Terrance Dean

Terrance Dean | New York, NY – Ph.D., Graduate Department of Religion

Terrance will be working on Constitution Hill with Justice Edwin Cameron of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. His research project is on religious rhetoric, the judicial system and the intersections of HIV/AIDS and LGBT persons. Terrance argues that religion/religious rhetoric and the judiciary systems are equally engaged in the aiding and abetting of the political, economic, health mobility and performativity of LGBT persons in South Africa. Meaning, religious rhetoric and the judicial constitutional laws of Constitutional Court impacts the religious and constitutional rights and life of LGBT South Africans. In addition to working with Justice Cameron, Terrance will work closely with the various churches and outreach organizations including, Activate Wits, The Gay and Lesbian Archives, and The Tutu Foundation.

Blog Post One:

I am extremely thankful to have my research work supported by the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Nichols and the Nichols Foundation. My research trip has me currently in Johannesburg, South Africa, and it serves two purposes. First, I am working with Justice Edwin Cameron of the Constitutional Court of South Africa to review the constitutional laws, amendments and rulings on the judicial, political, economic and social lives of LGBT persons, particularly black gay South African men. I am also coordinating my work with the Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA), which archives the narratives, stories and experiences of LGBT South Africans, and I am working with several community activists who are committed to supporting and helping black LGBT South Africans.

I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa on Friday, June 17th. I began my research work on Monday, June 20th on Constitution Hill, and I was warmly greeted by Justice Cameron, who has been a sitting judge on Constitution Court for 20 years. He is well known for his HIV/AIDS and gay-rights activism and was hailed by Nelson Mandela as “one of South Africa‘s new heroes.”

Justice Cameron introduced me to his staff, clerks, and other members of the court, including the librarian, whom I am working closely with to review the journals, court appeals, laws, and amendments on LGBT rights in South Africa. What I find most interesting about working on Constitution Hill is the architecture of the building, the beautiful decor, and the amazing artwork through the halls and walls.

The research I have found on LGBT rights in South Africa supports LGBT persons, including protecting their economic, political, and social lives. The long battle to recognize LGBT persons in South Africa was due in part to the uprising and end of Apartheid, which oppressed and marginalized “others,” meaning black South Africans, coloreds, women, particularly black women, and all other minority groups that were not white and Afrikaan.

The second purpose of my research trip is that I am working with the Tutu Desk Foundation. I cannot tell you enough about the many children who are positively affected by the Tutu Desk Foundation. The amount of work they put in to ensure that many students will have a proper desk to write on while in school and in their homes means so much to the young children who receive a portable lap desk. I had the wonderful opportunity to actually visit the plant where they make the desks, which are 100% recyclable, and durable for the children to carry back and forth from home to school. I also was able to make a visit to Caroltonville, a township outside of Johannesburg. We visited a middle school where the Tutu Desk Foundation was providing portable lap desks to over 100 children. The Tutu Desk Foundation provides portable lap desks for students throughout South Africa. Many of the students, particularly in rural areas, informal settlements, and in the countryside do not have a desk in the classroom. They write their assignments from the floor. The portable lap desks allows them to use the desk while in school and at home to do their homework and classwork. The desks belong to each student. And, on each desk is the alphabet, a times table, a map of Africa, a ruler, and a clock. There is also a space for students to write their names and personalize their desks. Having a desk means so much and it affects how a child performs in school, and at home. The desks are $20, and anyone can sponsor and make a donation for one desk, or 5 for $100, or 10 for $200. You can read all about the foundation and make a contribution for a very worthy cause: http://tutudesk.org/

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Blog Post Two:

I am fortunate to have unlimited access to Justice Cameron, including his speeches, lectures, and amendments on LGBT rights in South Africa. He has written and spoken on, “Sexual Orientation and the Constitution: A Test case for Human Rights,” also, “Learning Lessons from the Struggle for Social Equality in South Africa for LGBTIQ’s.” I am discovering that South Africa, though liberal in law, is extremely conservative religiously when it comes to LGBT rights of South Africans, particularly blacks in South Africa. Religious dogma has prevented many LGBT persons from coming out to their parents, communities, and friends because they fear backlash, and being ostracized from their townships. I have met and spoken with a number of gay black men and women in South Africa who have shared that they have not told their families, or friends for fear that they will be disowned from the very people they love. The black church, which is patriarchal, preaches against homosexuality. There are a few black churches that are affirming of black LGBT persons, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu who has spoken out as an advocate for LGBT South Africans. However, most black LGBT persons in South Africa have shared with me that though they are making strides toward fighting for equality in jobs, social and political mobility, and economics, homophobia is still preached in the church. And, it is not only the black church they have to continue to fight for the advancement of their rights, they also have to deal with their families, particularly their familial names, and tribes of which they come from. Surnames and tribes are essential parts of African life and family. One’s name is a marker to who they are, where they come from, and the family to whom they share their name. One is not to bring shame or embarrassment to the family, or family name, and homosexuality is considered a shame, a sin, and an embarrassment. Also, in many tribes, their is an hierarchy of patriarchy which produces homophobia, and heterosexism. Tribes are equally aggressive in their rhetoric and teachings of male dominance, and patriarchy, particularly in creating new families, and being men.

