebration holidays.

Eswatini Sexual & Gender Minorities, ESGM, takes this 26th of April, 2019, as a day not only to shine the spotlight on the lesbian women in Eswatini, but to also celebrate their contribution to the LGBTI movement as a whole.

This day is very special to us all, for the history of the movement in Eswatini is owing to the very brave women who gave up so much to ensure the birth of the movement. this is dedicated to all these women, whom we may not exhaustively mention. we find this day to be very special, for it doesn’t even have to be anything extravagant. It’s acknowledging somebody’s identity, most people tend to ignore someone’s sexuality if it makes them uncomfortable.

Visibility should also include an element of intersectionality, because other identities lesbian-identifying women have will also change the experiences that they have. Specific experiences or specific concerns that face people that identify as lesbians are different depending on the different identities they hold.

For this reason we want to celebrate these women who have tireliselly given to the movement, by participation, involvement and further offering their time, resources and energy to the movement. These women and many others have walked the walk, and continue to talk the talk. We can only say these words, however the accolades are more than words can describe. We celebrate you

These are the few women we want to celebrate today, and they are listed in no particular order.

Minnie

Minenhle has been a force in the movement, from joining countless causes that seek to empower the lesbian voice, to attending countless regional meetings that had the mandate to empower the african woman. Minenhle has never faulted in her endeavour to see a better tomorrow for the LGBTI community in Eswatini. Today we celebrate you, Minie.

Jinx

Being the Executive Director of a community based organisation, she has ensured that the lesbian voice is not shunned within the movement. She has continued to contribute in the fight against HIV in the most marginalised. Today, more than any other day, we thank you very much for your dedication and zeal towards an HIV free generation. We celebrate you, Jinx.

Veli

Being a force to be reckoned with, Veli has gone from being an Executive Director, to sitting in multiple boards in the LGBTI movement. Though she currently is not visible in the movement, it is her ideals that push many to ensure equality for all, and intersectionality in our efforts to see the LGBTI persons enjoying their human rights in Eswatini. Today, we celebrate you, Vee. We thank you for continuing to show us that by being a successful individual, you can shed some light and even inspiration to all, that it is possible for the marginalised to rise above all.

Thuthu

From working with the ‘Gentle Giant’, Malume, Thuthu has showcased her wit and worth in building the community. Her work has left a mark in many who have worked with her, and she continues today, to lead her own organisation today. Her mandate is clear, emancipating the Lesbian woman in Eswatini, and many of us see the work that she does. We celebrate you today, Thuthu.

With these warm wordes we call upon you contineud stewardship in driving the force of chane in our everyday lives, in our societies, adn within the LGBTI community itself.

HAPPY LESBIAN VISIBILITY DAY

This message is brought to you, with love from the founder of Eswatini Sexual & Gender Minorities, ESGM, MELUSI SIMELANE.

Liberation or (re)Domination?


“I am not Black sometimes and a Woman at other times – I am always all of those things and I experience life that way.”

By Jamil Khan & Melusi Simelane

When looking at social justice and the dynamics of privilege and oppression, one-dimensional approaches often fall short. Explaining the importance of feminism, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us of the dangers of a single story: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

The complexity of human identities is vast and messy, often requiring a level of engagement that enables the recognition of humans as layered beings. We are layered. We embody multiple positionalities simultaneously. We are not absolute oppressors nor are we absolutely oppressed. What decides how we are positioned in society is the manner in which our privilege constellates to empower us. Ironically, many use the powers granted to them to fight only the oppressions they experience, ignoring what similarities they may share with others.

There always seems to be another day on which the fight for the rights of women, LGBTI+ people, disabled people and others should take place. The logic goes: once Black people are liberated from the chokehold of white supremacy, everyone else can be attended to. There seems to be a belief that one can dissect and compartmentalise identities, allowing for a neat analysis of issues. For those who inhabit various positionalities at once, splitting themselves is not possible. The image of the freedom fighter is often the cis-gender heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian Black man.

For the Black man described above, there is only one approach to liberation. Other liberatory pursuits are relegated to the bottom of the list. Black women and LGBTI+ people often find themselves labouring under the domination of cis-gender, heterosexual men, making the layers of oppression more evident. For Black women and LGBTI+ people, being a woman and/or queer cannot be neatly separated from being Black. In the same vein, the multiple oppressions experienced by a marginalised body cannot be ranked in order of importance. For this reason, the often one-dimensional, dismissive approach to liberation adopted by cis-gender, heterosexual Black men presents another form of domination which sees the goal of Black liberation simply as an opportunity to replace white heterosexual male power with Black heterosexual male power.

For Zimasa Dube, a gender studies student, intersectionality cannot be dismissed if the fight is to be fair: “I am a poor black heterosexual woman. As much as I am privileged as a heterosexual person, I experience oppression as a result of my social class, race and gender. I am not Black sometimes and a woman at other times – I am always all of those things and I experience life that way. I can’t be expected to choose which oppression is more important or painful for me. We need intersectional liberation, otherwise we will continue the cycle of oppression.”

