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Friday, October 22, 2010

Pink Closet Burned During South African LGBTQ Demonstration

By Allison Hope-

   South Africa hosts a bevy of contradictions and complexities around LGBTQ issues. It was the first country in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and stands as the only republic to extend the same rights and benefits, including adoption and military service, to LGBTQ people as to all other citizens in the country. South Africa was also one of the first countries to recognize same-sex marriage.
   That said, the country still has a deep, homophobic undercurrent that surfaces when specific events or circumstances come up that “threaten” the heterosexual order of things. The most recent example of this took place just last week, when students at the University of Cape Town held a public demonstration on campus at Jameson Plaza. The demonstration by the University of Cape Town’s LGBTI student organization, RainbowUCT, included a creative prop – a pink closet – that represented a visual accompaniment to their call for action to come out during “Pink Week,” “an annual campaign intended to promote gay rights and highlight homoprejudice across the country.”
   The closet and the group were doing smashingly until one extremely violent act of hate occurred; someone set the pink closet on fire.
   "Burning down the closet is a shocking hate crime and has cut off the discourse around the issues completely,” the head of Rainbow UCT, Dylan van Vuuren, said to the Mail & Guardian.
   The pink closet, what remained of it, was purposely left standing for all to see, “to serve as a memorial of sorts to those who have suffered injustices and lost their lives at the hands of homophobia and homoprejudice,” Vuuren said.
   Perhaps more disturbing than the act of hate that took place on the campus itself was the response to the story on the Mail & Guardian’s website. Keep in mind that the publication is an award-winning, internationally recognized and read news source, and the first Internet news publication in Africa. The site gets more than 500,000 readers monthly that tend to skew young (18-39) and well-educated.
Yet many of the comments that accompanied the article are frighteningly negative toward LGBTQ people, and filled with venom. “Your average person on the continent knows that it is better to have sex with sheep than your own kind,” one reader writes. “I think that most Africans are secretly gay actually, and that is why they think that it must be some sort of contagious disease and hate them so much. Africa is the ultimate destination for homophobics.”
   While there are pro-LGBTQ readers that come to the defense of the article and the protest, it is poignant to see that despite embedded protections for LGBTQ people, anti-gay voices are still loud.


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