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31 May 2011

Gays vs. Qwelane

Jon Qwelane has been found guilty of hate speech. Here is the article written at the time on the offensive column by an angry gay activist.

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Jon Qwelane , former Sunday Sun columnist, and present SA ambassador to Uganda, has been found guilty of hate speech.

Here is the article written at the time on the offensive column by an angry gay activist:

Homo-prejudice is alive and well and flourishing in South Africa. Every day gay and lesbian individuals are taunted, teased and bullied on our streets.

Black lesbians living in our township areas are at a particularly high risk of rape, in the belief that this horrendous act will magically "cure" them of their sexual orientation. There are increasing reports of lesbians being murdered because of their sexual orientation. Gay and lesbian youth are evicted from their homes. We're discriminated against by employers, bullied and taunted in schools; we experience bias from the SAPS and are discriminated against by the public health system. Pastors preach homo-prejudice from countless pulpits every Sunday.

Just last week I read a post on the internet from a man who said that if he's in a restaurant and thinks his waiter could be gay he complains to the manager and demands to be served by someone else. Would he similarly complain to the manager if his waiter were black, or white, or Muslim, or overweight or underweight or had red hair?

Of course we have a Bill of Rights in our constitution and yes, gay and lesbian people have the right to marry – but both are meaningless in the face of people's homo-prejudiced attitudes. Simply passing laws prohibiting discrimination doesn’t change people's attitudes.

A painful silence

A couple of Sundays ago, the Sunday Sun, which is owned by Media24, published a column by Jon Qwelane which promoted the worst kind of homoprejudice. So the following Friday I chose to take a taxi into Cape Town, to the Media24 headquarters, to participate in a public protest against this. The outspoken taxi driver cursed other drivers by referring to them as either "moffies" or "bunnies".

As a proudly gay man I experienced a sense of outrage, but sat quietly and pretended not to notice my fellow passengers being entertained by the driver's obnoxious comments. Possibly I was not the only moffie on that taxi, and the woman who sat beside me may have a lesbian daughter or a gay son, but in that confined and hostile space I was reminded of how difficult it is for gay and lesbian individuals to speak up. Homoprejudice is the norm for many gays and lesbians. Too often we're cowed and bullied into a painful silence.

My brief taxi ride reminded me of my sense of frustration when I attended one of a series of public hearings related to the proposed Civil Union Bill which subsequently culminated in same-sex unions being recognised in South Africa. At that public hearing countless individuals, groups and organisations were allowed to make statements that were unquestionably homo-prejudiced and many were no less than undiluted hate speech. But their statements were allowed because they were wrapped in a thin gloss of religious dogma. Even though I'm a seasoned gay-rights activist and a professional counsellor, I felt traumatised at the end of that day, and I was reminded of South Africa a few generations ago: a time when racists justified their prejudice by self-righteously quoting actual biblical texts.

My own most distressing interface with homo-prejudice occurred in my own consulting room. A matronly grandmother from the Cape Flats had made an appointment to discuss her 15-year-old granddaughter, who was also her foster child, after she'd caught the teenager kissing another girl. After an hour of intense counselling the grandmother calmly announced, in front of her sobbing granddaughter: “I can't agree with this (lesbianism); it has brought shame on my family so I'm taking her back to the welfare. I don't want her any more”. After several years I can still recall the chill of her statement, and how after they left I had to run to the bathroom to vomit.

Homoprejudice in the media

The Qwelane column condoning prejudice also made me question my own association with the Health24 website – Media24 owns both the Sunday Sun and Health24. I voluntarily manage a gay, lesbian and bisexual forum for Health24. I personally know of several people who are employed by Media24 who felt too compromised to speak against their employers' blunder, in the same manner that I'd felt voiceless in that taxi.

So how could I choose to voluntarily associate myself with this oppressive media giant? I voiced my concerns with the team at Health24 and made a reassuring discovery: that, although they may not say it publicly nor be present at protests against the Media24 media giant, many journalists and editors are supportive of the manner in which the gay and lesbian community has taken a stand against prejudice.

So I'd like to think that, although they seemingly laughed at the moffie jokes, some of my fellow passengers on the taxi were feeling as offended as I was and would have supported me if I had spoken up and taken a stance against the driver's prejudice. Maybe next time I'm in a taxi I'll put them to the test.

(Glenn de Swardt, Health24, July 2008)

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