For Mcebo Mpofu, a gay man, the picture is not optimistic: “Straight Black men want power just as much as their white counterparts. They will sell us all just to have that power over us and then we are expected to show up for their struggles, but ours are denied. Yes, I am Black and race liberation is important to me, but I am also gay and that is not something I can push to the side to be dealt with later. I ask, if that is not a priority now, then when? Straight Black men always want to talk unity when it comes to race, but when we talk gender and sexuality we are told to be quiet. We are told we are being divisive and have an agenda to emasculate them.  Black LGBTI+ people exist and we are a part of the movement! We are not going away.”

Throughout history, Black women and LGBT+I people have been erased from revolutionary movements. Where they were recognised, they were discredited and demonized so that Black men could become the faces of justice and peace. Today, the politics of revolution remain mainly unchanged, with marginalised minorities feeling just as silenced under the dictates of their marginalised leaders. It remains a paradox that a struggle like race liberation can itself give rise to the oppressive dynamics of gender and sexual inequality. The allure of power seems too great to resist for some and even though marginalised, power inequality among the oppressed remains one of the biggest threats to liberation.

Kopano Ratele, a scholar on masculinities, encapsulates the idea of hegemony in the margins well when he says: “In this world… while there are exalted hegemonic notions of masculinity, these are complicated by the fact of marginalisation which characterises the lives of the majority of men’s and boys’ conditions. Therefore the best we can speak of are marginal hegemonies, or hegemonies within marginality, as opposed to hegemonic masculinity tout court.”

Ratele does much to reframe our understanding of the experience of African men who are powerful within their marginalisation. While it is useful to understand the role marginalisation plays in the lives and politics of cis-gender heterosexual Black men, it must be noted that it cannot be an excuse for the continuous erasure and domination of Black women and LGBTI+ people by those men.

A fight for equality must ensure true equality for all so that, to borrow from the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government mission, no one gets left behind.


Stop Sensational Reporting

Last week a sensational article, by the Times of Swaziland, detailed the public humiliation of a pastor in Siphofaneni whose privacy was invaded to broadcast his alleged sexuality and get him suspended from the church. The style of the article maintains a subtle mocking of the pastor’s status as an official of the church by repeatedly referring to him as a “man of God” suggesting that he has deceived people about his relationship with God and Christianity. The article goes on to publish an alleged conversation between the pastor and a man where he confessed love, a Christian principle, to the man. This is a gross violation of the privacy of two citizens, protected by the constitution, and serves the public interest in no way.

Today another article updates readers that the church has been shut down, and despite the article claiming alleged bisexuality, the headlines have consistently referred to the “gay pastor”. This is a clearly deliberate baiting technique that plays into the stereotypes around sexual identities and the hierarchy sexuality. The LGBTI community is being turned into objects, no more human that pawns on a chessboard through this kind of reporting.

Time energy and resources have been, and continues to be poured into engaging the media on sensitization for reporting on the LGBTI community which is constantly harassed and persecuted, privately and publicly. The insistence of media entities to publish salacious articles which grasp at straws to play on people’s prejudices towards LGBTI people is disgraceful. This behavior has real consequences for people’s lives and works in direct opposition to the work of The Rock of Hope which tries to create an affirming society for everyone including LGBTI people.

The reporting published on the matter is simply uninformed, opportunistic and bigoted in its positioning and if any entity should understand the power and meaning of words when using language, it is the media. In light of the fact that The Rock of Hope has done sensitization training with Times of Swaziland, this kind of reporting is unacceptable. It is particularly important when it comes to a vulnerable group like the LGBTI community because they are still primarily the target of hate and discrimination. No matter what anyone’s belief, religious or cultural, hatred cannot be justified and although blatant hatred is not advocated for in this example, the subtle othering caused by this use of language does nothing to inspire acceptance and respect for LGBTI citizens.

It is imperative that editors and journalists alike take it upon themselves to be proponents of nation building and cohesion, rather than division and discrimination. If personal beliefs dictate the direction and sentiment of news articles, then surely the suitability of those who hold the beliefs should be assessed. Reporting on someone’s sexual orientation as an anchor to the story, as evinced in the attempts to get the pastor to confirm his sexuality, is hollow and warrants no story in itself.

These seemingly unimportant details would slip through the consideration of most people, but for those of us who live with the daily anxiety of being harassed or assaulted for who we are, it is clear. LGBTI people do not need to have their identities paraded and displayed for the entertainment of others, certainly not by credible media houses. This kind of treatment is violence in itself and must end. If reporting stories without sensational embellishment waters down the story, then there was not much of a story to begin with. Editors and journalists who need to add unnecessary yet dangerous sentences placing the privacy and safety of people at risk to reach their word count should consider a different career.

Melusi Simelane

Advocacy & Communications

The Rock of Hope

Is being Gay a Sin ?


Perhaps I am missing the mark. Which I must add, is a Greek definition of sin, missing the mark.

Melusi Simelane

One can never claim to know more about what is sin, or what is not sin. However the characterisation of sexual orientation, as social construct attributed to the physical, emotional and mental attraction of two or more sexes to any other, as debauchery, is rather troublesome.

