One cannot stand on a corner for five hours at a Gay Pride march and street party, as I did Sunday, without seeing that the drive for homosexual emancipation has tapped into something enormously human and, until recently in historical terms, very much hidden: that our biped species occupies a spectrum of being that only vast amounts of social pressure can squeeze and cram into the usual categories of race, gender and desire. I conclude that the effort exhausts both wielder and object because its official suspension Sunday was extremely energizing.
The endless stream of individuals who seized the streets of Manhattan produced in this observer an intoxicating sensory overload and undermined any attempts to define ‘male’ and ‘female’ with precision, much less ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ (and forget ‘black’ and ‘white’ or even ‘brown’). Genital equipment aside, there were as many expressions of butchiness and femminess as a city of 8 million + suburbanites + tourists can display. Full of beans and attitude, the hordes of mostly youthful celebrants demonstrated with their insouciant day-long promenade that we have learned and long maintained a far too narrow view of what makes us who we are.
For this reason I believe that the establishment of full marriage equality for same-sex couples in New York State, passed into law last Friday, signals a game-changing moment, a moment in which the genie has escaped the lamp, probably for good. While opponents’ worries that granting rights to gay partners will somehow damage traditional marriage is pretty silly, in another sense I believe they are onto something: regular old hetero marriage will never be the same. Die-hard segregationists also feared that the provision of full civil rights for ‘Negroes’ would change the meaning of being white, and they were right. It did.
I was sent photos of the recent gay-lesbian-whatever rights march in Santiago [right], where I personally witnessed the early shoots of a similar movement for emancipation in the late 1980s and ‘90s. These are scenes repeated all over the world (despite considerable ongoing repression), and they communicate to my eye a powerful human desire to burst the constricting bounds of a false conformity. Neo-nazis in Russia and evangelical Christians in Uganda may campaign against the impulse for this freedom, but they would do as well to ask rivers to change course or plants to stop seeking the sunlight.
[left: San Salvador/Denver Post]
Nonetheless, these reactionary creeps can do a lot of damage, and the African variety isn’t getting anywhere near the negative attention that they deserve. The incipient visibility of gay and lesbian people and organizations in Senegal, Ghana, Uganda, Cameroun, Zimbabwe and Malawi has been accompanied by a ferocious reaction. The tales are quite horrific.
A Ghanaian legislator told gays to leave the country or face ‘lynching’. A court in Malawi sentenced a male couple to 14 years in prison for holding a ‘marriage’ ceremony. Camerounian gays are abanoned upon arrest and cannot even get a lawyer as none dare to defend them. Tabloids print pictures of ‘known homos’ on their front pages, in one notorious case, leading to the murder of Ugandan activist David Kato [pictured].
The Arizona-based Family Watch International (FWI) run by professional harpie Sharon Slater is hard at work trying to get Africans to adopt their wacko version of Christianity and urging an anti-gay Kristallnacht to drive their point home. For example, one of the worst cases is Uganda where local hate-mongers allied with FWI decided to whip up a homosexual death penalty bill, only halted by a worldwide firestorm of revulsion. FWI is led by homo-rehab nutcakes like Slater who promise their dazzled African partners ‘scientific information’ on how gays can be made to mend their evil ways.
But lest we attribute this madness only to the sun-addled Arizonans, recall that Obama BFF and inaugural preacher, Rick Warren, has also had a hand in this repugnant activity, all of which was stimulated by the foreign aid cash that was shoveled into Africa along with unhealthy dollops of Christian proselytizing through Bush II’s AIDS program called PePFAR.
Ironically, the African pols most eagerly lapping up these holy horse-droppings whine incessantly about protecting ‘African culture’ from the human rights groups, completely oblivious to the fact that they are being spoon-fed a grossly colonialist ideology from their fairy godmothers of the Christian right.
Another irony of the anti-gay crusade in Africa is the role gay men played in bringing to light the African AIDS crisis in the first place and in lobbying for the billions in aid and medicines that have flowed to the continent since. It must be a bitter experience for long-time gay activists and AIDS industry officials in Geneva and in the aid-donating capitals of Europe to see the beneficiaries of their solidarity sink into crazed demonizing of tiny gay advocacy groups.
Some of the demagogy around homosexuality even blames the bedroom behavior of local gays for a country’s economic and social problems, a sort of homophobia as the new century’s version of classic European anti-Semitism. Michelle Goldberg writing in The American Prospect two years ago noted that ‘the rhetoric of homophobia recapitulates the tropes of classical Jew hatred. . . . a subversive internal enemy with dangerous international connections. . . . having an almost occult power [and who] represent modernism and cosmopolitanism’.
The African homophobic campaigns are great fun for the evangelicals because they can witness and cheer from the sidelines at shit they would never get away with at home—stale accusations about the recruitment of children, yellow press outing campaigns, etc. Though one can’t dismiss the damage these godly missionaries can inflict, after Sunday’s celebration I can’t help thinking that in the long run they’re fighting a losing battle. I don’t see Africans as different from New Yorkers in any meaningful way, and I trust that there are many thousands of people in Durban, Lilongwe and Dar-es-Salaam eager to be who they are, given half a chance.
While the Bible-thumpers, facing defeat at home, eagerly push a more vulnerable African continent toward their version of medieval bliss, biped humanity in all its disastrous glory pulls in the opposite direction.