Burning Closets – Why we must defend my LGBTI comrades at UCT

NOTE (31/10/11): Looking back on this post, I see numerous grammar and typos. I apologise for that, but considering how many there are, I’m not going to try change it. I also find it too flowery and it overuses the metaphor of flames and ash. It’s also too naive in its defence of human rights and individual freedom.

My alma mater, the University of Cape Town, has recently been the centre for an act of barbarism, against its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons (LGBT) community. UCT was recently (and deservedly) patting itself on the back for its107th place, in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking. But as soon as the patting hand was down, it is now putting out fires – literally.

The Pink Week Campaign, to celebrate a week of openness and solidarity with – you know – the rest of humanity,  has turned to ash. The irony should strike hot and hard: a pink closet, a symbol the Rainbow Society at UCT set up to promote Pink Week, was found a smoldering wreck on Monday night. Some individual or, more likely, persons had decided that a way to show our views catching up with the twenty-first century – and indeed our constitution – was to burn the symbol preaching integration. A poster on campus put it eloquently: ‘This closet was supposed to highlight the homoprejudice that still burns through the fabric of our society. Apparently, it also burns through our own campus.’

I remember, even in 2007, the closet was defaced with graffiti. Of course, some used the opportunity to write back to the poets of piety, pointing out the flaws in their aggravated ‘reasoning’. We can still do this, but not through flames.  This kind of barbaric act is not to worth a response, except with handcuffs, a slap of reality, and a dosage of being adult. However, what it speaks to, indeed, what it ignited is worth pursuing, defending and promoting: that is, my gay and lesbian comrades, in their defence of autonomy to live peaceably, are persons worthy of dignity, respect; they are not ‘unnatural’ ‘ungodly’ or ‘unworthy’ of anyone’s compassion, love, or attention. Consider which group in this country these terms applied to before 1994. It is obvious why racism and homophobia are exhaled in the same last gasp of reason, as rationality dies on the homophobe’s lips, as it withers into ash in the racist’s hands – it is unreasonable, bigoted, stupid and unfounded.

The authorities will look into the matter of vandalism, but we have to protect something even more scarred: our rights as free individuals. South Africa may have one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, but it mainly serves to highlight the distance between what we should be doing and what we are doing: we may be the first in the world to not discriminate legally against gays, we may be the first in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage, but the chasm between many of us accepting these things as normal, as banal, is so wide the echoes of Bronze Aged morality can be heard.

There are two fronts to be concerned about: the first is the oldest homophobe of all – the Christian god. More importantly, his self-proclaimed mindreaders who know his desires, his wishes and his utter contempt for two consensual adults engaging in sexual or romantic affairs. Fanatics are all too quick to claim to know god’s will in the most convenient areas that back up their own prejudice: what about a deity that loves all his creatures, equally? What about peace, love, solidarity? This gives the lie to the belief that god makes you moral, as evidenced by the volume of relidiocy sprouted in the comments section in the IOL link above. As one commentator claimed: ‘Who says Gays are accepted, it will never be accepted, if GOD won’t accept GAYS why should we! Stop the Filth STOP the GAYS!.’

Er, our constitution says they’re accepted. More specifically Section 9 (3) of the constitution, gives my gay and lesbian comrades the freedom to marry – surprisingly without the sky shattering. Christian groups that have a problem with it – of course they will – must lobby that. They have, they will. Also, stop the gays doing what? Homophobes in these instances can never tell us what exactly the gays are going to do? Infect them? Make them uncomfortable?

The point being, to answer the most important claims, we thankfully have the actual law of the land on our side. Christians are welcome to go to another country that does legalise hatred toward gays, like Saudi Arabia. Of course, that’s also if you are not interested in being discriminated against yourself, and not living in a democracy. Instead of asserting that gays are bad, let’s see evidence, let’s see some reasoning instead of shouting the same nonsense that was said against non-whites for centuries.

The second are those who have some vague understanding of free expression, claiming that gays should ‘be gay in silence’ (as one commentator put it), should stop thrusting their views on to us straights. Commentators appear to say, we straights don’t put out displays of our straightness. It’s not like we have thousands upon thousands of displays of cars, weights and other ‘straight’ things (read straight as butch or macho) with scantily-clad women, dancing provocatively on millions of television-screens around the world – we don’t do that!

Um, yes we do. When was the last time we saw an ad for, say, coffee or kitchen appliances that showed a gay or lesbian couple, happily raising their children? Our entire world is filled to the nauseating brim with images of straightness: its ubiquity is its camouflage. People who think we don’t thrust straight-life into the lives of gay and lesbians have simply become numb to the sheer volume of products that automatically think a family has a mom and dad and two kids. (The irony being that gay andlesbian parents are often slightly better parents, in some regards, than the supposed ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ counterparts. Does that mean straight people should not be parents? Of course not, but it deflates the arrogance of assuming they’re by definition better.)

Another commentator said: ‘Helloooo, To all LGBTI’s, Muslims, Jews, Palestinians, Gjihadists and every other minority group we know you are different from US. We don’t need your symbols thrust in our faces in the public domain. Please be different on your own and amongst your own and leave everyone that is “different” from you in peace. If you don’t, don’t be surprised if people dislike you and your “ornaments”.’

And another: ‘When last did you see a heterosexual group say “Look at me, look at me. I’m hetro”? If gay people want to be treated with the same dignity and respect as heterosexual people, why not just get on with life and not draw so much attention to your differences? It is the constant “Look at me” attitude that is forced on the rest of us, that makes you so controversial. It just makes everyone who is normal just want to mock and make fun of you.’

Over and over again: ‘I agree with [commentator above]. Sure gay people should have the same rights as everyone else. But gay activist groups are such a bunch of prima donnas. Just get over yourselves already. Your making spectacles of yourselves in public, such as gay pride marches etc, would also want to make me burn down your stupid pink closet.’

Why the tacky approach? Why the half-lie caked in the mud-slinging of dogma: sure gays should have same rights but they must stop whining when those rights are rescinded. Utter nonsense. The very reactions we see above is exactly why our comrades need to keep pushing for Pink Week, why they even need a society for LGBT – the fact that people either deem my comrades ungodly for wanting to just be equal as persons, or as whining, indicates most of us still don’t get it. Until such time as homosexuality is as ubiquitous as heterosexuality, we need to keep defending and promoting their equality. (I would also ask what a heterosexual group is?)

Consider: the fact that most women did not vote is now something almost forgotten. Now that women in democratic countries can vote, there is no need for suffragette movements. Similarly, if you want gays to ‘stop shoving their gayness’ into your face, then stop treating them as lesser people. They are doing nothing except celebrating their own security within themselves; by these stupid, bigoted reactions, their supposedly straight males are showing us that what our gay comrades have in abundance, they themselves lack completely: security, adulthood and a sense of solidarity.

And by the way: burning someone’s property is no more an exercise of free-speech than slapping someone’s child. Both will land you in jail because someone can be physically harmed – unlike a stationery closet, which is not going to attack anybody.