05 December 2012

Diamonds in Africa

"Being gay is not a Western Invention, it is a Human reality." -Hillary Clinton

Just recently two of of my dear good friends tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa. It was a beautiful summer ceremony under the warm sun, and overlooking the breathtaking blue ocean. Even though i could not be there in person for various reasons the cost and not having a passport yet, but those are only minor details. The wedding was superb such a beautiful moment. While the wedding was  grand it made me think what is gay life like in South Africa. If it was similar to its commonwealth partner India, or similar to modern day United States or hellish like present day Uganda where gays are killed and terrorized. I was pleasantly surprised that it was like neither, although there are similarities to India and United States its so much its own. A total diamond in the ruff for gay rights laws and protection. Like most growing countries with a strong gay community there is always animosity and discrimination.

South Africa was the first country to constitutionally outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Also in December of 2006 South Africa became the fifth country in the world, and the first in Africa which is notorious for being anti gay, legalizing same sex marriage. Like many commonwealth countries South Africa had its own version of the immorality act which prevented men from having sex with other men, sodomy and other "unnatural" sexual offences. Also, prohibiting men from engaging in any erotic conduct when more than two people present, all of which was punishable by jail time. During this time gay men adopted Gayle or Gail language, which is slang based on English and Afrikaans language. An example is "Varda that Beulah! Vast mitzi. She's a chicken and probably Priscilla and I don't need Jennifer Justice in my life right now." translates as "Look at that beauty! Very me. He's young and probably a policeman and I don't need trouble with the law in my life at the moment."

In the 70's and 80's LGBT activism became a part of the human rights movement within the nation. With small groups dedicating their efforts to LGBT rights male same sex relations and conduct became legalized in 1994. Followed by South Africa becoming the first jurisdiction in the world to provide constitutional protection to LGBT people, also disallowing discrimination on race, gender, sexual orientation and other grounds in 1996. More efforts soon followed with a Transsexual persons allowed to change their legal gender. Gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military, joint and step parent adoption since 2002, same sex marriage legalized in 2006. And the age of consent is equalized for gays and straights in 2007. Also allowing gay men to donate blood within a 6 month period. A groundbreaking moment occurred this year when South Africa became the first country in the world to officially recognize the gay flag.

While legally and constitutionally equality is ensured for gays and others part of community. Social acceptance is generally lacking in rural areas and in the eastern half of the country. There have been numerous cases in which in which gay women have been the victim of murder, beating, and or "corrective" rape. Human rights activists have pointed out that many men believe that lesbians pose a threat on the traditional male authority, also the male rapist purport to raping lesbian victims with intent to "cure" her of her sexual orientation. While South Africa has no official hate crime legislation, Human rights watchdogs have condemned the continued impunity and accused government of turning a blind eye  on murders or rapes in a homophobic manner. Watchdogs believe much of the sexism and homophobia that erupts is tied to male frustration with unemployment and poverty. It has been documented that more than 30 women have been killed in South Africa based on their sexuality.

South Africa, like many countries have incidents of homophobia, it has become one of the top gay destinations. Gay people in major urban areas like Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town are readily accepted and have a thriving gay nightlife. Cultural, arts, sports, and outdoor activities play a major part in everyday South African gay life. Annual gay pride events in Johannesburg and Cape Town are held, and Krysna hosts the yearly Pink Loerle Mardi Gras which attracts gay people around the country. Even smaller cities like Bloem Fontein, Port Elizabeth and East London are gay friendly. Locally produced television programs have also focused on gay right with the success of soap opera Edgi and Generations featuring  long term gay relationship and addressing gay issues like homophobia and race relations.

Planning a trip? South Africa has a reputation as Africa's most gay friendly destination attracting thousands of tourists annually. In recent years South Africa became the first country in Africa to open openly gay hotels, the Amsterdam Guest House located in Cape Town. The Hotel manager Lourens Botha, pointed out "In South Africa we have had our own challenges under Apartheid you could not admit being gay. you would have been persecuted and imprisoned... Which is what now is happening in other parts of Africa, however liberty allows South Africa to help other African gays." “Today I run a hotel where gay men from all over Africa come and feel comfortable. they are astonished at how relaxed things are here... in their home country they face persecution, violence, and even death but here if only on holiday they can be free." In 2011 South Africa was rated third most wanted gay travel destinations. Cape Town where 10% of all tourist who visit are gay, won as worldwide favorite gay destination with over 200,000 gay tourist and holidayed in Cape Town.

South Africa, has come a long way with the oppression of Apartheid to its current stand on human rights and LGBT rights. At a time being gay was outlawed in the country where as now companies seeks out gay professionals to work in their companies openly under the “Pink&Rand”. While animosity from religious groups are still prevalent many religious leaders have voiced their support for the South African LGBT community. people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Dr. Allan Boesak are strong vocal supporters of gay rights in South Africa. South Africa has become a forerunner for gay rights and diamond in Africa. They are leading the way for equality and changing their country for the better. There are some that want to revert back to times when gays were not free and many were oppressed. To me the west can learn from the South Africa, how they collectively changed their nation legally. just like the west minds have yet to be changed, but their slowly changing with the exposure of gays and lesbians. Although here in the states many lesbians are not raped by men, we do have hate crimes that happen daily and gay bashing is still a prevalent problem. Even in the large cities where most would feel things like that does not happen. Recently the United nations stated progressive attitudes in South Africa as well as Argentina, India, Spain and Mexico have attracted the gay market in droves. Tell me how you feel would you like to travel to South Africa? or how you feel about South Africa and its progressive gay culture!
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