11th Annual Soweto Pride: What will you march for?

SowetoPride

This Saturday, 26th September, the 11th Annual Soweto Pride March takes place. As the date approaches, we are busy with many things. What will I wear? Why hasn’t FNB sent me that SMS telling me I have money in the bank? Who hasn’t paid their share of the stokvel money, wasn’t it due on Monday? Queer Christmas, some people call it. Our one day out of a whole 365 to be seen, heard, and to politically claim spaces where being a lesbian or anyone that’s gender non-conforming in their appearance is dangerous. The truth is that this ‘space’ we claim is literally everywhere, and we claim these spaces daily, as we recognise that our very existence is resistance. Progressive constitution or not, South Africa is still a site of polarised expressions of tolerance and difference. Sometimes these differences are manifested in our gender expression or perceived sexual orientation, but also so are our languages, races and classes. It’s not so easy to belong in South Africa, and when this belonging isn’t created, we are forced to claim it.

As I too wait for that SMS from FNB, I can’t help but wonder what I will march for this Saturday. For maybe the third time today, the #SaveTriangle call flashes on my Twitter newsfeed. The Triangle Project, an organisation that serves many lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and inter-sex women and men living in the Western Cape, is on the verge of being shut down. I visited the Triangle Project a year ago, and borrowed a book from their library. An old book, written by and for lesbian women, looking and linking history and myths around what it meant to be a woman in the world and how that has now changed. I’ve forgotten what the book is called, but some learnings in the book remain. This is my small, almost invisible link to the Triangle Project. So when posts show up on my Facebook and Twitter feed reminding me how and why we need such organisations, I imagine that we know this.

We know the work that civil society and community based organisations such as the Triangle Project and the Forum for the Empowerment of Women do in our communities. We know. We benefit, in so many ways, big and small, from having places and people that we can go to, that we can trust with our truths, and that we can feel safe, feel seen, feel heard.

Across the sea, Blue Stockings, one of very few feminist bookstores and libraries in the United States of America, is also facing the possibility of being shut down. They too, are forced to make people remember why such places exist and why they should not be shut down.

There are organisations that we have seen come and go, leaving vacuums of belonging and safety. Safe spaces are shrinking and they are shrinking fast. When we speak about community, we also know that the work that such organisations do extends beyond us, beyond our social exclusion and queerness. By serving any underserved group or people, these initiatives by default serve the larger and greater good of a whole people.

But, with knowing all this, we still have organisations like the Tringle Project, teetering on the edge of non-existence, and we have to ask how? And why? The #SaveTriangle initiative is a call to action and consciousness for all organisations and people doing work and benefitting from such initiatives to advance gender and sexuality work, and not just in South Africa, but on the continent. Stories told in these places hold up mirrors for other African countries, and Africans living in the diaspora, where we get to see ourselves, our realities and our experiences reflected in conversations and images that the West almost never gets right. We see the layers and the complexities that make up our existence in contexts of varying hostilities.

Conference conversations always throw the ‘what if’ question around our organising and the real possibility of the absence of donor funds. What if one day, we woke up and the global North decided that we are doing well and that we and our governments should take responsibility for the gaping holes in social services and security that necessitate the existence of civil society. We all know that we are a long way away from convincing our governments that we should have safe and harassment-free access to contraceptives and information around safe sex for gender non-conforming people. We are an even longer way away from convincing our leaders that those Victorian era colonial laws against same-sex desire serve no purpose, religious, moral, ethical or otherwise-least of all in ensuring safety and security of citizens. There is much work to be done, to help shift perceptions, myths and beliefs around sexuality and gender, and what it means to own the bodies we are in. Sometimes it feels like this work, these conversations have just began, but we know there are people who blazed the trail and left behind space, publications, organisations, documentation that speaks to their experiences, which we are meant to build on and make stronger.

When we march, we march to remember and we march to never forget. The many gender non-conforming women and men gone too soon, murdered and subjected to the ultimate exclusion-death. We march for the many other African sisters and brothers who cannot and will not come out to claim their rights and freedoms for fear of governments and communities that only serve selfish agendas and tunnel visioned views of who we are and who we can be in the world.

