Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jailed and gay-ed

On May 18, a Malawi court convicted couple, Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20 of gross indecency and unnatural acts (see pic above). The court found that the two engaged in homosexual sex which is against the law in Malawi. The couple are now in jail and most media accounts refer to them as the Malawi gay couple and their trial the Malawian gay trial. It turns out, according to Gender DynamiX, a South African gender human rights advocacy group, that Tiwonge Chimbalanga identifies as female. This is a clear example of the hegemonic power of the "gay" discourse or the discourse on sexual orientation. It tends to displace and invisibilize the discourse on gender identity. Below is the media statement released by Gender DynamiX in relation to the case of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga.

Media Statement Gender DynamiX 20 May 2010

Malawian couple sentenced to 14 years hard labour – Transgender activists speak out.

Today activists the world over protested the conviction of two gay men in Malawi. Even though activists from many different political persuasions joined hands in a protest in Cape Town today, local transgender activists are highlighting the fact that Tiwonge Chimbalanga clearly expresses a female identity.

According to Ian Swartz from OSISA (Open Society Institute of Southern Africa) Tiwonge Chimbalanga sees herself as a woman. “Tiwonge so clearly identifies as a woman and she has expressed her identity as such more often than not. I think if she knew the word Transgender she would come home to a world of understanding of herself” he said recently after visiting the couple in prison.

A local activist who calls her “Aunty Tiwo” visited her too and to him she said: “I am just a woman who loves my man. I’d rather remain in prison than to be released into a world where I am kept away from Steven”

“Advocating for Transgender people’s rights in most African countries is problematic for us” says Robert Hamblin advocacy manager for SA Transgender organisation Gender DynamiX. “Gender variant identities are not acknowledged and just about any sexual minority is called gay or homosexual. This is because a person is assigned a gender based on their genitals, despite how they self identify.”

Gender DynamiX stood together with other activists today in a protest called by Social Justice Coalition (SJC). SJC was joined by LGBTI organisations protesting the conviction of these two people. The group of activists urged the SA government to negotiate the release of the couple and to offer them asylum in South Africa. The group also demanded that the SA government end the continued silence about human rights abuses against sexual minorities on the rest of the continent.

Gender DynamiX condemns the conviction of Steven Mongeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. We call on the South African government, as the only state in Africa to recognise equality for sexual minorities, to uphold the South African constitution by offering asylum to the couple.

“Even though the identities of Tiwonge and Steven are misunderstood by the world we stand together with gay and lesbian activists in their work to try and get justice for our trans sister and her partner.” Says Tebogo Nkoana outreach officer at Gender DynamiX.

Robert Hamblin:

+27 21 633 5287 ext

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