You see, the term sin in Hebrew has several other words, each with its own specific meaning. The word pesha, or trespass, means a sin done out of rebelliousness. The word aveira means “transgression”. And the word avone, or iniquity, means a sin done out of moral failing. One has to wonder which category the sin of being gay (or should we say homosexuality, as the term gay quite too often refers to) falls under.

I have read only two of the scriptures referenced in your response, the letters of Paul, addressed to the Corinthians and the Romans. In neither of them the words ‘being gay is a sin’ appear – I would find it odd if they were. The basic argument is that, as a servant of Jesus Christ, he had an issue with men expressing affection to other men. This I find to have been a denial of the words of John, who says God is Love.

We cannot pretend for a second that Paul knew what he was talking about when he said men ‘… who have sex with men… will not inherit the Kingdom of God’ (NIV). For one, there is only one who is the mediator between man and God, which is his beloved Son, who is interceding to this day, on our behalf. Jesus Christ.

Firstly, not only was Paul misguided to assume that men showing affection suggests sexual intercourse, he actually might have fallen short of the word himself: Thou shall not judge.

Not once are we told that the affection, as Paul had clearly attested to ad nauseum in both his letters to the Corinthians and the Romans, between these men led to sexual intercourse.

Secondly, if the affection of men and of women towards each other was so wrong, then the question of what love means come to the fore. My issue is that if we make an assumption or an interpretation of one thing, we must then explain the other.

How is loving someone, especially loving them in a natural way that requires no work or force, neither does it harm or hurt anyone, missing the mark?

Gender Identity

Now, let us delve into the issue of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as a social science. One must bear in mind that it is not only politically incorrect to say there is ‘normal’, which denotes the existence of abnormality, but it is also inconsistency, with regards to the fact we live in different areas of the world and there are different cultural and social attributes that are a direct contrast to what we might know as a norm.

In a sense, there is nothing that is normal, only what is common. This would explain why Paul writes of men showing expression to other men as something that was not common at the time, in the land of the Corinthians and/or Romans.

One cannot divorce the fact who we may call a man in Swaziland, could be someone completely different in other spaces in the world. Not to draw it further than necessary. There are Trans Diverse identities, which Paul seems to forget when he writes of ‘men having sex with other men’ in his letters. We are not given context to understand the gender identities of these persons he might have seen, or heard of. It might have been a woman and a man, only the gender expression mimicking what he thought was masculine.

I have seen many before, as I have too, mistake gender identity and expression, by virtue of the normalisation of what is considered masculine and what is considered feminine.  To understand whether or not what Paul saw was what he recorded, we would need some background. Alas, we don’t have any.

I am not a scholar to try and untangle these issues, nor am I a theologian to pretend to understand the ins and outs of the construction of the bible as we know it today. I have not the slightest idea of what is sin, and what is not. I am not that wise.

I do know one thing though, love is universal, love the language that transcends all races, all genders, all sexes, all ages, all divides, and everything in between. Love is the answer to everything. Loving a man as a man is not something I would be advising people against, using the bible to defend my stance. In fact, I would be glad there is so much love to go around. The bible speaks of the human body having one mandate, and one mandate alone, which is to praise and worship the grandeur of god.

What better way to do so, than to use love. Love. Genuine love.

Natural Law

Perhaps we should get scholastic with the conversation around LGBTIQ individuals. Let us look at the natural law debate. Today natural law theory offers the most common intellectual defence for differential treatment of LGBTIQ persons, and as such it warrants attention. This should also explain the stance on homosexuality being sin. Here is how.

The most influential formulation of natural law theory was made by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Integrating an Aristotelian approach with Christian theology, Aquinas emphasized the centrality of certain human goods, including marriage and procreation. While Aquinas did not write much about same-sex sexual relations, he did write at length about various sex acts as sins.

More recent natural law theorists, however, have tried a couple different lines of defence for Aquinas’ ‘generative type’ requirement. The first is that sex acts that involve either homosexuality, heterosexual sodomy, or which use contraception, frustrate the purpose of the sex organs, which is reproductive.

The two most important for the argument against homosexual sex (though not against homosexuality as an orientation which is not acted upon, and hence in this they follow official Catholic doctrine; see George, 1999a, ch.15) are personal integration and marriage. Personal integration, in this view, is the idea that humans, as agents, need to have integration between their intentions as agents and their embodied selves. Thus, to use one’s or another’s body as a mere means to one’s own pleasure, as they argue happens with masturbation, causes ‘dis-integration’ of the self. That is, one’s intention then is just to use a body (one’s own or another’s) as a mere means to the end of pleasure, and this detracts from personal integration.

Yet one could easily reply that two persons of the same sex engaging in sexual union does not necessarily imply any sort of ‘use’ of the other as a mere means to one’s own pleasure. Hence, natural law theorists respond that sexual union in the context of the realization of marriage as an important human good is the only permissible expression of sexuality. Yet this argument requires drawing how marriage is an important good in a very particular way, since it puts procreation at the centre of marriage as its “natural fulfilment” (George, 1999a, 168).

Natural law theorists, if they want to support their objection to homosexual sex, have to emphasize procreation. If, for example, they were to place love and mutual support for human flourishing at the centre, it is clear that many same-sex couples would meet this standard. Hence their sexual acts would be morally just.

