Archive for May, 2010
I’ve been unable to find any corroborating reports, so can only hope this proves to be a false alarm, but AfricaNews carries the following piece. (Note that the article misgenders Tiwonge throughout, as one now expects):
One of the pardoned gay partners in Malawi, Stoneck aka ‘Aunt Tiwo’ Tiwonge Chimbalanga is reportedly missing. His uncle, village headman Chimbalanga speaking from his village in Thyolo District confirmed the matters. He said Aunt Tiwo arrived in the village at 9pm at night after he and his colleague, Steven monjeza, received a presidential pardon.
A visit to his former working place also yielded no results.
President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned the two on ‘humanitarian grounds; and said homosexuality is still against the laws of Malawi.
Malawi Prisons Service top boss, Macdonald Chaona said he personally instructed his department to deliver the two at their respective homes at 6pm on Saturday.
“It is normal procedure to drop released inmates at their respective homes from where they were arrested,” he said.
Meanwhile Monjeza is safely back trying to re-launch his tinsmith business in the commercial city of Blantyre.
The first open gay couple was released shortly after visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to Malawi. During his two-day visit, he spoke with Mutharika at length and also appealed to Parliamentarians at the newly launched state of the art parliament building to revisit ‘archaic laws’.
Further update to follow…
Update, Tuesday 1 June 2010: Although I’ve still not seen any other news reports elsewhere, AfricaNews published a second piece about an hour after the first one I quoted above which reads as follows (misgendering as before):
Stoneck aka Aunt Tiwonge Chimbalanga has gone missing. His uncle, village headman Chimbalanga, says his nephew came to the village at 9pm after his pardon at 6pm Saturday night.
“He briefly stayed here then left. We do not know where he has gone,” said the headman, expressing sadness at his headquarters in Thyolo District.
Whilst Chimbalanga whereabouts are not clear, his lover, Steven Monjeza, is safely at his home in the commrcial city of Blantyre. A media team that visited him said he refused to talk to the press unless he was paid MK100,000 or MK60,000 for his views.
“I might be here and Tiwonge elsewhere. Just know what was there is still the same. I still love Tiwonge,” a drunken Monjeza finally told the press before jumping into a vehicle and speeding off.
He intends to restructure his tinsmith business despite the infamous attention he still attracts back in his community.
Malawi Prisons Service (MPS) chief Macdonald Chaona said he personally instructed that the two be dropped at their homes.
“It is normal for us to drop off former inmates where they were first arrested,” he told the media.
Chimbalanga and Monjeza were released hours after UN Director General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in the country under a presidential pardon.
Government still insists homosexuality is against the laws of Malawi and that should the two be found engaging in same sex activities again, they will be rearrested.
ETA, 2 June 2010: This from Zambian Watchdog:
One of Malawi, gay partner pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika from a 14 year jail, Tiwonge Chimbalanga also well known as ‘Aunt Tiwo’ is reportedly missing.
Chimbalanga was released from prison on Saturday after President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned the gay couple on “humanitarian grounds”.
Malawi Prison chief, Macdonald Chaona told Nyasa Times that Aunt Tiwo was taken to his home village in Thyolo on Saturday night, some 36 kilometers from Blantyre, after being released.
But since his release, Aunt Tiwo has been at large.
His brother-in-law, Maxwell Manda, who works at the High Court, said he had not seen Aunt Tiwo and pointed out that he wanted to leave Malawi upon his release.
“I have not seen him. I don’t know where he is. But he wanted to leave the country after the being released,” said Manda
His uncle, village headman Chimbalanga said Aunt Tiwo arrived in the village at 9pm on Saturday but since then he has not been seen around.
Announcing their pardon, President Mutharika warned that homosexuality remains illegal in Malawi.
Minister of Gender, Women and Children has since warned that the gay couple could be rearrested if they continued with their same-sex relationship.
Steven Monjeza the partner for Chimbalanga told The Nation newspaper that he does not regret falling in love with Aunt Tiwo and also pointed that he has not been in-touch with him since the release from jail.
The couple’s lawyer Mauya Msuku also said he has had no contact with Aunt Tiwo and his partner.
Via email from the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IGVM), news of the publication of one of the few comprehensive large-scale research works undertaken anywhere on the situation of trans people in one country:
The research report Being transgender in Belgium gives an overview of the social and legal situation of transgender people in Belgium. The aim of this research was to map the discrimination and inequalities in practice, policy and legislation faced by transgender people. The research consisted of various phases, each with a specific methodological approach: a detailed literature review exploring terminology, prevalence, social position in various spheres of life and the legal position; an extensive online survey aimed at transgender people, followed by focus groups; a case study relating to the position of transgender people at the ground level. The research results are translated into policy recommendations in the concluding section of the report.