But can we also march for the living? Can we march for the lesbian women who continue to claim and take up spaces that many women are excluded from? Can we consider, the organisations and individuals that give their time and talents to push back walls of intolerance and injustice? Can we be conscious of the financial insecurity that many organisations and organisers live with, and that the time and effort to arrange a Pride march cannot happen without people committed to this work. Can we march for the future? Can we march to strengthen our resolve to transform and transgress archaic ways of thinking about what it means to be a woman or a man, and an African? Can we march to show unity in strength and purpose, to assure each other that we have each other’s backs when tides turn and we have to look to each other for support?

When I march tomorrow, I will march for the future, and for the movements that are re-born with every generation of gender non-conforming women and men, who take up the work of advancing gains over time, and guarding safe spaces for diversity and difference. I will march to honour the rebels and the radicals, that refuse to be silenced and put into neat little boxes, and told ‘to stay in your place’. I will march for the organisations that are hanging in there, in one way or another, and remember that we whom these spaces serve, can be the people that sustain them. If not us, then who?

What will you march for?

-Sheena Magenya

**Views and opinions in this article are entirely of the author and do not reflect on the positions and politics of the Coalition of African Lesbians

Advertisements

Should same sex marriage be what LGBTIQA activists are fighting for in Africa

Image

You’re born, you grow up, you go to school, you get a job, you get married, you have children, you retire, and then you die. Queer, gender-diverse, sexually-non conforming, or straight-if you have grown up in Africa, or any other part of the world, this is what is presented as your life’s trajectory. But for many LGBTIQA people in Africa, the marriage part has to be skipped, because of the rise in the crimminalization of same-sex unions in countries such as Nigeria and Uganda.

Decrimminalizing same-sex unions are a top agenda issue in Western countries, but should it be the same for us in Africa? How badly do LGBTIQA people on the continent want to get married? Are issues of safety and security and bodily autonomy more pressing for us in Africa than same-sex marriage is? What would same-sex marriage change for you in your immediate society and quality of life? These are questions with no intended answers-but more as food for thought as we work together to make the rights of LGBTIQA people in Africa recognized. If we had to lobby for ONE thing that we feel would improve our lives considerably-what would that one thing be?

That said, please read Aaron Day’s thought provoking article on how ‘equal marriage rights can make life worse for LGBTIQA people in Africa.

We would love to hear your thoughts- please comment.

Kaleidoscope Trust: Equal marriage could make ‘life worse’ for gay people in developing countries

LGBT rights charity the Kaleidoscope Trust has warned that gay rights in the West, including the recent Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, could lead to an erosion of LGBT freedoms in the developing world.

Alistair Stewart, the Kaleidoscope Trust assistant director said: “As the champagne corks are popped in London and Paris, and we notch up yet more victories for LGBT people in the West, countless setbacks, reversals and outrages occur elsewhere.”

He added: “The achievement of equal marriage, parenting and adoption rights and full legal protection can actually impede the struggles in other parts of the world where the battles for LGBT people are about the most fundamental of human rights.

“76 countries continue to criminalise ‘homosexual conduct’, punishable with prison sentences and hard labour. In five countries the death penalty still applies.”

Mr Stewart also noted that on Monday, a prominent gay rights and human rights leader in Cameroon was burned with an iron and killed in an alleged anti-gay attack.

The campaigner’s killing follows several attacks on the offices of human rights workers in the country, including those working for equal rights for gay people.

Labour MP Diane Abbott also brought up the murder during Tuesday’s debate on the equal marriage bill, in which she said: “Does my right Honourable Friend agree that this debate on this group of amendments this evening will encourage people all over the world to follow the progressive attitudes we are talking about?”

Mr Stewart said: “Of course, no one is saying that battles for same-sex marriage shouldn’t be fought in the West and victories celebrated.

“It would be nice though, that as we toast the successes at home, we don’t forget that the struggle for equality, rights and dignity continues elsewhere, and that it is not a struggle that is apart from our own.

“The battle for equal rights in the global North is woven, intimately, with the battles for equality and dignity further afield. We’d do well to remember that and that, in many places, there is far more at stake than embossed invitations or a gift register at John Lewis.”

