Queer media has been awash with the news that Lynne Brown’s appointment as Cabinet Minister for Public Enterprise, is progress for the movement to accord non-heteronormative Africans equal rights and freedoms. All this because Lynne Brown is an out lesbian. Current rhetoric presents Brown’s appointment as a beacon of light from Zuma who has in the past been let quite a few homophobic statements slip. He is demonstrating, quite unintentionally I think, (to the rest of homophobic Africa), the kind of tolerance and inclusion that many other African governments seriously lack. This is my first issue-the presentation of Africa as this singular most homophobic continent on the cosmos needs to stop. True, we still have a ways to go as far as creating progressive legislation and real and lived rights and freedoms for people that don’t conform to the gender and sexuality binary lie. But there is great intolerance for difference everywhere-and such news reports that present Lynn Brown as the ‘first ever out lesbian Minister in South Africa and Africa as a whole’, set us back in many ways, and undo many progressive movements and voices that maintain that Africa, and her problems are not unique to the world and the gross injustices that exist everywhere.
Secondly, and I can argue, predictably, the media reports have consistently focused on Brown’s sexual orientation and less on her skill and ability to run her appointed ministry. Which is still the struggle, a century and more later, of the women’s rights movement, to recognise women’s contributions to society, without singling out sex or gender, and exemplifying women’s achievements purely because women are either not expected to hold positions of power or influence previously seen as the stronghold of men, or because it is seen as stereotype smashing action or achievement. In my mind this is no different than news reports that insist on highlighting that a ‘female neurosurgeon’ carried out successful surgery on a 12 week old baby. I’d like to think that in this day and age, it should be completely irrelevant to us, all of us, women men and others, that the surgery was carried out by a woman. That there are women who can be neurosurgeons. That lesbian women can ‘become’ Cabinet Ministers.
Patriarchy has taught us for eons, that the bodies we are born into either accord us or deprive us of certain opportunities in life. These boxes are social and cultural constructs that can be dismantled and de-constructed. But the continued highlighting if Brown’s sexual orientation does just that. It, in many ways, pushes the idea that as a woman-loving-woman there are certain opportunities, as far as careers go, that you have to rethink. Truth is that there have been thousands, if not millions of women-loving-women, some out, many not, that have gone forth to achieve amazing things. And perhaps, at that point in time, their biggest obstacle was that they were women. Period. Just being a woman was an obstacle enough, with that already in the way, being a lesbian woman became irrelevant to the many structures of discrimination and misogyny. Another question worth asking is why highlight this now? Brown has been in the eye of local South African politics for a while. She has held a ministerial portfolio in the past-as the minister for Economic Development and Tourism. Granted, current happenings on the continent are seeing targeted attacks of non-heteronormative African women and men-therefore this is an issue of urgency and importance. Although, I don’t know how Minister Brown’s appointment changes the reality of black lesbian women in Uganda-no, closer to home, in townships in South Africa who continue to be attacked with impunity by malicious intolerant misogynists in our communities. If Minister Brown’s appointment immediately came with legislation that swiftly guaranteed justice for slain, maimed, raped and abused women, lesbians, trans-women, girls and children-then yes, her appointment would be celebrated as a win for the community of poor, queer South Africans to whom this is a daily reality.
Then there is of course, the question of what this purposeful outing of Brown really achieves in the larger agenda for non-heteronormative African women and men. Honestly, very little. Would the Government of Uganda invite Minister Brown to their country on an official capacity, with full knowledge that she is a lesbian woman? This I would like to see. As a woman, I ALWAYS celebrate achievements that women make in many spheres. And this is why I will celebrate Minister Brown’s appointment. I also celebrate her appointment because it subtends queer stereotypes around lesbian women and who we are, what we look like and what we can become. Minister Brown is a woman. She is an African. She is a lesbian. She is a Minister. There you have it.
I think it’s a bit careless for media to taut this appointment as a win for non-heteronormative and trans identifying people in Africa, without engaging in a bigger, deeper conversation around how media present women and women’s achievements as a whole. Maybe my frustration is more towards media and our culture of ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ without asking or engaging. Asking unasked questions and digging deeper for longer lasting meaning.
This is of course MY vent/opinion. I’d like to hear what we all think about the appointment of Lynn Brown, and it’s presentation as a win for the gender non-conforming movement in Africa and South Africa.
Thoughts anyone? Solidarity and light.
-Sheena Gimase Magenya