The brochure can be downloaded via the website of the Institute for the equality of women and men (go to Publicaties/Publications > Transgender/Transgenres), or can be ordered in print. It is also available in Dutch and French.
Curtsey to Geraldine at IGVM for the heads-up
A [...] couple who were jailed in Malawi have been pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Mr Mutharika, speaking as UN chief Ban Ki-moon visited Lilongwe, said he had ordered their immediate release.
Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were given 14-year jail terms after being convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts.
The case has sparked international condemnation [...]
More details to follow as and when available.
UPDATE, Sunday, May 30: The Associated Press report contains more information, but – in common with virtually every other news report (and statement by human rights and other activist groups) – persists in labelling Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza as a “gay couple”, “two men”, etc, and using male pronouns about them despite Tiwonge’s self-identification as a woman.
Malawi’s president: pardon and release gay couple
By RAPHAEL TENTHANI
BLANTYRE, Malawi — Malawi’s president on Saturday pardoned and ordered the release of a gay couple sentenced to 14 years in prison, but said that homosexuality remains illegal in this conservative southern African nation.
Activists were searching for a safe house for the couple, fearing they could be attacked upon release.
Malawi has faced international condemnation for the conviction and harsh sentencing of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza. President Bingu wa Mutharika announced the pardon, saying it was on “humanitarian grounds only,” during a press conference with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Lilongwe, the capital.
Earlier in the week, the top U.N. AIDS official and the head of an international donor organization met Mutharika in Malawi and expressed concern that criminalizing homosexuality would keep a vulnerable group from seeking HIV/AIDS counseling and treatment.
In Malawi, a judge convicted and sentenced Chimbalanga and Monjeza earlier this month on charges of unnatural acts and gross indecency, both colonial-era laws. They were arrested in December, a day after they celebrated their engagement.
Crowds of Malawians had heckled the two during court hearings, with some saying after they were sentenced to 14 years at hard labor — the harshest possible sentence — that they should be imprisoned longer.
Mutharika’s comments Saturday underlined the challenge activists face.
“These boys committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws,” Mutharika said. “However, as head of state, I hereby pardon them and therefore order their immediate release without any conditions.”
But he added, “We don’t condone marriages of this nature. It’s unheard of in Malawi and it’s illegal.”
Ban praised Mutharika’s decision but said, “It is unfortunate that laws criminalize people based on sexuality. Laws that criminalize sexuality should be repealed.”
It’s clear that the release of Steven and Tiwonge does not bring their ordeal to a happy ending; rather, in the words of the saying, it simply moves them “out of the frying pan and into the fire”:
Undule Mwakasungure, a gay rights activist in Malawi, told The AP Saturday he was concerned about the couple’s safety, and working with other activists to find a safe house for them and possible arrange for them to leave the country at least temporarily.
“There is homophobic sentiment. I think they might be harmed,” Mwakasungure said.
Edi Phiri, who fled Malawi for Britain five years ago after being beaten because he was gay, said the two might need to seek asylum outside of Malawi.
“They will be out of prison, but what will happen next?” Phiri said. “The community will see them as outcasts. I don’t think they will be safe in Malawi.”
A cousin of Chimbalanga, Maxwell Manda, told The AP earlier in the week that Chimbalanga wanted to leave Malawi upon his release.
Mwakasungure and Phiri said the pardon was welcome and could fuel campaigns to overturn Malawi’s anti-gay legislation and try to change attitudes.
“The public needs to appreciate that the world is changing,” Mwakasungure said. “It won’t be easy. But I think that as time goes, people will start to appreciate. We’re not talking about changing the law today or tomorrow. But we have to start the process.”
While the order was immediate, a prison spokesman told The AP they had not received notification to release the two men by Saturday afternoon.
Mwakasungure, the activist, said he hoped the release would be delayed until Monday or Tuesday, to give him time to prepare a safe house.
Certainly, the priority must be to ensure the safety of Tiwonge and Steven, and it is to be hoped that this can be achieved as a matter of urgency and without exposing them to any further risk of violence.
But of continuing concern must be the issue of the almost complete erasure of Tiwonge’s self-identified womanhood by, not only the Malawian authorities, from the president to the police and the courts; but also by (apparently) every human rights organisation, activist group and news outlet. Even in the formal Judgement report produced by the court, it is clear that Tiwonge exhibited what the current WPATH Standards of Care document calls cross-gendered behavior; that she lived and worked as a woman, yet this was dismissed out-of-hand. But on the basis of the court report alone, it is hard not to think that she is transgender, perhaps also intersex:
She [businesswoman Flony Frank] then told the court that she discovered that [Tiwonge] has male genitals though they did no look normal to her
And this quote, from the New York Times back in February is, I think, particularly telling. First, Tiwonge in her own words:
“I have male genitals, but inside I am a complete woman. Maybe I cannot give birth to a child, but I menstruate every month — or most months — and I can do any household chores a woman can do.”