There are, however, several objections that are made against this account of marriage as a central human good. One is that by placing procreation as the ‘natural fulfillment’ of marriage, infertile marriages are thereby denigrated. Sex in an opposite-sex marriage where the partners know that one or both of them are infertile is not done for procreation. Yet surely it is not wrong. Why, then, is homosexual sex in the same context (a long-term companionate union) wrong (Macedo, 1995)? The natural law rejoinder is that while vaginal intercourse is a potentially procreative sex act, considered in itself (though admitting the possibility that it may be impossible for a particular couple), oral and anal sex acts are never potentially procreative, whether heterosexual or homosexual (George, 1999a).

But is this biological distinction also morally relevant, and in the manner that natural law theorists assume? Natural law theorists, in their discussions of these issues, seem to waver. On the one hand, they want to defend an ideal of marriage as a loving union wherein two persons are committed to their mutual flourishing, and where sex is a complement to that ideal. Yet that opens the possibility of permissible gay sex, or heterosexual sodomy, both of which they want to oppose. So they then defend an account of sexuality which seems crudely reductive, emphasizing procreation to the point where literally a male orgasm anywhere except in the vagina of one’s loving spouse is impermissible. Then, when accused of being reductive, they move back to the broader ideal of marriage.

© Mathias Wasik / mathiaswasik.com

What now?

Over time, there has been a slippery slope on what is, or is not morally acceptable. One can go at length explaining how the LGBTIQ identity has evolved over the past centuries. For instance, the central distinction in ancient Greek sexual relations was between taking an active or insertive role, versus a passive or penetrated one. The passive role was acceptable only for inferiors, such as women, slaves, or male youths who were not yet citizens. Hence the cultural ideal of a same-sex relationship was between an older man, probably in his 20’s or 30’s, known as the erastes, and a boy whose beard had not yet begun to grow, the eromenos or paidika.

Do not get me started on the rich cultural acceptability and tolerance that existed in the Sub – Saharan region. Of course, you have used the Bible to defend the mistake of deeming LGBTIQ identities as a sin, so we will stick to the Greek and Hebrew history. For obvious reasons of course.

Too many times, the LGBTI community has been maligned and marginalised for the mere misunderstanding of our identity, both sexual and gender. We cannot continue to labour under the illusion and/or suspicion of criminality. We cannot continue to labour under the wilful misinterpretation of scripture that was written under very specific circumstances that don’t prevail today. We cannot continue to apply context specific anecdotes, which really convey messages and guidance on how to be treat fellow human beings better, to modern contexts without thinking about the consequences.

The central theme of Christ, at resurrection, is love and very little else. If we are finding messages contrary to this, we may need to question our comprehension skills. If we claim to be followers of a loving God and are at any point not spreading the love He gives, then perhaps we should question who we are following. Too many times, the LGBTI community has been the target of hatred manufactured out of misunderstanding. Spirituality is also about literacy, not just evangelism. I wonder, would it hurt to see human beings in those who a different to us? Wouldn’t Jesus do the same?

Homophobia on Social Media

By: Jamil Khan &  Melusi Simelane

Twitter is the meeting place of many minds, each looking for something different. Some come to educate and engage in debate from a genuinely constructive place, while others revel in spewing hate. For many minorities, Twitter threads can be a triggering place. No topic is off-limits.

 Heterosexual relationships, historically, were defined by unequal power relations endorsed by, among other institutions, religion. The rules are located in traditions of gender relations which permeate all spheres of society, including LGBTIQ+ relationships.

Conversations on the timeline about the LGBTIQ+ sparked by cis-heterosexual people under the guise of curiosity often move towards the: “I don’t have a problem with them, but I don’t accept their lifestyle” trope. These sentiments bring some issues to light; approval and agency. Approval – the idea that alternative sexualitiesneed to be approved by the dominant paradigm. This often infringes on the right of LGBTIQ+ people to practice their agency in expressing themselves. Agency – one of the most fundamental human liberties to dictate one’s own life choices. It deserves to be respected.

Many heterosexualpeople feel that as the barometer of what is morally acceptable the LGBTIQ+need cis-heterosexual approval over how they conduct their lives. LGBTIQ+ lives challenge the idea that cis-heterosexuality is the standard and the litmus test.That only they are the true purveyors of virtue and morality. Heteronormativity is shaped by gender hierarchies that sanction the use of authority in many ways that LGBTIQ+ lives defy. Although LGBTIQ+ relations remain tainted by heteronormativity, gender hierarchy is often disrupted in same-sex relations.

Homophobia has very little to do with LGBTIQ+ people and is much more about cis-heterosexual people and the need for control that binaries demand of their subscribers.Heterosexual relationships, historically, were defined by unequal power relations endorsed by, among other institutions, the church. Not much has changed in terms of ideology although some have challenged convention.

As the head of the household, the man traditionally holds a disproportionate amount of decision-making power in terms of distribution of material resources. Socially, this role also entitles him to a level of importance to which a woman, in the role of wife,must be in service. Men must love and cherish, while women must honour and obey. These configurations of power to which heterosexual relationships adhere, highlight the consistent presence of pre-set rules and roles. The rules are located in historical traditions of gender relations which permeate all spheres of society. When looking at the gender relations, and subsequently unequal power dynamics, one can see how the heterosexual mind finds it hard to imagine life outside of it.

