The WEDLOCK Project
Part Two: PDA (Public Displays of Acceptance)

14 Years for Love

In Malawi, today Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20 were sentenced to 14 years in jail for openly celebrating their commitment to one another in a ceremony last December. The BBC and other news agencies are just now reporting the case as the two men are hauled off to jail.

A friend on Facebook commented “Now aren’t we supposed to find the judge, or the prosecutor exiting the airport with a rentboy. Isn’t that how these things work.” As flip as that comment may be there is a kernel of truth in it. That being – that if these men had kept everything quiet and led lives that kept their love hidden from everyone they would be free. They would have gotten married to women, had “normal” lives and secreted their love away from the world.

Instead they chose to publicly declare their love for one another. They went against everything their society told them was “right” and did what they felt was RIGHT in their guts. They knew the right thing to do – for them. And now they are doing time in prison for an act that in all actuality would probably not have had much of an impact on anyone in their city, village or family. In imprisoning them the government of Malawi has done two things – On the one hand they have given us a new pair of faces in the global argument for same-sex equal rights. (We all know how the West, America especially likes to have a foreign, preferably third world face to personalize an issue in our own home territory). On the other, Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa has delivered a stern message to homosexual population of that country and other countries in Africa with similar legislation on the books. Besides the inhumane treatment of HUMAN beings, these backwards laws regarding morality, sexuality, and civil rights have been what UNICEF and other charitable groups around the globe have pegged as one of the reasons for the explosion of HIV/AIDS on the continent.

Keeping this case in mind and the lives of other GLBTQ peoples around the globe in African countries and elsewhere with strict anti-gay laws, let’s bring it back to our own country. The goold ol’ USA, where, you remember, we are FREE. That’s right. You remember that right. George W. Bush and everyone on God’s green American earth has been telling us that vehemently for years now. Free.. and not only that but we must protect that freedom at all costs! Well here is another case where the USA and other countries can hold up a newspaper article, a picture, a court-ruling, and say, “Look! Look at those poor bastards. If only they lived here. They can’t even get married and love one another in their own way there. They are not free.”

But this is where it gets a little muddled, a little hazy and confusing. The US State Department condemned the decision and the Malawi legislation that led to the ruling. But this is where we have to look back at ourselves and ask – how can we condemn a country for doing what we also do, maybe not in such a formal and harsh way, but in a way that is just as oppressive in it’s intent.

No-we may not throw queer people in prison for loving one another, but we surely do not make it easy for them to live here. I remind you that as of today…only six states in the country allow same sex marriages, another three recognize those marriages from other jurisdictions. Two states that had the laws on the books repealed them. And beyond that our country has a nebulous record in protecting it’s queer citizens against hate crimes, discrimination and equal opportunity.

It is important to pay attention to the case of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. In doing so let’s not lose sight of what continues to happen right here in our own country, where we are not yet free to be equal citizens.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 20th, 2010 at 12:59 pm and is filed under blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can trackback from your own site.