Perhaps surprisingly, although Barry Bearak, the NYT reporter, seems to be hinting at a possible intersex variation, he wastes no time in implying that Tiwonge may be deluding herself:
“Menstruation through his penis” had begun by then, a condition that may have some extremely rare medical cause, some experts say, but could also be the imagined claim of a gay man in a repressed society desperate to think himself a woman.
But regardless of whether Tiwonge is trans, or intersex, or both, the complete erasure of her self-identification as a woman is a frightening reminder of the Kafka-esque outcome when the intersections of racism, classism, homophobia and transphobia are brought to bear against an individual. It is this ignorance, these dangerous attitudes, that must be treated if cases like this are to be avoided in future. Only when these vectors of oppression are understood is it likely that “anti-gay” legislation – globally, not just in Malawi – being used against trans women will come to an end. Pessimistically, I don’t see this happening any time soon, apart from attitudinal changes taking time to happen, there is the wider question of whether or not mainstream cis society even wants to accept trans people as human beings with the same civil liberties and human rights as cis people. But of one thing I’m certain sure: sentencing women to 14 years hard labour in a men’s prison is not the answer to the question of how cis people can safely integrate with the global trans community.
Eduardo Caraballo, an American citizen born in Puerto Rico, was detained for three days in Chicago for “looking Mexican. From Change.org:
Despite showing ID and even a birth certificate, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) apparently decided he “looked” Mexican and must be using fake papers. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) had to intervene on his behalf to get Caraballo released after three days in jail.
There’s a couple of points here. One is the way citizenship is easily negated (indeed, Rep. Guitterez points out that other Puerto Rican citizens have even been deported to Mexico). The second is the way that racism inflects what happens when you show your ID. Because Mr Caraballo “looked” Mexican, his ID papers are somehow not believable.
One of the defenses I heard with the Arizona “papers, please” law is the time-tested excuse “people who aren’t breaking the law have nothing to fear.” Well clearly, that was the disingenuous reasoning of the privileged. For people who are or look Mexican, if you come to the attention of the police,* then whatever “proof” you have of citizenship, permanent residency, tourism etc may not be believed.
As Change.org points out, this case and others show the deep flaws with racial profiling, and the disturbing confluence of police and immigration agents in the US.
*Mr Caraballo was arrested in connection with a car robbery, the case remains under investigation. The issue of his being held (a civil rights issue) is separate to the criminal case.
According to police reports, the body of [...] Angie González Oquendo [...] was found completely naked, gagged, hands [tied] and strangled with an electrical cord in the living room of her home [...] [Via Primera Hora and Google Translate]
[...] Angie was last seen alive [...] last Thursday [20 May] and it is suspected that [this was the] day she was murdered because “the state of decomposition of the body is compatible with that of a person carrying three to four days dead”, said Lt. Charles H. Cruz Burgos, director of Criminal Investigations Cuertpo (CIC) of Caguas. [Via El Nuevo Dia and Google Translate]
The director of the CIC of Caguas, Carlos Cruz, [said that] at the moment there are no suspects for the murder because the investigation is in preliminary stage.
The prosecutor promised to investigate the crime as a possible hate crime case of sexual orientation.
“At the slightest suspicion that a crime may have been committed by prejudice against sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim, the authorities have an obligation in law to investigate this angle of hatred”, said Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesman for [the human rights organisation] Tod@s. [Via Primera Hora and Google Translate]
“I urge the Latino community to be united as one voice and with our personal actions reject any type of homophobia, transphobia and discrimination,” said Guillermo Chacon, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS, in a statement released shortly after news of González’s death broke. “We are one family; we must pursue the well-being of all our members. We must address homophobia and transphobia by putting a stop to the jokes, slurs, discrimination and hatred faced by our LGBT brothers and sisters, not just in Puerto Rico but across the entire country. Hatred and violence is never the answer.” [Via EDGE Boston]
The document points out the following aspects it considers to be “improvements” in the proposed revisions:
WPATH’s criticisms include:
I read the conclusion of the WPATH Consensus Group for revision of the DSM diagnoses of Gender Identity Disorders as being quite critical; it seems to be saying that the proposals are more stylistic than substantive, and that “the proposed diagnostic criteria are now so broad that almost any transgender person could meet criteria for a mental disorder regardless of whether or not they experience clinically significant distress and desire or need intervention“. The WPATH report views this as a bad thing because it’s likely to pathologise more rather than fewer transgender people.