2017, December 31. Jeffrey’s Bay. 

If we were to view the LGBTIQ+ community through heterosexual eyes, it becomes easy to see that homophobia, biphobia or transphobia may be a neurotic anxiety around the loss of control. The existence of an entire way of life that does not abide by the rules society has deemed to be common sense for centuries, invalidates entire belief systems that serve to further gender inequality. The unspoken rules that keep men and women in their “rightful” places are soothing to many. Soothing and familiar.

An important determinant of gender inequality is patriarchy. Writer bell hooks defines patriarchy as a: “Political-social system that insists that men are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence”.

Within this framework, gay men, as an example are not deemed real men. The social order created by gay men in society and within their partnerships upends heterosexualfamiliarity. It also proves that there is another way. That the structures that exist are being constantly maintained brings the normative into question andshifts the gaze inward. When looking at how much energy goes into controlling and maintaining gender relations, the idea of a “straight agenda” seems more plausible than that of the oft vilified “gay agenda”. In light of the above,the neurotic nature of phobias towards the LGBTIQ+ community is placed squarely in the heterosexual imagination.

One may ask, if women are the ones oppressed within and by the gender binary, why then doheterosexual women also display homophobia, biphobia and transphobia? Again,bell hooks gives us something to think about when she says that patriarchy has no gender. Patriarchal violence, is enacted to reinforce a dominator role in which an authority figure is considered ruler over those without power and given the right to rule with subjugation, submission and subordination. At the heart of patriarchy is the lust for power, which is a major motivator of women pledging allegiance to patriarchy and fulfilling its mandate.

According to hooks,we must illuminate the role women play in perpetuating and sustaining patriarchal culture and the lust for power in order to recognise patriarchy asa system that women and men support equally, despite that men receive more benefits from it. For this reason, power lies in maintaining gendered social relations and threats towards those relations are met with hostility in the form of queer-phobia. It would also seem that allegiance to patriarchy requires that any violence be directed towards the “weak”. If this seems difficult to fathom, we are reminded that patriarchy promotes insanity – a place where the most heinous of actions seem just.

To put things into perspective, Terrence Real says: “Psychological patriarchy is the dynamic between those qualities deemed “masculine” and “feminine” in which half of our human traits are exalted while the other half is devalued. Both men and women participate in this tortured value system.”

It must be stated very clearly that phobias towards the LGBTIQ+ community can be fatal, and so this article serves in no way to imply that it has nothing to do with them.What is does however hope to engage, is that idea that the fears that inspire such violence do not reside within the bodies of any LGBTIQ+ person. It is a response to a grave frustration of being locked into system that has dispossessed its subscribers of the ability to imagine something different. The gender binary keeps people in bondage and limits possibilities for creative expression. It traps people into a cycle of violence that slowly but surely destroys agency.

Homophobia is not about LGBTIQ+ people. It is about the anxiety that heterosexual people have regarding the control and ownership of each other, according to pre-set power dynamics. Sooner or later it will destroy all its disciples. There is another way, we just have to recognise it.

Free Lesson for Princess Phumelele

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What has the world come to? On 31 October, 2018, I read with such gloom the news that a Tanzanian Governor has announced the creation of a surveillance squad, dedicated to ‘hunting down’ LGBTIQ+ persons. Mr Paul Makonda, believed to be the Governor Dar es Salaam, said round-ups would begin as early as next week. Reports say that the team will scrutinise social media in order to track down and arrest these constituents.

This is so very worrying for me, I should perhaps remove any cloud of suspicion and state right forth that I am Gay, making me a part of Governor Paul Makonda’s persons of interest in Dar es Salaam. Though this may seem so far off in terms of geography, it may seem some people in our very Kingdom condone such behaviour.

In the past several months, I have seen first-hand the rot that comes with impunity. From a former police PRO using his platform to spew hate speech, in the name of religion; to influential persons using the media to erupt fear and malice in the name of morality. Power corrupts, and impunity is the catalyst.

A little over twelve months ago I met a very enthusiastic and opinionated woman in the TV lobby of Parliament, in Lobamba. I was to learn, within 5 minutes of meeting her, she was a Senator. The honourable Senator was seated with several of us, who were not allowed inside the chambers because we were not wearing blazers, or was it jackets we were not wearing?

The senate was in session. A motion had been moved, thanks to hard work of lobbying and sensitization of the Health Portfolio committee. The motion was on the Ministry of Health’s role in serving LGBTQ+ patients. The senator had elected to stay out the debate as she felt very strongly against the notion of recognising LGBTIQ+ persons as full citizens in the country. She was saying all sorts of derogatory words and insults fervent enough to make anyone lose their cool, to the amusement of those who sat next to her. It was when she decided to storm into the chamber to let her voice be heard that I knew the motion would be thrown out.

