From South Africa to East Texas, we must stand against injustice

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 11.29.54 AMWhy would I, a gay black man from the piney woods of East Texas, choose to fight for justice on behalf of a woman from a South African township who is believed to have been murdered for being a lesbian activist? Because I, too, have lived with hateful prejudice.

Why should I dwell on injustices occurring in a place I’ve never been, to a person I never met? Because if I don’t, no one will.

Noxolo Nogwaza was a 24-year-old black South African lesbian LGBT rights activist who was brutally beaten, raped and stabbed to death in 2011. Three years later, no progress has been made in investigating her murder and Noxolo’s killer(s) have not been arrested or brought to justice.

She was a mother, soccer fan and an activist with the Ekurhuleni Pride Organizing Committee that aims to empower and inform LGBT people and combat hate crimes against them.

Despite the risks of being “out” as a lesbian, Noxolo lived a full and assertive life. She chose activism despite knowing homophobia and hate crimes against LGBT individuals are common in many parts of South Africa, where taunts, insults and threats are often part of an inescapable reality. Furthermore, in the last five years, there have been at least 10 cases reported of rape followed by murder of LGBTI individuals in South African townships.

I first learned about what happened to Noxolo from Amnesty International. Through their annual global letter-writing campaign Write for Rights, Amnesty inspired hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world to demand justice for Noxolo. LGBT people face such violence everywhere: Whether they live in a small town in Texas, New York City or South Africa. Here in the U.S. I witnessed and experienced the violence and pain faced by many LGBT individuals around the world.

While generally society is becoming more accepting of LGBT individuals, there still remains much stigma, including in my own black community. Some contend that homosexuality contradicts traditional Christian beliefs, family values and gender roles and that it “goes against what it means to be black.” Perhaps I feel compelled to tell people about Noxolo because I feel connected to her through that shared feeling of alienation by people in a close-knit community. As black people, as gay people, we all experience the same struggle for inequality.

It is important that together as a global community we counter the prejudices that are deeply ingrained in our culture. It is important to understand the universal nature of discrimination and adhere to an obligation to speak out against these injustices regardless of geographic barriers. We are all responsible for each other.

Noxolo was a black woman and a lesbian. She was a mother and a soccer fan. Her assault and murder are unspeakable, and her family should not have to wait a minute more for justice. It’s up to you and me to stand together and fight as a collective force against injustices, refusing to accept the status quo set forth before us by bigotry and intolerance. If we don’t, no one will. If we do, powerful things will happen.

Kendrick Perkins is a college student at Stephen F. Austin State University and an activist with Amnesty International USA.

—  John Wright

Not just a ‘third-world’ problem

News of yet another ‘corrective rape’ in South Africa makes headlines, but a quick bit of research shows the U.S. faces similar problems

HARDY HABERMAN  |  Flagging Left

I grew up in a different age. It was the 1950s and everyone was supposed to live in a Donna Reed family with 2.5 kids and a dog. At home, Father knew best and wives were re-christened “homemakers,” clearly showing their place in the family hierarchy.

Outside the hetero-normative illusion, there were those strange folks who lived on the shadowy fringes of society. They were never called by name, but I soon learned they were “pansies” and presented a marked difference in their mannerisms and speech.

One group that was never spoken of was lesbians. They were there, but so invisible they were beyond consideration.

Oh sure, I had female gym teachers who were more masculine than any pre-teen boy ever hoped to be, but they were “athletic.” And my maiden aunt and her “friend” who lived together for 30 years after serving in the WACs were just “spinsters” who never met the right man.

When I finally did hear of lesbians, it was in the context of some strange porn fantasy. The voyeuristic thrill of watching women together was an ideal teenager fantasy, at least for straight male teenagers.

Over and over again I heard men and teens boasting that the only “problem with lesbians is they never got it from the right man.”

It seemed that men — or more specifically a man’s penis — could solve any problem when it came to sexual orientation.

That myth has died down somewhat in this country. But apparently it is alive and well in South Africa.

A 13-year-old girl who was perceived as a lesbian was “correctively raped” in that country. The savage attack on her is not the first, as violence against lesbians increases. Last month, well-known LGBT activist Noxolo Nogwaza was murdered, presumably because of her sexual orientation.

The trend toward men raping lesbians to “fix” them has risen alarmingly in a country with some of the most progressive laws in the world concerning LGBT people. In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Dipika Nath, a researcher with Human Rights Watch said, “The vicious nature of the assault is a potent reminder that these attacks are premeditated, planned, and often committed with impunity.”

This isn’t a new trend. Last year last, Eudy Simelane, former star of South Africa’s national female football squad, was a victim of a “corrective rape.” She did not survive the gang rape and subsequent stabbings.

So far the South African government has not made these crimes a priority. A “committee” was formed to investigate the latest case, but this has been going on for several years.

You might think this is just a problem in Africa. Well, think again.

An American judge, Joseph A. Rehyansky (actually a part-time magistrate), was quoted as saying in an online interview that lesbians should be allowed to serve in the military and not gay men.

Why? Well this quote explains it pretty well: “It would get the distaff part of our homosexual population off our collective ‘Broke Back,’ thus giving straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream.”

He goes on to further muse about evolution: “It fell to men to swing through the trees and scour the caves in search of as many women as possible to subdue and impregnate — a tough job but someone had to do it.”

Once again all those pesky lesbians need is the right penis!

Old myths die hard, and this one has a zombie-like ability to resurface again and again. I have to wonder what it will take to put a stake in its heart forever.

I serve on the board of a non-profit human rights organization, and I am amazed at how people in the United States always think “human rights violations” are things that only happen in third-world countries.

Well, welcome to reality. If you consider sexuality a basic human right, the U.S. scores pitifully. With attitudes like Rehyansky’s and with the continued myth of “corrective rape” that apparently is still in our nation’s consciousness. we still have a long way to go.

It’s time we began looking at the reality of human rights in our own country. It’s time we discarded the 1950s mythos when most problems could be solved by just letting the “right man” handle the job.

I am reminded of the adage that says, “To a carpenter with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Well, being a lesbian is not a problem, and it certainly doesn’t need fixing by a man swinging his “hammer.”

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

—  John Wright