Via email from Dr. Sam Winter, Associate Dean (Research) at the University of Hong Kong, I learn that WPATH (the World Professional Association for Transgender Health) has agreed on the wording of a statement calling for the de-psychopathologisation of gender variance worldwide. I gather that the agreed statement will be appearing on the WPATH website in the next day or two and will be disseminated more widely over the next few weeks.
Here is the statement in its final form:
The WPATH Board of Directors strongly urges the de-psychopathologisation of gender variance worldwide. The expression of gender characteristics, including identities, that are not stereotypically associated with one’s assigned sex at birth is a common and culturally-diverse human phenomenon which should not be judged as inherently pathological or negative. The psychopathologlization of gender characteristics and identities reinforces or can prompt stigma, making prejudice and discrimination more likely, rendering transgender and transsexual people more vulnerable to social and legal marginalization and exclusion, and increasing risks to mental and physical well-being. WPATH urges governmental and medical professional organizations to review their policies and practices to eliminate stigma toward gender-variant people.
Dr Winter draws three significant conclusions from the statement:
- First, it correctly situates psychopathologisation at one end of a chain leading through stigma, prejudice and discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion, and finally (for far too many transpeople) to ill-health and death.
- Second, it cites psychopathologisation as a force which can create stigma, not simply reinforce stigma that is already present.
- Third, it decries the psychopathologisation of gender variance overall(not simply gender identity variance) and therefore should (in my view) be interpreted as a call for the de-psychopathologisation of cross-dressing.
There is another reason why this statement is important. The WPATH Standards of Care appear to rest on an assumption that transgender people (being ‘mentally disordered’!) cannot be trusted to make their own informed decisions about their own health care. It seems to me that the way is now open for WPATH, which is committed to revising its Standards of Care in the next few years, to start thinking about a more patient-centred informed consent model.
Today, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, whom the media calls “Malawi’s first openly gay couple” even though Tiwonge identifies as a woman and her partner as her husband, were given a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison with hard labour after being convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts. The judge said he wanted to protect the public from “people like you”. They have been detained in prison and repeatedly denied bail since they were arrested on 28 December 2009 after holding an engagement ceremony.
Their treatment has been internationally condemned – although the British government, Malawi’s largest donor, hasn’t withdrawn aid despite expressing its “dismay” – and the case has sparked debate over homosexuality and trans issues in Malawi, a conservative country where religious leaders equate same-sex liaisons with Satanism and President Bingu wa Mutharika has dismissed homosexuality as alien.
Gender DynamiX, a South African trans group, has produced the following video of the South African protest against the conviction of the couple which also addresses the problem of identifying them as a “gay” couple, despite Tiwonge’s expressed female gender identity:
(The direct link to the video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9d2kXHYnJk; as far as I’m aware, there is no transcription)
In the Northern Territory of Australia, five white men admitted beating an Aboriginal man to death, and the judge declares that this ‘crime is toward the lower end of the scale of seriousness for crimes of manslaughter’ and gives them lenient sentences.
What happened, according to the men’s own telling?
Four of the five men were drinking (the driver was sober), and decided to harass Aboriginal camps. First they drove along a creek bed, screaming abuse and scaring the sleeping people and causing them to flee. One elderly man was missed by a mere metre. Then, they tried a second camp. Then they went back home to get more alcohol and a gun. Then they returned to the first camp, waving the gun. Finally, an Aboriginal man threw a bottle at them and they beat him to death.
And these are, according to the judge, men of good character. And according to the Sydney Morning Herald, what took place was “hooning” and harassment. Hooning, the jolly recreation where men drive their cars too fast. Does that describe it, exactly, SMH?
So basically, these men were out there to cause people to fear for their lives, looking for any excuse for violence, and when they found someone who finally gave them one, they beat the man to death.
This, my friends, is institutional racism, where five white men terrorise several groups of Aboriginal people repeatedly with a car, flourishing a gun, and eventually kill someone.. and the judge still thinks that that the opinions of their friends and employers (most likely given the area also white) are more important than their actions, that they are still good men.
What should the rest of us be doing while DC is press conferencing and San Francisco is rallying?//
First of all, email Nancy Pelosi. Then click here to send letters to your Congressmembers with one click. If you’ve previously sent a letter, send another bunch. The language on the letter changes every day, and you should send one everyday.
Then call them at 202-224-3121 and demand ENDA, H.R. 3017, coming to a vote now.
It’s crunch time!
Many actions are taking place around the country on Saturday. Check Equality Across America‘[s website for a list of local actions. Also look at the sidebar, which has a number of actions not on the main list. Facebook’s Harvey Milk Day Actions Page also has some actions listed that aren’t yet on EAA’s page.
Here’s NYC’s Harvey Milk Day March on Saturday the 22nd.
Get out into your community and speak up!
More at the link.