Though it was thrown out, I found it to be a win for the LGBTIQ+ community. I can remember a police officer who was on duty, coming to sit next to me, asking me if I was a journalist, as I kept taking notes of the proceedings. She came over because she saw how sad I was, with every word being said in the chamber. What a lovely police officer she was, reminding me that Rome was not built in one day. Indeed, it was a win to have the Upper house of Parliament discuss our issues.

Fast track to early this year, the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act (which was a bill at the time) was being debated in Senate. I was to learn of the cringe worthy comments made by the very senator I had inconspicuously met twelve months some months before. The whole country went into a frenzy with civil society holding their breath, as the much awaited bill needed to be passed, whatever it took. She was cited by local print media saying that marital rape was not real. I am not sure if we should even be differentiating or categorising rape, but she purported that women are supposedly the sole ‘property’ of the husband, after marriage. This is only just a tip of the iceberg, she had worse to say, to the detriment of women emancipation.

One would think that was enough from the honourable senator. She has just made submissions to the King, suggesting that the United Nations poses a threat to the country. The newly appointed Prime Minister called upon parliamentarians to make submissions to the King on solutions to the ailing economy, and the honourable senator said she was ‘totally against laws which go against the teachings of the Bible.’ As quoted by the Times of Swaziland.

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The honourable Senator, Her Royal Highness, Princess Phumelele, responded to the question of alleviating the economy by saying the King must not allow ‘laws that legalise abortion and relationships between gays and lesbians.’

Human Rights

Princess Phumelele, though in the senate for the third (or second) time, has demonstrated the need to be educated on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, African Union Charter, and the Constitution of the Kingdom of 2005. Perhaps also all other commitments the country has in respect to basic Human and Peoples Rights.

We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the form of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down obligations on Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups of people. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, for example, noted that it is the duty of States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.

The utterances made by the senator, do not only constitute hate speech, or gross negligence to her duty as a legislator, but also breaches the principle of non-discrimination. The principle of non-discrimination is complemented by the principle of equality, as stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Perhaps, as the honourable senator needs to study the Constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini (2005), for guidance. She clearly fears the international bodies have no interest in her values. I would love to believe the constitution should bind us all together as Emaswati.

I will demonstrate below some extracts that ensure the protection of LGBTIQ+ persons in the Constitution;

“Section 14

(1)      All human rights and freedoms of the individual provided for under this section are guaranteed, to wit:-

(a)      Respect for life … equality before the law and equal protection of the law

(b)     

(c)     

(d)     

(e)      Protection from inhumane or degrading treatment…..

(f)       Respect for the right of the family…..

(2)      All the fundamental rights enshrined here shall be respected and upheld by the 3 Arms of the State and other organs or agencies of Government, and where applicable to them, by all natural and legal persons and shall be enforceable by the courts…”

The above extracts makes the honourable princess responsible for the protection of my rights and dignity as a gay man, and many other LGBTIQ+ citizens of the kingdom, she sits in one of the three arms of government. In case the honourable senator needs reminding that no matter my sexual identity, I am still deserving of the very basic fundamental human rights, here is another extract form the constitution.

“Section 20

(1)      All persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life and in every other respect and shall enjoy every equal protection of the law

For the avoidance of doubt, a person shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of gender, race colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, or social or economic standing, political opinion, age or disability.”

I am not a legal scholar, but I find these words to be straight forward. As a law abiding citizen of the Kingdom of Eswatini, I should find it peculiar for Princess Phumelele not to grasp the need for respect of all persons by the three arms of government, and where applicable by all other ‘natural and legal persons.’

The honourable senator cannot have been more wrong in attacking the United Nations, as though the country has been asked to do more than it has committed to. As I have stated earlier, the country has committed to several treaties. All which safeguard the promotion of and protection of basic human rights. Here is a list of a few, for veracity.

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
  • International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights (1976)
  • African Charter on Human & Peoples Rights (1986)

Being signatory to these treaties and actually ratifying them, means the country is bound to ensure they are actually implemented.

There has been so many things that have been said in the past couple of months, and it is quite saddening to see the return of such backwardness and unchecked disrespect for what is in black and white in the constitution. The people’s parliament, Sibaya, set clear the path that we should all take towards a brighter posterity. Towards a striving economy that will see Eswatini move from fantasizing of Vision 2022, but actually breathing the realities of Vision 2022.

One has to wonder how we will ever see this vision come to be, if the people want to see the country prosper, and Princess Phumelele is in every corner trying to see us regress. It is unfortunate that we do not seem to unite in the revival of the economy, which should be inclusive and progressive.

What the honourable senator was saying to the nation was, she will be spending the next five years trying to sabotage the progress the country has made in realising and promoting Basic Human Rights? This begs a very big question.

Indeed LGBTIQ+ rights are human rights, and the dissection of the populace by either sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression, is not going to benefit anyone. It should be incumbent on the honourable senator to be a champion for the respect of the human, if the economy is to survive. The question is who will keep the government in check, if the honourable senator does not even grasp one single principle, that of the respect for human rights?

I put it on the honourable senator to study the Constitution and perhaps assist me in my undertaking to have the country decriminalise same sex relations. The common law offence of sodomy is unconstitutional and I can explain how, if she would let me have tea with her.