Mr Stewart also warned that opponents of gay rights in the US are increasingly moving their resources to the developing world.

“American Evangelical Churches are abandoning the fight against equality at home, in favour of supporting homophobic laws abroad,” he said.

“Why fight a losing battle against social liberalism in America or Europe, where you are increasingly ignored and ridiculed, when in Uganda, Belize or Nigeria you are welcomed with open arms.

“In this perverse way the successes of the LGBT movement in the North, and in particular in the United States, have acted to worsen conditions in the South.”

He added: “The fight in much of the world isn’t for partnership or parenting rights, but for the right to live lives free from violence, harassment, arrest or detention.

“Victories for same-sex marriage make this battle for basic rights even more difficult, muddying the water between northern and southern demands.”

The Kaleidoscope Trust is a UK based charity working to uphold the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people internationally. It boasts the Tory MP and House of Commons Speaker John Bercow as its president.

In May, the charity also called on Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to veto a bill which further criminalises same-sex marriages in Nigeria with potential prison terms of up to 14 years.

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/07/18/kaleidoscope-trust-equal-marriage-could-make-life-worse-for-gay-people-in-developing-countries/

Is Homosexuality Un-African?

homosexuality in africa

This conversation is a very chicken-and-egg kind of conversation. What are you first? An African? A woman? Or a lesbian? What identity do we value the most above all the ones that often lead to controversial conversations? This has been something that has always come up for me, even in the most social spaces-where my activism is questioned, and I am told that the fight for racial equality is bigger than the fight for gender equality. I am TOLD that I am first a black, African, woman-and everything else that attaches to this seemingly primary identity cannot have more importance. Like many other things in a patriarchal world, anything that is not supported by a predominantly male heterosexual majority, is quickly pushed to the back.

But my sexuality matters, always has and always will. And my sexuality is as important as my womanhood and my ”Africanness.

In an attempt to start a discussion about the homophobia in Africa-this clip of the World debate on whether homosexuality in  un-African. Participating in the conversation is Fikile Vilakazi, who was representing CAL.

Feel free to share with your friends and comment.

[CAL] AT 10! A CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE PUBLICATION

Image

 

CELEBRATING TEN YEARS OF RESISTANCE, RESILIENCE, POWER AND REVOLUTION

2003 – 2013

A CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE PUBLICATION: CAL @ 10     

The Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] invites all our members and partners to submit contributions for a publication celebrating ten years of collective feminist resistance, resilience, revolution and power as lesbian and bisexual women and trans-diverse people across Africa through our association with CAL at various times and in different spaces of our movement.

We welcome critical and reflective articles; anecdotes, memories and photographs of particular moments of our herstory; poetry, stories, letters, speeches, conversations, diary and journal entries, media reports; mobile text messages (cellphone, facebook, twitter, blogs etc); and creative visioning of the continent we want to live in.  

Let’s surface our pain and pleasure, our fear and courage, and document our resilience and resistance, our challenges and victories.

The deadline for submissions is Friday the 30th of September 2013. Kindly send your submissions to calat10@cal.org.za. We will confirm receipt of all submissions, and correspond further with the authors of submissions selected for publication. Contact Fikile Vilakazi (fikile.vilakazi@gmail.com) or Liz Frank (lizfrank41@gmail.com) for any queries related to this call.

  

 

‘JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED’

Image

We are encircled by silhouettes of a woman, her blank body inscribed with a fight for justice. Buyisiwe is a survivor of sexual assault, but now she is a victim of a court system that continues to fail women.

There are thirty-one figures lining the walls, each cut-out a silent witness to five years of court delays, to a broader struggle for legal protection, safety and freedom. We’ve heard this before, but seeing it as a visual narrative transforms its message into a visceral experience. Suddenly this is not just the story of one woman; it is impossible not to reflect on the battles waged on our own bodies every day, on the lived realities of violence and control, of silencing and invisibility.

Being in the same space as the figures makes the horror of this collective story palpable. It is this power – the power of the visual, of reclaiming space – that we are thinking about and putting into practice today. The exclusion of lesbian and bisexual women, gender-nonconforming people and other marginalised communities from the public sphere is a significant manifestation of hetero-patriarchal control. But we can –and we must – fight back. By taking control of public spaces and forcing the broader community to engage with our demands, we are able to destabilise hegemonic discourses that continue to oppress us.