Justice Cameron has been a huge advocate in the LGBT community, especially with organizations such as OUT and GALA (Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action). Justice Cameron has provided me with his database of resources to these organizations, and they have all shared their archives, files, and data on black LGBT persons in South Africa. I have been granted full access to these organizations and their resources. OUT provides outreach and psychosocial services to many black LGBT persons in South Africa. As a community resource center, they specialize in HIV/AIDS, and providing a safe space for meetings, and discussions, including services for housing, social and political mobility, and job assistance. I was able to meet with the health coordinator, Johan    , who is also an openly gay minister with the Dutch Reform Church. Johan shared that he came out and left the church on his own because there was the threat of him being ousted from the church because of his sexuality. He works with the     church. I inquired if they have any black LGBT persons who attended his church and he shared that they do not have any. He shared that because it is a Dutch Reform Church, and is Afrikaan, many blacks in South Africa do not wish to participate or engage with the very group which oppressed them during Apartheid.

Working with GALA, I have been able to pour through their archival history of the LGBT movement in South Africa. I have learned that the LGBT movement happened simultaneously as the end of apartheid. The LGBT movement, though primarily white, did have a few black gay men who were pivotal to the movement. Simon Nkloli, was an anti-apartheid, gay rights and AIDS activist in South Africa. He was born in Soweto in a seSotho-speaking family. He grew up on a farm in the Free State and his family later moved to Sebokeng. Nkoli became a youth activist against apartheid, with the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and with the United Democratic Front. In 1983, he joined the mainly white Gay Association of South Africa, then he formed the Saturday Group, the first black gay group in Africa. Simon was one of the first gay activists to meet with President Nelson Mandela in 1994. He helped in the campaign for the inclusion of protection from discrimination in the Bill of Rights in the 1994 South African constitution and for the repeal of the sodomy law, which happened in May 1998 in his last months. He died from AIDS in 1998.

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Blog Post Three:

On Friday morning I attended the 7am Eucharist service at St. George’s church in Cape Town, South Africa. Officiating the communion and liturgy was Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was a spiritual and life-affirming encounter to receive communion from the Archbishop. Afterward, I was able to get a photo with the Archbishop, and we shared some conversation and I was able to make him laugh. I was also invited to breakfast with the Archbishop at the Free Market. We had more wonderful conversation and laughter. I was also able to get his insights and thoughts on LGBTQIA rights in South Africa and the continent. I shared with him that I was here on a fellowship grant from Vanderbilt University. He was very excited to hear about my research and work. Also, he was thrilled that I was friends with his daughter, Nontombi Tutu, who recently graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School.

I asked Archbishop Tutu about the constitutional rights of LGBTQIA persons in South Africa, and how this affected the discourse from the black church in South Africa. He had a lot to say, and he did not hold back about the church’s lack of support and willingness to support LGBT rights of blacks in South Africa. The Archbishop has spoken out publicly as an ally and an advocate for LGBT rights in South Africa. He wants the church to do more and to be more proactive. However, it is going to take a lot of work. I must admit having a one-on-one conversation with the Archbishop was an invaluable experience. I thoroughly enjoyed having a personal conversation with him and hearing his thoughts on LGBT rights. It was an invaluable experience to have had the opportunity to speak personally with Archbishop Tutu, which I will use as part of my research. This is by far the most rewarding and exhilarating experience I have encountered, and it was made possible by the Nichols Foundation.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. ed nichols says:

    Terrance it is wonderful 2 hear about the work of the Tutu Foundation. The small desks the children can use each day is a worthwhile project. We know the information you will learn will be a Life changing and one that we want 2 more fully understand. Enjoy your time in Africa.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ed nichols says:

    Terrance, I am struck by the difference between your two projects. One is big and aspirational– equality for LGBT persons. The other seemingly mundane and material–desks for South African school children. I fear that the first is years away from becoming a reality. The second, however, thanks to the good work of the Tutu Desk Foundation is achievable immediately. Thank you for doing both projects. Never quit dreaming and working to make your dreams come true and maybe in your lifetime they will. But also never quit doing seemingly mundane and unexciting service that helps people in the hear and now. Both are important! Ed

    Liked by 2 people

  3. terrancedean says:

    Greetings Mr. Nichols! You are absolutely correct regarding the two projects. The Tutu Desk Foundation is an immediate return on a project of helping young children who come from poor and oppressed communities. Many do not have the resources and access, yet, the Tutu Desk Foundation is able to help alleviate this problem of not having a desk in the classroom or at home. The smile on their faces, and the excitement from the children is priceless when they receive their desks. The founder, Shane Immelman, created the program because he wanted to make an impact on poor children who otherwise would suffer from not being able to complete their assignments, and homework. Without a desk many have nothing to write on, and are unable to complete their work. Having a desk prevents them being unable to complete their work, and dropping out of school, and repeating the cycle of poverty. It is a phenomenal program, and to experience the response from the children is heartfelt and warming. I cannot tell you how engaged the children are in the classroom and beyond. It was a great pleasure working with the Tutu Desk Foundation. On the other hand, the work with Justice Cameron was invaluable. It was an amazing experience to have access to the Justice Cameron and his works, writings, and lectures. He is well-received and loved in South Africa. He provided me with invaluable access and resources to his networks. There is lots of work to do around LGBTI issues in South Africa. I met so many wonderful activists who have created their own resources and safe spaces within townships, and in the cities, such as Johannesburg and Cape Town. The response from the church is slow and arduous. Though the constitution protects LGBTI persons, however, the mindset of persons is what needs changing, especially in regards to acceptance and support. I have documented so many conversations with various lesbian and gay blacks in South Africa, and they all shared that the homophobia in the church and the rhetoric spewed is what prevents them from either coming out to their families, or leaving the church. It is heart-wrenching hearing their stories.

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