Opinionista Jochen Schmidt von Wuhlisch 20 July 2018

Open Letter: Why I reported author Greta Wiid to the Human Rights Commission

Popular Afrikaans author and relationship expert Greta Wiid has been ordered by the South African Human Rights Commission to remove passages from her Lyfslimbooks which stated that homosexuality resulted from an absent father figure or sexual abuse. Wiid must also stop expressing the same views to schoolchildren in workshops. In an open letter to Wiid, one of complainants explains why he took the step of reporting her to the SAHRC.

Dear Greta Wiid,

I was one of the +- 77 people who reported you to the South African Human Rights Commission SAHRC) with regards to your Lyfslim books.

I wish I could have been there when you signed the Conciliation Agreement mediated by the SAHRC. I wish I could have had a moment to exchange a couple of words with you.

But since that was not possible, I decided to write to you instead.

I would like to express how glad I am that this matter was resolved in the way that respected everyone’s human rights. And by that, I mean yours as well.

I sincerely hope that you are not left with the feeling that, by being subjected to the conditions which are listed in the agreement, your rights had somehow been violated.

Growing up in a country where it is against the law to be homosexual – Namibia – I am very familiar with having one’s basic human rights disrespected by the people around me, by the law and by societal systems.

Being discriminated against, publicly or in private, personally or by association, is a humiliating and painful experience. I would not wish it on anyone else. Therefore I am glad that the rights of LGBTQI+ people were protected through this process, but I am also glad that your rights to freedom of speech, your right to religion, and preaching this religion have been protected as well. I hope you feel the same way.

To many it might seem that your rights were not protected at all, since at face value the SAHRC conciliation agreement might be interpreted as nothing but a gag-order. It quite clearly stipulates what you can and cannot say or write.

That’s not freedom of speech!” I hear people say.

The notion of “freedom of speech” is misleading in that it gives the impression that there should be no restrictions.

Freedom of speech, thought and religion: these terms have been abused as weapons of self-defence by people trying to defend their ignorant and discriminatory behaviour.

I can say what I want, it’s my human right!” such people say.

I have the right to practice my religion, and my belief is that homosexuality is a sin and homosexuals should, therefore, be treated as human beings who have less societal value than others!”

What many people don’t understand is that these freedoms are not infinite. They too have their boundaries. But apart from the semantics, the conditions of your rights are actually quite simple: You can say and write, think and believe anything you like, unless by doing so you compromise the human rights of others. Simple as that.

Human rights legislation is aimed at protecting everyone, especially those who are vulnerable members of our society like minority groups, and especially children.

This brings me to my next point.

I would like to explain exactly why I reported you to the SAHRC.

Through a lot of hard work, I have had the privilege to somewhat accept my homosexuality. As a result of various experiences throughout my life I was able to develop a thicker skin, which helps to protect me from the effects of things like the offensive and discriminatory views you chose to publish about people like me in your Lyfslimbooks.

The homophobic statements contained in your book and your public teachings did not directly affect me. So why did I report you?

It was different this time. When I read your chapter about homoseksualiteit, it took me back to being a child and adolescent, in school and boarding-school, barely coping with my life, burdened by the fact of being different in a conservative society which did not allow people like me to exist.

I was severely depressed. I was self-harming in various ways, and in particularly dark times I was also suicidal. I was alone. I was terrified. I was ashamed, and I was constantly made to believe that the thing I identified with was disgusting, an abomination, a crime, and that it was a logical reason for classmates, friends, family, parents of friends, teachers as well as strangers to harm me for being different, and that I deserved to be treated that way.

If on top of this, I had been exposed to your Lyfslim narrative about homosexuality, I know for a fact that this would not have helped me at all – but rather would have complicated my already fraught existence, perhaps to a level where it even might have been unbearable.

Honestly, sometimes I am surprised that I made it through those years in one piece. Damaged, for sure, but still alive. Yet at the same time, I also consider myself extremely fortunate to have lived a rather mild homo-struggle, relatively speaking, with only moderate to bad experiences of homophobia and only one quasi-suicide attempt.

There are so many others like me who have had it much worse. They are victims of violent sexual, emotional and physical abuse. Some are cast out of their home and end up homeless. Some end up killed – all as a result of their sexual identity. This is not a secret. The statistics are readily available to anyone with a connection to the internet.

So as a result of my own first-hand experiences, as well as the documented experiences of others similar to me in different circumstances, I am particularly heartbroken when I see children who are fighting this battle, with themselves and those around them.

I could not allow this to happen to a young member of the LGBTQI+ community. Not on my watch. And I decided I was going to do whatever I could to try and prevent more of this kind of discrimination to be spread.

Instead of attacking you on social media, threatening you, or wishing you ill (like others have done), I decided I would choose the route that would be the most constructive. The SAHRC is one of the best tools for this. And eventually, justice has been served. I am so happy to know that your original Lyfslimnarrative will no longer be a part of the struggle for young LGBTQI+ teens. And I commend and thank the SAHRC for their incredible work.

A drop in the ocean, for sure. But a drop nonetheless.

I am also very happy about the revised text of the Lyfslimchapter on homosexuality that you have agreed to print. It stays true to what you believe, and the Christian values you hold, without harming anyone in the process. And not only that, it also aims to foster a mindset of kindness and compassion in young teens, regardless of their differences. And for that I thank you

I hope that you, and the people like you, have learned something from what happened. And, since you are in a position of considerable influence, that you might even share this lesson with people going forward.

So that we can all start taking better care of each other, regardless of who we are.

With kind regards,

One of the 77. DM

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