Gay News Story of the Year

1. The Civil Union Bill

Possibly the most controversial piece of legislation in the post-apartheid era since the legalisation of abortion. The Civil Union Act, signed into law in December, made South Africa the first country in Africa and the fifth in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. It brought homophobes of all kinds out from the closet and was met with considerable public opposition. We may have won this battle, but, as it became clear, not necessarily the war of acceptance. Same-sex marriage has become the most contentious gay rights issue around the world.

2. Gay Blood Wars

In early 2006, via a media release, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GLA) threatened to send its HIV positive members to donate blood en-mass in protest against the ban on gay men from donating blood. Doing little to no research, and thereby missing the fact the GLA doesn’t actually have any members nor represents the gay community, the Saturday Star published a sensationalistic front page article on ‘gay blood wars’. Other journalists jumped on the bandwagon and hysteria reigned supreme. One of the most irresponsible examples of shoddy journalism we’ve seen in some time.

3. Gay celebs coming out

In the US and the UK it was a year of celebrities coming out the closet. Some exited gracefully of their own choice, while others were unceremoniously shoved out. In an increasingly media-saturated world, and considering the rise of gossip blogs that play by vastly different rules from the traditional media, it’s becoming ever more difficult to live a life in secret. 2006 saw Lance Bass (of the boyband N’Sync), Neil Patrick Harris (who came to fame as TV’s Doogie Howser), Darren Hayes (Australian Savage Garden singer) and TR Knight (Dr George O’Malley on Grey’s Anatomy) take the stage as openly gay men. We wonder if and when the same phenomenon will take place among our very own closeted celebrities.

4. Christianity’s anti-gay crusade

The embittered homophobe at the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, continued his determined battle against gays and lesbians in 2006. He crusaded around the world against the ordination of gay priests, and consistently condemned same-sex marriage as a threat to the traditional family (we’ve yet to figure that one out). We can only hope that Benedict’s irrational homophobia and archaic world-view is rejected by the over 1 billion Catholics on the planet. The Anglican Church’s crisis over the issues of lesbians and gays deepened considerably in 2006. While forward-thinking – mostly U.S. – Anglicans sought to bless gay unions and ordain gay priests, more conservative – mostly African – diocese rejected gays and lesbians in the church. The result is ongoing tension between the two camps and the slow but steady tearing apart of the Anglican Church.

5. Isidingo wedding

It was our first gay TV wedding, and it made the front cover of the Sunday Times magazine. After weeks of agonising build-up, viewers of the popular soap Isidingo finally witnessed the fictional legal union of Steve (Emmanuel Castis) and Luke (Gary D’Alessandro) – cleverly timed to coincide with the passing of the Civil Union Act in the real world. Two gorgeous boys getting hitched on prime-time national TV; how times have changed.

Hero of 2006

1. Africa’s gays and lesbians

For millions of gay and lesbian Africans, living on the world’s most impoverished – and arguably most homophobic – continent, daily life can be a daunting challenge. Not only do they face rejection from their communities and family, but many risk their very lives by simply being who they are. Homosexuality remains illegal – often with severe penalties – in over 20 African countries. This year, headlines included Nigeria’s shocking bid to strengthen anti-gay laws, Uganda’s outing of allegedly gay politicians, Cameroon’s imprisonment of a group of men on charges of homosexuality, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s continued verbal homophobia, and the hate-crime murder of 19 year old Zoliswa Nkonyana in Cape Town. Lesbian and gay Africans are indeed true everyday heroes – and collectively take the number one spot in our list for 2006.

2. Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge

Taking charge while her boss, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, was in hospital, Madlala-Routledge has brought about a remarkable shift in the government’s stance on the HIV/ Aids epidemic. Admitting publicly that she was previously gagged from speaking her mind, and that the government had significantly blundered in the past, she has sought to focus on accepted and credible means of battling the virus, and re-building partnerships with activists in the field. It is not yet clear if she is entirely supported by government or will even be allowed to continue with her common-sense crusade in 2007.

3. Marié Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys

It was through the legal action taken by Marie Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys in challenging the constitutionality of the definition of marriage under South African law in 2005 that ultimately led to the passing of the Civil Union Bill in 2006. We should mark and celebrate this couple’s courage, which has resulted in same-sex marriage becoming a reality in Africa.

4. Vernon Gibbs and Tony Halls

The first same-sex couple to be married in South Africa. The happy event took place in George, in the Western Cape, the day after the controversial Civil Union Act came into effect. The two game rangers exchanged vows and wedding rings wearing their game-ranger outfits at the town’s Home Affairs office. The wedding was attended by friends, the media and the curious.

5. The Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court has consistently protected our rights – at times in the face of severe political and public opposition – under the world’s most progressive constitution. Its ruling in 2005 forced the government to legalise same sex marriage by the end of 2006. In November the court also ruled that same-sex life partners must have the same inheritance rights as heterosexual couples, when one of the partners dies without a will. The Court is a national treasure – something to be truly proud of.

Villain of the Year

1. Jacob Zuma

He not only revealed himself to be morally corrupt – sleeping with a woman outside his marriages – and undisciplined – doing it without a condom knowing that she was HIV positive and then showering to avoid the virus – but he also came out as a homophobe. Jacob Zuma later apologised for his bigoted anti-gay remarks but few believe his regret to be sincere. Accusations of raping of a lesbian woman (rejected by the courts) and corruption (which have yet to be tested) have seen Zuma hog the headlines in 2006. If he had any dignity he’d consider the divisive damage he’s done to the country and quietly hide somewhere very far away. Now that would be real leadership.

2. Juan Duval Uys

The mysterious and elusive Uys (he refuses to be met or photographed) is the head of the GLA – generally accepted to be a one-man operation – which claims to represent gays and lesbians. It has, over the years, damaged perceptions of the gay community in South Africa thanks to a constant stream of outrageous media releases. He kicked off the year by threate

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