This morning we have the pleasure of working with our allies at the One in Nine Campaign, who will be teaching us about visual messaging and campaigning-building. Formed in 2006 as a response to the Jacob Zuma rape case, One in Nine quickly recognised the intense power of visual activism. After a series of successful actions, the organisation established its own art studio and soon after began sharing their art skills with others in the movement.

How does all of this relate to CAL’s sub-regional sexual rights advocacy plan? Developing and implementing a targeted advocacy plan, particularly one within a hostile regional context, requires very careful planning and conceptualisation. Of course, one cannot build a campaign without a demand, and one cannot decide a demand without a problem. Having thought critically over the last few days about our individual countries and then the region more broadly, delegates have identified the key challenge to which the campaign will speak: ‘the lack of freedom, self-ownership and control of our bodies’. Using the skills learnt in today’s art for activism workshop will be vital for formulating a central message around which to build the campaign.

Right now our members and partners are busy learning about three visual mediums: T-shirts, banners and film. All of these can be powerful tools for our activism, both within countries and regionally. Rather than describing the participant’s beautiful creations, we will be sharing some pictures of the finished products as well as the creative process.

Workshop coverage provided by Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action in collaboration with the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL).

The countries in which we live

Image

 

A few years back, a group of rich white men sat down with a map of Africa and started drawing lines. Bargaining and trading, they split up the continent, claiming sovereignty over ‘their’ territories and deciding who could live where, who could and couldn’t move freely. And although those white men are now long gone (physically, anyway), their colonial legacies and divisions remain. What does that mean for us here today? How can we, as activists coming from very specific – and often quite different – country contexts, come together and work effectively at a regional level? How we can distil these sometimes similar/sometimes different challenges into one campaign? Throw culture, religion and governance into the mix and things become infinitely more complicated.

Today we’ve been thinking critically about the different countries in which we live and work. The goal was to identify the key challenges facing us as feminist activists within our specific countries and to use these insights to articulate a specific regional demand. Delegates were asked to consider four separate yet intersecting elements of their country: the political context, the cultural context, the economic context and the way in which the media operates.

Being a live-blog, there isn’t space here to list all of the points raised – and trust us, there were lots – so instead we’re going to share those topics that generated the most discussion and some of the commonalities that were identified. It’s also important to remember that this workshop is about developing a regional advocacy campaign, so the different issues won’t be tied to specific countries.

  • State-sponsored homophobia remains a crucial issue in many of the countries we work. Governments frequently use sexual minorities as a scapegoat to deflect attention from broader social issues and as a tool for maintaining, and often increasing, their grip on power. By denouncing homosexuality and sanctioning, both directly and indirectly, aggression against LGBTI people, nation states are able to perpetuate systems of inequality and oppression. Of course, the state’s power does not exist in isolation; in all of our countries, religious and cultural leaders decide who or what is acceptable and ‘normal’.
  • Lesbian women and gender-nonconforming people remain excluded from the workforce, further isolating them from full social engagement. In many countries, sexual minorities experience higher rates of unemployment than other sectors of society. Butch women and trans* individuals face a large amount of stigma because of their gender presentation, often in the form of discrimination, harassment or abuse in job interviews.
  • Closely linked to unemployment are issues related to education. Many delegates identified bullying and harassment at school as a major problem. A lack of support and acceptance (both among peers and the wider school community) results in high levels of dropping out, exclusion from important skills-development, difficulties securing employment.
  • More broadly, LGBTI people struggle to access comprehensive and appropriate health services. Delegates indicated that this problem plays out in different ways in different contexts: in some areas, the primary issue is a lack of awareness and training among health professionals; others noted the threat of imprisonment should they speak openly about their sexual practices.
  • For many delegates, a critical issue is the lack of visibility of different sexualities and gender expressions. This silence around LGBTI lives and experiences encourages misinformation and misunderstandings. In many countries, negative portrayals in the media – often stemming from the hateful rhetoric espoused by politicians and religious or cultural leaders –reinforce ingrained prejudices and fear. Censorship and a lack of media freedom also blocks LGBTI people, but also the broader community, from accessing accurate information and knowledge.

