Monday, 22 March 2010

Malawi, Release Steven and Tiwonge. Love is no crime!



Today I attended the protest rally organised by OutRage! held in front of the Commonwealth Secretariat on Pall Mall in central London in support of the jailed Malawian same-sex couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. Turning the corner into Pall Mall from Lower Regent Street and Waterloo Place, I bumped into the duo of Davis MacIyalla and Rev Jide Macaulay. After exchanging greetings and shaking hands all round it was in this esteemed company that I strolled down Pall Mall towards the Commonwealth building, Rev Jide chatting away on his head-set about something that seemed really important. It was a bright and sunny spring afternoon and we had walked only a few steps when another gentlemen in our group, who Davis had introduced as a friend, alerted us that there was someone across the street waving at us. We all turned in that direction and there he was on a bicycle, Peter Tatchell, the embodiment of gay activism. We acknowledged him and then crossed over to join him and together we all made our way to Marlborough House.

Shortly afterwards on the pavement in front of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, this core group was joined by several others, of all races, and Mr Tatchell handed out placards to those of us who wanted one. My placard read RELEASE TIWONGE & STEVEN. LOVE IS NO CRIME. OUTRAGE! Hence the title of this post. Another placard I liked read COMMONWEALTH COLLUDES WITH HOMOPHOBIA. Then the protest began in earnest with speeches made by Davis, Rev Jide, Mr Tatchell, one openly gay Green Party parliamentary candidate, two Malawian men, one who said he is gay, but it was the second Malawian man who announced the outcome of the case in Blantyre, Malawi against the gay couple. The Malawian court he said, had ruled that there was a case to answer, with a new hearing to be held on 3 April. Several other people came forward to give speeches.

The point that resonated most strongly with me was that made by one Godwyns, an African gay activist. He pointed out that whole governments of countries rally in support of animal rights. My thoughts immediately went towards the fact that blue-fin tuna and whales are important subjects of discussion at major international conferences, discussions in which the world's most important nations are involved. But gay Africans who are human beings are not considered sufficiently important for an international organisation such as the Commonwealth to openly take a stand against their persecution in their home countries.

These speeches were made on a megaphone as we stood on the pavement holding up our placards. I felt a bit incongruous, since I was the only one smartly dressed in a sharp dark business suit and tie, (I had left work to attend the protest rally). By this time we had started chanting loudly, "Malawi Malawi, No Homophobia! Uganda Uganda, No Homophobia! Nigeria Nigeria, No Homophobia! Africa Africa, No Homophobia!"

But soon, as is typical of London, the weather turned and it became quite windy and chilly. Most of the others had come prepared, wearing anoraks, duffel coats and the like. I alone was in this business suit that was clearly not up to the job of keeping me warm. The weather had fooled me, because it had been quite bright and warm when I'd left the office. What had been bright and sunny just an hour previously had become chilly and windswept. I had no choice but to leave the rally while the protest was still in full swing, returning to the office to round up the day. I wish I had been able to stay right until the end. But I'll be staying with this story and following it closely.

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