Monday, May 17, 2010

A Prayer for International Day Against Homophobia

Since today is International Day Against Homophobia, I thought I'd share the following prayer - one that I'm dedicating to Steven Monjeza and his partner Tiwonge Chimbalanga (pictured above), who are facing up to fourteen years in prison with hard labor after becoming the first gay couple in the African nation of Malawi to declare their commitment in a public ceremony.

Liberating Christ
come into our locked rooms
and speak your word of peace.
Set us free to rejoice in our bodies,
the reality of our loving
the integrity of our passion.

Forgiving Christ
speak your word of peace
that sees and forgives
our silent lies and unspoken denials
of all that you have made us
and all that we have chosen to be.

Healing Christ
speak your word of judgment
that gives us voices to name the sins of others,
holding them accountable
for the rejection sparked by fear
and the distancing disguised as tolerance.

Breath into us
your spirit of forgiveness
so that
loved and loving,
forgiven and forgiving
we may be free to speak peace in your name.

– Jan Berry
Taken from Courage to Love,
edited by Geoffrey Duncan


Notes David Smith of the British newspaper The Guardian of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza’s plight:

. . . Peter Tatchell, the veteran British gay rights campaigner, has maintained contact with the pair at the maximum security Chichiri prison in Blantyre as they prepare to stand trial next week.

Tatchell told the Guardian he received a defiant message from Chimbalanga that said: "I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless."

Tatchell, of the rights group Outrage!, also quoted Monjeza – who is described as thin and weak with jaundiced eyes – as saying: "We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will never stop loving Tiwonge."

Chimbalanga, 20, and Monjeza, 26, made history when they committed to marriage at a symbolic ceremony last December – the first same-sex couple to do so in the southern African state, where homosexual acts are illegal.

Two days later, the couple were arrested at their home. Facing taunts and jeers, Chimbalanga, wearing a woman’s blouse, and Monjeza appeared in court to answer three charges of unnatural practices between males and gross indecency. They were denied bail, supposedly for their own safety, and have been forced to endure dire conditions in jail.

The couple are due back in court on Tuesday, when magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa will deliver his verdict. Angry residents and relatives from Machinjiri township, on the outskirts of Blantyre, say they will not allow them to return home if they are set free.

. . . [Others] have now been emboldened to speak out. George Thindwa, head of the Association for Secular Humanism, said: "The gay movement is gaining ground. The country should simply accept gays."

A retired economist, Thindwa, who has not openly declared whether he is gay, added: "We are giving them moral support by bringing them food, money and clothes to prison." Thindwa’s group has joined the Centre for the Development of the People, which is financing the couple’s defence. The case could be seen as a test case for the struggle between gay rights movements and resistant conservative sentiment across the continent.

Gay sex is still illegal in 37 countries in Africa. A recent poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 98% of people in Cameroon, Kenya and Zambia disapprove of homosexuality. But encouraged by legal advances in South Africa, a new wave of activist movements are making a stand and pushing the boundaries in Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe and other countries in ways unthinkable a generation ago. Gay and lesbian lifestyles are also much more visible.

This assertiveness is apparently being met by a ferocious backlash from religious fundamentalists and politicians determined to preserve the status quo. It has been described as a proxy war between US liberals and Christian evangelicals, both of which pour in funding and support to further their cause.

Uganda has become a central battlefield after legislation was proposed last year advocating punishments for gay sex that range from life imprisonment to the death penalty. The country has come under intense pressure from activists both inside Uganda and overseas.

To read Smith’s article in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
To Be Gay in Iraq
TheBlood-Soaked Thread
The Tragedy of Homophobia
Homophobia? It’s So Gay
Officially Homophobic, Intensely Homoerotic
The Vatican’s Actions at the UN: “Sickening, Depraved, and Shameless”
Oh, Give It a Rest, Papa!
A Humorous Look at Internalized Homophobia
Frank Rich on the “Zelig of Homophobia” and a “Heaven-Sent Rent Boy”
Coming Out in Africa and the Middle East
Homosexual Relations Decriminalized in India
Liberated to Be Together
Sergius and Bacchus: Martyrs, Saints, and Lovers


Anonymous said...

That picture carries the same emotional import to me as the crucifixion.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Yes, Anonymous, it's a powerful and disturbing image. I'm certainly holding these two men in my prayers.