Archive for May, 2010

Malawi: Tiwonge Chimbalanga is reportedly missing

May 31, 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.

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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.

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Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia

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Ten years gone

May 30, 2010

Baby needs new strings

Being transgender in Belgium: Mapping the social and legal situation of transgender people

May 30, 2010

IVGM logoVia 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.

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Direct link to a copy of the 205 page (1.8 MB) PDF file cached on this site)

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Curtsey to Geraldine at IGVM for the heads-up

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Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia

Malawi: Breaking news – Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga pardoned

May 29, 2010

According to BBC News (and others), Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been pardoned and granted immediate release:

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.

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Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia and The F-Word

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London: New private practice gender clinic

May 29, 2010

Via Spectrum London

We have been asked to share the following information after Dr Lorimer contacted us.

Dr Stuart Lorimer, familiar to many of us from his work at the Charing Cross GIC, is setting up a private practice in addition to his NHS work. He’s currently looking at doing Saturday lunchtime slots, starting from July. This will be based also in Hammersmith.

For more details, or to book an appointment, email to enquiries@gendercare.co.uk or phone 07899 929859.

There is a possibility of other services from other practitioners being available too although this is an early stage of working.

Dr Lorimer would also like to stress that this will not alter or reduce his commitment to his work at CX,

There will also be a website sometime soon.

As soon as we have more information we will let you know

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Curtsey to Denise for the heads-up

“Funny” office emails – and why they’re not funny

May 28, 2010

Picture the scene: It’s the Friday before a long holiday weekend and everyone in the office is skittish, ready for home, even though it’s only 2.30pm.

So one of the guys (and it’s always “one of the guys”, isn’t it?) sends round a “funny” email to make everybody laugh and wind down ready for 5.30pm and the end of the working day.

The email has the title “For those who are thinking of buying a bicycle” and the text says “When you purchase your bike, make sure the colour of the bike seat is taken into consideration!” And this image is attached:

Oh how everyone giggled. Everyone except Helen, the humourless trans harpy. She didn’t think it was very funny at all, because she recognised the cissexist thinking behind it.

It goes like this: Oh! That woman looks like she has a penis. That’s funny, because women don’t have penises. Not real women, anyway. So it’s funny because she’s obviously not a real woman. And because she’s not a real woman, then it’s fine to laugh at her, because she’s clearly less than a woman. A joke. Unimportant. A freak. Disposable.

It’s the kind of thinking that underpins the idea that any woman with a penis is not “really” who they say they are, that her identity is somehow a fraud, that her lived experience counts for nothing and therefore she can’t expect to be treated equally with everyone else. So it’s okay to harass her, abuse her, beat her, rape her, murder her. Because she’s worthless. Because she’s a woman with a penis.

Sometimes it’s hard not to hate cis people.

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ETA: And I don’t want to hear one word about how I’m being oversensitive, or how I just enjoy being offended, or that I’m taking things too personally, or any of that shit, okay?

Mechanical Me – Beachy Head (Bonobo Mix)

May 27, 2010

Lying very still
underneath the Sun
Waiting for the cool of
the night to come
I pick up a stone
Press it in my palms
Throw it out to sea
and count wishes…

UK: ID cards abolition update

May 27, 2010

By way of a follow-up to my earlier post about the Identity & Passport Service’s post-election announcement about cancelling Identity Cards and the National Identity Register, this post at BBC News online reports the following:

The Home Office is to reveal later how it will abolish the national identity card programme for UK citizens.

The bill, a Queen’s Speech pledge, includes scrapping the National Identity Register and the next generation of biometric passports.

None of the 15,000 people who have voluntarily taken out ID cards since the roll out in Manchester in late 2009, will be refunded the £30 fee.

[…]

The cards that are already in circulation will remain legal until Parliament has passed the legislation to abolish them and the register.

[…]

Despite the demise of the national identity card, a separate but technically similar scheme for some foreign nationals will continue. That scheme is run by the UK Border Agency and is still being rolled out.

Some 200,000 cards – known as biometric resident permits – have already been given to migrant workers, foreign students and family members from outside the European Economic Area.

But, as NO2ID points out on its website:

The database state is already too much assumed as an administrative goal for it to be killed by the loss of the ID scheme. Even during the election, despite the skepticism of parties now in government, ‘Connecting for Health’ was pushing forward with its plan to control all medical records in England.

Whitehall will not give up these empires without a fight. And the agendas that have been prepared for years may be expected to reappear under new names. The official obsession with identity and information-sharing remains, as does the idea that “personal information is the lifeblood of government”.

Holding the new government to its promise is the first thing. Rolling back the database state will involve more battles.

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Cross-posted at The F-Word

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Previous, related posts about ID cards and the national database:

Actions to show support for Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga

May 27, 2010

London protest

Date: Saturday, 29 May 2010
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm
Location: Malawi High Commission, 70 Winnington Road, London, N2 0TX

Michael Nastari organiser of the London protest said “I like so many others felt sickened by the news of this appalling sentence.” With reference to the sentence of Unnatural Acts he goes on to state “All people should have a human right to freedom of expression; if two people wish to express their love for each other then they should be free to do so.Steven and Tiwonge should be free to express themselves and their love for each other in a way which is natural to them.”

The global outrage has sparked simultaneous protests planned in Berlin, San Francisco, San Diego and New York with more expected to follow as worldwide condemnation of the news spreads.

Links:

Online petitions:

Further details to follow…

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Puerto Rico: another woman murdered in her own home

May 26, 2010

Via Primera Hora, El Nuevo Dia and EDGE Boston:

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]

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Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia

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