Laws that criminalize same-sex relations give rise to a number of separate but interrelated violations. Such laws violate an individual’s right to be free from discrimination, which is enshrined in article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and core international human rights treaties, as well as the rights to be protected against unreasonable interference with privacy and arbitrary detention, protected by articles 12 and 9 of the Universal Declaration and articles 17 and 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Furthermore, Section 20, as demonstrated above, gives protection from discrimination, which the common law offence of sodomy violates in its application.

I have made repeated reference to the human and human rights, a concept not foreign to our society. In fact, on this continent we pride ourselves on being people who believe in the value of human life and interdependence. We have seen, throughout history how humanity has prevailed and failed in some of the most joyous and painful ways. As a global community, we have enacted and averted some of the most heinous displays of evil towards our fellow human beings.

For all this history, we have stood on stages and at tables exclaiming to never again repeat these crimes. We have committed to treaties and constitutions alike, to protect human life from ourselves, may I add. If today, we stand before all of this history and the Honourable Senator who may with the flick of her wrist immerse herself in every document claiming protection for human life still urges us to turn our back on some citizens, the question I must beg is: Who do we really consider human?

This is Melusi Simelane. Quote me.

SWAGAA IS DEAD!

To the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, straight, open-minded and allies of the LGBTIQ movement, and basically all people of eSwatini.

Here is a free hug, that you deserve. SWAGAA is dead, and the leadership is enjoying the gravy train at the expense of the marginalised people of eSwatini.

Two weeks ago, the Kingdom of eSwatini was abuzz with excitement and trepidation for the first ever LGBTIQ Pride parade which was hosted on 30 June. The journey towards realising such a momentous event in a society that rejects difference was well documented, and few people could claim ignorance to the work that had been invested into it. Although, we anticipated that there would be resistance, nobody could have predicted that it would come from supposed allies of the LGBTIQ struggle.
On the 26th of June, the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) put out a statement directly denouncing their support for Pride as well as the work done by Rock of Hope to realise this. They did this, citing violation of religious beliefs that evidently condemn LGBTIQ identities. Most of us will know that Pride events around the world are demonstrations against the persecution and human rights abuses perpetrated against the LGBTIQ community. I am sure that SWAGAA also knows this.

In a modern world which sees the gains made by bloody battles for equality under threat of reversal, the recklessness and harmfulness of such a statement seems obvious. Furthermore, how an organisation that operates on the premise of countering abuse and offering support to victims of abuse can choose to be represented by ideologically harmful and dishonestly interpreted religious beliefs defies all logic. To stay on the topic of Christianity and homosexuality for a moment, it is a well known fact that that the Bible scriptures that are used to justify homophobia and the dehumanisation of the LGBTIQ community are willfully misinterpreted for the purposes of pernicious religious fanaticism. Using such reasoning to denounce an event aimed at affirming the human rights of citizens of eSwatini who are meant to be equal before the law, is quite frankly shameful and intellectually deficient. Sadly, this is not the first time that mouthpieces of SWAGAA have publicly defied the values they claim to protect, in favour of appeasing power and traditionalism.
A directionless, unspecific apology offered to the people of eSwatini for what “may have caused pain and confusion among the public” is nothing short of an insult. The media statement was well positioned
to aim its venom at the LGBTIQ community as well as Rock of Hope, who until now have not been apologised to. Not a single acknowledgement has been made for the harm that such a vindictive statement has caused the movement and the Pride event that so many looked forward to as a beacon of hope for change in our society.

What that event meant to the LGBTIQ community can never be quantified and for some, the underlying threat communicated in the statement by SWAGAA has confirmed the bigotry that resides even in those entities that claim to support us. SWAGAA, your longevity so proudly noted in your apology is in no way a measure of your relevance or impact. It is, in fact, a testament to the insidious nature of traditionalism and bigotry that disguises itself as progress – again a dishonest undertaking.

For a young non-heterosexual male, who was raised with the respectful and humane family values that sees humanity and kindness, over religious fanaticism, what is the first thing that should come to mind,
when an action group as old as time allows a PR statement, short of an insult to pass as an apology – an apology that was never solicited?

What SWAGAA did with the 26 June statement, was officially close their office for the young pupil who is struggling with their gender identity and expression and as a result suffers bullying at school and unwarranted abuse from their homophobic parent.

If SWAGAA is brave enough to spew bigotry, in contradiction to the values they purport to uphold, on public platforms, they should employ the same bravery in addressing the people they directed their venom at when offering an apology. Until such time, no apology has been heard by the ‘people of Eswatini’.

It pains us to see SWAGAA die a painful death, while the ‘people of eSwatini’ watch helpless.

Someone please fire the executive, or disband the whole organisation, and start from scratch!

Onwards from #eSwatiniPride

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© Mathias Wasik / mathiaswasik.com

The fight for liberation from oppression dates back as far as the inception of modernity. Where there has been oppression, there has always been resistance. Despite the ways in which historical accounts of society may have been manipulated to portray inequality as a product of natural selection, there is always one more story to surface that disproves such a harmful fallacy.

Today, oppression bear great resemblances to its origin but the conversation has been complexified greatly by the intersections of the different oppression and privileges that can reside in one body. We are both marginalised and privileged in multiple ways at the same time. A recognition of this complexity has often been met with resistance by those who believe that struggles should be waged along a single axis in the name of unity.

