01 December 2014

But It's Not A Same Sex Marriage....

"Gay lovebirds Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza on Saturday when they spiced their festive season with an engagement ceremony (chinkhoswe), the first recorded public activity for homosexuals in the country."

The country in question was Malawi, one of 38 African nations in which homosexuality is illegal.  In such an environment, the story about the "gay lovebirds" could amount to a death warrant.  People rushed out to see the ceremony--or, more precisely, to gawk and jeer at Chimbalanga, who lives as a woman and was, at the time, a cook and cleaner at the Mankhoma Lodge.

That was nearly five years ago.  The lodge was owned by a prominent local politician, Jean Kamphale, who offered it as a venue for the ceremony.  Although people gossiped about Chimbalanga, Kamphale defended her as diligent and hardworking.  Later, Kamphale offered her and Monjeza a small house behind the lodge to live in and a loan for their festivities.  The pastor of a local Pentecostal church where Chimbalanga was a chorister agreed to preside.  But, two days later, she and Monjeza were arrested for "carnal knowledge against the order of nature", a remnant of the old British penal code.  For their offense, they were sentenced to 14 years of hard labor.

During the trial, both Kamphale and the pastor testified that Chimbalanga had deceived them:  She explained away her male features by saying she'd been born a girl but had been bewitched as a child.  When you think about it, such an explanation is close to what many of us feel until we "come out".

Amnesty International--one of the few organizations I wholeheartedly endorse--took up Chimbalanga's case, calling her a "prisoner of conscience.  As a result Bingu wa Mutharika, who was then Malawi's president, pardoned her and Monjeza.  Then, Amnesty International brought Chimbalanga to South Africa, where she now lives.

While she is in the best African country for LGBT equality, life is still far from easy for her.  Her Amnesty International grant will soon run out and, in spite of lessons, she still doesn't speak English well enough to get work.   And, as we all know, enlightened laws do not guarantee enlightened people:  She still endures taunts and other kinds of abuse.   But the attention her case has received sheds a lot of light on the dire situation so many LGB's--and especially T's--face in much of the world.

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