  • The power imbalance between donors/international agencies and on-the-ground organisations further disempowers lesbian and gender-nonconforming women. With limited financial resources available, gender and sexuality activists are forced to bend to the demands of funders and to focus on issues dictated by those with money. Similarly, legal and social barriers preventing LGBTI-focused organisations from being registered and/or recognised forces them to operate under the auspices of larger professional bodies, often leading to conflicts of interest, disagreements around funding and an inability to foreground certain issues.
  • As well as broader structural barriers, many LGBTI individuals battle psychosocial trauma resulting from multiple sites of oppression – social exclusion, sexual violence, government surveillance, homelessness, financial insecurity and so on. The impact of discrimination on individuals’ lives cannot be overlooked, nor its effect on mobilising resistance.

The above structural and social barriers exist in different forms in each of our countries, but there are also some things that are common. One thing that we can all agree on is that sexuality is being used as a political tool and, significantly, always for other’s agendas. Across all of Africa, we see queer people being positioned as this or that, as unnatural, un-African and amoral, but whatever the nuances of the portrayal, our bodies are always being used without our consent. Whether it’s physical domination or political scapegoating or a tabloid headline used to sell newspapers, our bodies and lives are being deployed for the benefit of others. Even our images and stories are reduced to commodities that are bought and used as marketing tools for donors and international governments.

So where to from here? Isolating the challenges that exist in individual contexts is one thing, but how do we distil these into a coherent demand for change? What is the one critical issue for our movement in this particular region? That’s the next step: our passionate and dedicated comrades are busy analysing and debating and digging deeper into their collective consciousness. It’s a frustrating and sometimes painful process, but one that we are all committed to.  

The unbearable silence of being (queer)

Image

From the moment we are born, the people around us – particularly those with power – try to convince us that ‘silence is golden’. It’s most extreme expression may well be the old maxim that ‘good girls should be seen but not heard’. As activists, we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can have our voices heard. But as today’s discussion showed again and again, there are also silences that we need to overcome within our own lives and within our own communities.

For the last few hours we’ve been trying to unpack the key challenges we’re facing. As we know, there is no shortage of problems: overcoming invisibility, gaining full control over our bodies, accessing our reproductive rights, becoming informed about sexual health, to name a few. But some of the richest discussions to emerge today related to the more subtle struggles we face.

A lot of the time it’s easy to identify the way that patriarchal power plays out in society. But power also works in insidious ways; within our own bodies, within our relationships, communities and movements, we often absorb and replicate destructive hierarchical power structures. Even the most politically aware of us make assumptions about others’ lives or bodies; often, especially when the bedroom door closes, we find ourselves falling into traditional gender roles. The desire to label and describe is strong – who among us isn’t shaped by the culture in which we exist? – but this can also lead us to inscribe our own and others’ bodies with ways of being that may be damaging or limiting.

On the flipside, labels can be powerful: they help to raise visibility and are often important for movement-building. So how do we negotiate this dilemma? We’re still nowhere close to the answers, but having open dialogue is the best place to start. And here at the workshop there is certainly a lot of ground being covered.

These conversations are vital. We must start challenging ourselves to think about the position of trans*, intersex and gender-nonconforming individuals in our movements; about how we can constructively talk about our own bodies; about how we can effectively challenge traditional notions of gender; about how we can positively construct new ways of thinking and being.

At the heart of all of these questions is the notion of silence: we cannot smash patriarchy until we end the silence, and we cannot end the silence until we recognise power in our own lives. People’s unwillingness to recognise and interrogate issues of HIV/AIDS or to acknowledge intimate-partner violence within lesbian or gender-nonconforming relationships undermines broader moves to battle oppression and stigma.

We are lucky to be having some of these conversations here and now, and we’re looking forward to sharing some of these discussions with you. But even more, we’d love to hear what you think. How are these silences affecting your life? What forms of power are being ignored within our activist movements? How do you feel about labels?

Stay tuned for updates on these exciting conversations.

Workshop coverage provided by Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action in collaboration with the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL).