Opinionista Gushwell Brooks 28 February 2014

Gay rights: It’s everyone’s issue

Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr’s words, in a letter he had written out of Birmingham Jail on 16 April 1963, to people who had felt that his tactics were too confrontational, ring very true today. He famously said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

You might be heterosexual, you might be married, you might have children, you might find it awkward imagining anything but the “traditional family”, but the truth remains, the clamp down on the rights of the LGBTI community in Nigeria, Russia, Uganda and Arizona – to mention but a few – is and should be a concern to all.

The world we occupy is beset by a range of issues. Militants are slaughtering children for going to school, Somalia is about to be hit by famine once more, war and conflicts erupt everywhere and domestically we are dogged by corruption, inequality, gender violence and Inkandla. So there is a lot to focus media attention on, a lot to rally around, lobby against and have our voices heard.

Unfortunately this has led to the inevitable hierarchical prioritisation of what is an important issue and what isn’t. It is natural human behaviour to prioritise; Apartheid and its end would have listed higher on Mr Mandela’s list of priorities in the 1960s, than say, ending the Vietnam War.

Similarly, we cannot castigate the American student movement for rallying around Vietnam, instead of focusing their attention on ending Apartheid. The issue was closer to their hearts, closer to their list of priorities. However, when a global campaign obviated the evils of our past, the world rallied around it and I think you will have to dig deep and far to find anyone that can dispute the importance of international pressure on South Africa to end Apartheid. So those anti-Vietnam types, at least some of them, rallied against our issue.

The world is in a precarious place in 2014. The end of the Second World War saw recognition of human rights and the 1960s saw a proliferation of rights. Serious questions were asked about gender equity, gay rights and race dynamics. The journey to liberation and true equality under law was arduous and many a life had to be sacrificed for progress. But a new sentiment seems to be taking hold of the world, one that has always been underpinned by progressive laws that afford all equality, but a society that is at odds with these notions in our day-to-day interactions.

Hence a woman’s place remained in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, lesbians have their homosexuality “raped out of them” and people of certain races remain poor and their inability to climb the status ladder is accepted as the norm. We rationalise these inequalities that are prevalent in every aspect of our society as the natural order of things, some of it justified by the “Biblical way” of doing things.

Many human rights abuses find their roots in religious rationale. Boko Haram kill children because education is seen as sinful, many Evangelical churches out of the US Midwest have reinforced homophobia, since it’s shameful and homosexuals apparently go on rampant recruitment drives, trying to turn everyone gay; and even Apartheid found its justification in scripture.

It is not that religion is bad; in fact it could be great: look at Pope Francis, Mother Theresa, Buddha and the guy Christians base their entire religion on. But the interpretation of religion can be very helpful in vilifying the types we don’t like in society. That is the backlash we see globally, misinformation, the spread of unfounded hate-mongering and that thing nobody is allowed to bring into question, the supposed word of a higher being.

The less extreme in society feel that there are other more important things to focus on; hunger, poverty, crime, terrorism, all valid and all-important. The lesson we fail to learn from less than a century ago, though, was that rumours and hatemongering was being spread about a particular ethnic group that had been living in Europe for about two thousand years. Read Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and you will gather the idea that it was an ethnic group that had always remained disliked, constantly cast as the villain. By 1933, they were being placed into “ghettos and labour camps” and by 1945 a holocaust had left 6 million people dead.

Unless you are some Neo-Nazi whack job, you will recognise it as the darkest blight on recent human history, something never to be repeated again. I am sure that you will agree that all that was really required of society was to live in harmony with people that looked, prayed and spoke differently. Why is it then that difficult to understand that all we have to do is to live in harmony with people, allow them to act whichever way they choose, provided they do not bring harm to the rest if society and love who they please?

Jewish people had neighbours in Germany in 1933, those neighbours didn’t make it their issue when people were being rounded up into those ghettos – they too had other important things to focus on. But soon the rounding up spread to some of the neighbours as well: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Romany Gypsies, the disabled and suspected Communists. Soon these neighbours were no longer good enough and so Poland and the rest of Europe became the next targets.

It is easy to say that the repression facing the LGBTI community globally is their thing, their opportunity to play victim and garner global sympathy, but what the rest of us is failing to understand is that as society evolves, so too should our civil liberties. Equality for the gay community in no way infringes on my rights. People should be allowed to share in love with whom they choose and if their love is supposedly sinful, should they, rather than you, not account to a higher power?

My parents are significantly shorter than me, they raised and loved me; however, I never had a desire to be as short as they are. So, too, just as we live in a society where some men have a proclivity for “larger-boned women” or some women have a liking for shorter, fatter bald men. Not all men are attracted to plump women and not all women are attracted to BEE-looking types. We love and like what we love and like and living in a society with gay people doesn’t turn everyone gay like some apocalyptic zombie virus.

We need to care and speak up against a regression of human rights, because before we know it, as shocked as our religious, conservative traditional sensibilities might be, our rights could follow suit. Humans thrived because we coexist, despite our diversity, so please let us not reverse generations of progress due to dumb insecurities and baseless fears.

Does it mean we should all take to the streets and protest outside consulates and embassies? Ideally, maybe, but what is much simpler is to live and let live. Recall that famous line: “Love thy neighbour”? DM

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"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine

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