June 30, 2018 will forever remain a bittersweet day for me, and the entire LGBTI movement in the Kingdom of Eswatini. It must be marked on the LGBTI Calendar as the day we faced the oppressor in the face and said, Love Wins. It has been 49 years since the first stone was thrown at police in New York, Manhattan at the Stonewall Inn riots. That stone set in motion a wave of public resistance to the discrimination faced by LGBTI people globally and today, that wave is still in motion.

Our existence, as the LGBTI community has already been paid for and yet the journey has not come to an end. Today, we stand at home and our constitution dictates that we have the right to:

  1. protection of privacy of the home
  2. protection from inhuman or degrading treatment
  3. equality before the law and equal protection of the law.

These are not just words in black and white, these are seriously well thought declarations that His Majesty consented in 2005, when he signed into an Act, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland). His guidance and leadership has indeed allowed us to use the very legislation that is permitted in the constitution to host the inaugural pride celebration.

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© Mathias Wasik / mathiaswasik.com

The work cannot bear fruits if we are not all committed to the project of social justice for everyone. The work, of attaining equality for all, depends on the commitment of each and every one of us because we rely on humanity to carry us through. Yet we have all showcased in our numbers, that we shall not allow injustice to prevail. I am counting on the humanity of everyone who attended, and those that followed through social media and mainstream media, to see this work through, for when we look at each other, regardless of the multiple social positions we occupy, we should see ourselves.

Many have asked, why should there be a special event for LGBTI people to display pride in who they are when everyone else doesn’t. The riots of 1969 did not start out of a need to boast, it started out of a demand to live free from persecution and harassment for being who we are. Instead of wondering why everyone doesn’t march for this reason, it should make us think why, in 2018, are we still asking to be treated fairly and equally as valid members of society. The work remains to be done.

The goal of this event was to create opportunities for people from all walks of life to publicly connect with new and old allies. We wanted to celebrate our lives in Eswatini and our accomplishments as a community and country. We also intended to educate the public about our culture, our place in society, and our issues of concern. Through the success of this event, we were able to demonstrate our diversity, our numbers, and the spirit of pride we feel within ourselves and our community and country.

We can thank you all, individually. We can even write your names in the skies above, and ensure the whole world knows what an amazing job you have done. We want to do that.

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© Mathias Wasik / mathiaswasik.com

However, I want to rather congratulate you all. What you have done to make this event a success is incredibly amazing. History shall indeed absolve you from all the naysayers. I know history has recorded your great deeds. The list is endless. Each and everyone of you who contributed to this event. The size of your contribution.

We Love You. I Love You.

Way-forward

Security for marginalised people is often thought of, in terms of protection from violence. Resources invested in protection are prone to exhaustion, without addressing the source of violence and what defines violence. It is the very exclusion of marginalised people from structures that define, develop, innovate, formulate, comprises and perpetuates violence. Inclusion of true diversity in decision-making structures on all levels of society, presents the first opportunity for making a safer and secure future.

The LGBTI community continues to live under harsh conditions in the Kingdom of Eswatini, and the success of the inaugural Pride Celebrations should not deem the light on the fight for social inclusion and the need fro legal reform. With the Common Law Offence of Sodomy, we live under state-sanctioned fear. This translates in the everyday existence, augmented when trying to again basic services from government agencies, be it the clinics/hospitals, police or even the home affairs offices.

There is the societal stigma and discrimination that can too often translate into physical violenceNotwithstanding the emotional and sometimes psychological violence, that translates to mental illnesses. Because of blistering utterances made by senior and influential figures, Eswatini continues to be an unfriendly and threatening place for LGBTI persons. The criminalisation of same-sex relationships violates the privacy and further disregards the dignity of the humanIt is degrading in an incomprehensible way, as it suggests we are simply a sexual act rather than a whole person who contributes to society in numerous meaningful ways.

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© Mathias Wasik / mathiaswasik.com

The time is now, for the Kingdom of Eswatini to take a stand and treat every citizen with dignity and respect, removing outdated laws and replacing them with laws that nurtures and encourage everyone in society irrespective of their sexuality. We need legal reform; safety, security and well-being; access to services; access to justice, and meaningful socio-economic participation.

The issue of a secure and prosperous future for the Kingdom of Eswatini cannot be divorced from the issue of justice, justice for victims of violence. More than that, understanding that the experience of marginalisation changes as the differences that one person embodies constellate to leave them vulnerable to oppression in ways that others might not experience.

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© Mathias Wasik / mathiaswasik.com

It may as well be immature of me to make this declaration today, nonetheless, I stand solemnly calling for the Kingdom of Eswatini to repeal all laws that criminalise consensual same sex relations between adults and introduce strong anti-discrimination legislation that protects all citizens and enables them to give their best to society for the good of all citizens.

A fight for equality must ensure true equality for all so that no one gets left behind. Let us indeed turn hate/fear into LOVE

#eSwatiniPride #LoveWins

PS: My Boyfriend has an MA, and maybe we should get married now.. how about Marriage Equality? Congratulations My Love!