Equal Rights are not Human Rights: The Heteros Can Keep Their Beauty Pageants

A Facebook friend alerted me to an interview on Gareth Cliff’s 5FM show this morning with Mrs South Africa and how a South African beauty pageant does not allow lesbians to enter, calling on me for outrage. Am I outraged? No. Because the common misperception is that equal rights are human rights. Being able to enter a beauty pageant is not a human right.

It really irks me when those that enjoy the mainstream rights provided for in a country’s constitution hold that piece of paper up to minorities, in my case women and queers, claiming that the rights they have are the rights we want and should fight for. It irks me that people think that we as women or queers would want to have the rights enshrined in any constitution.

The flaw in this well-meaning constitution-waving act, akin to ‘looky-here! No hands, ma!’ thinking is three-fold.

Firstly, if, and that’s a big IF, the constitutional rights of South Africa are human rights, then this ‘you should fight to have the same rights as we do, fight for equal rights’ cry is misfounded. We don’t want equal rights. We don’t want the same rights as you have. And why? Because some of the rights you have are based on a society, a culture and, therefore, a constitution mired in capitalism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and that even more insidious trap, homonormativity.

We as women do not want the same rights as men, because a lot of those rights are not human rights. They are rights specifically tailored and crafted by a society that has for hundreds of years been by men for men. Why would I want those rights?

We as queers do not want the same rights as heterosexuals, heteronormatives and homonormatives, because these rights have also for hundreds of years been aligned to the needs of a heterosexual populace. Do we march in the streets in order to be able to enter beauty pageants? No. Because that might be an equal right, but it is not a human right. The right to not be gang-raped and sodomised with a toilet-brush because I’m queer seems far more important to me than my right to parade around in a bikini on a stage in front of millions of masturbating men. Equal rights are not human rights.

The second flaw in the constitution-thumping argument is based on the first: if the constitution is created by a patriarchal, heterosexual community of powerful capitalists, are these constitutional rights human rights? The answer is a resounding ‘NO’. Anything, however well-meaning it may be, that is created by a community of a majority in power for arbitrary reasons because they benefit from that power is not going to be a human right, but a right that allows the patriarchal, heterosexual society to stay in power.

The third flaw is a simple flaw in logic: even if constitutional rights are human rights, as the South African constitution which caters to diversity seems to be, the fact that the constitution seems to be nothing more than a piece of paper undermines the constitution-waving well-meaning. It is one thing to say that women and queers have human rights. It is another thing when women and queers are violated in the most inhumane ways possible each and every day.

So no, I don’t want equal rights. I want human rights. And I will continue to be human and express my difference in the face of equality until that happens.


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