An Inconvenient Home Truth


It’s odd how for years, articles by Melanie Nathan have been highly prized and circulated and promoted by local human rights advocates, and how for years we have welcomed her campaigning to assist our cause, and her application of public pressure from outside the country – and now we can turn around and say something like this:

“A condescending American [Melanie] Nathan based in America, who has no jurisdiction whatsoever in dictating to South Africans what to do (as what so many Western countries are prone to do), even if she was born in South Africa, she left this country three decades ago and has no business interfering. We’re not listening – go write about the problems LGBTI face in the US. There’s lots.” – GaySpeak Ezine

An email from Mr Gay SA did the rounds in the early hours of this morning, laying out in point form “the official stance” of a Pink Community leader figure in South Africa. Point five said: “We support what Melanie Lowe and Cobus Fourie from SA GLAAD wrote about standing together, but this has become an all-out attack against Mr GSA driven by people who are serving their own interests and shamelessly using this issue of the traditional leaders to promote themselves, their blogs and their brands.”

The email closed with “Please remove us from this mailing list – we will not respond if you do.”

The quote at the top of this article was then posted on numerous Coalition and LGBT Facebook groups.

“A condescending American”? This is a little petty, don’t you think? Resorting to pointing out where a person lives as a means to try and invalidate their argument? Posting a divisive email and refusing to take replies on it? This isn’t what the community expects from our leaders.

Free public debate and argument is part of the discourse which is essential to a free democratic society – something we as South Africans have not quite got used to yet, always being keen to run to the courts with cases of libel or slander at the drop of a hat. Disagreeing with someone does not mean that they have to be enemies or opponents.

I wonder if you even realize how alienating that statement is – even internationally – how much support in terms of attention and focus does the human rights issue gain each year from “condescending Americans” who don’t happen to live here either? Surely you can see what a broad insult that is, especially from those abroad who are sacrificing their time, skills and efforts to help, and without whom, quite frankly, we would be far worse off?

This whole thing has spiraled out of control and I think its time people stopped fighting over what team they vote for in elections and realize the reason they are activists, and the reasons that we support our community leaders – to benefit our mutual human and civil rights. That is what makes us allies. You shouldn’t be drawing battle lines between allies, least of all on such trivial matters.

Nobody is devaluing Mr Gay South Africa, or attacking Lance – as far as I’m concerned this has moved from a matter of protecting our rights to shielding a political party from the wrath of the community for another representative (gay or not) making a blunder by issuing quite frankly, a stupid and unnecessary statement to the press, to a pissing contest about who alerted who to what, and who said what and who said it first. It’s childish, counter productive and pointless.

Melanie has been speaking out against the issues we’ve been facing in this country for several years, and often louder than those of us who still live in this country. She deserves a measure of respect for what she has been doing on behalf of our community, not this slap in the face.

Our community deserves leaders who should know what debates and arguments are better conducted out of the public eye, instead of dumping their baskets of dirty laundry all over the internet. Our community deserves leaders who do not put political expedience or convenience before their commitments to those they supposedly represent. Our community deserves leaders who do not make about-turns on issues such as freedom of speech and accountability to the community they serve when it becomes too embarrassing for them, or too uncomfortable. Our community deserves leaders who can and want to work together, not fling their handbags at each other, hissing like drama queens.


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