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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Gay > Rubrieke | Columns > Christina Engela: Fundamentally Speaking

Passing on the Torch


Christina Engela - 2011-11-23

Untitled Document

It is very close to the end of another year, and the time has come again for me to reflect on the past, to take stock – and to chart a new course for my future in human rights activism. I started out as an activist for the human rights of the pink community, specifically with the SA Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (SA GLAAD) – an organisation I am still serving in – and have since also become more involved with other causes attached to human rights. Among these was a group called Eastern Cape Gay & Lesbian Association (ECGLA).
  
Having been with the ECGLA since 2009 until two weeks ago, I saw many changes in the organisation and in the committee, from the original seven members who met every week at the Italian Job pub, until today, where the group has an extensive network of associates and affiliate organisations and are even helping other community-based organisations take their first shaky steps.

I started my run with ECGLA in the position of Advocacy and Mainstreaming in March 2009, followed by election to vice president in June. In the first crisis faced by ECGLA, when ties between us and Leandie Buys were severed under less than amicable circumstances, I led ECGLA into an uncertain future as its newly elected president. In 2010 it was decided by the committee that the post of president should be altered to that of director, in keeping with the trend followed by other non-profit organisations we had contact with.

ECGLA grew from strength to strength, forming relationships with a host of other pink community organisations, and even general social bodies, which has all helped it grow to where it is now. Through the past three years we discovered what worked and what didn't. At times we were groping in the dark while working towards specific goals. With ECGLA I tasted both failure and success, with satisfactory events and also those not so satisfactory, facing problems such as apathy and under-attendance from our own community.

Some of the highlights of my term in office with ECGLA which stand out for me include ECGLA's association with the PCRD, PE Bears, Lifeline PE, and Eloquor Knights, when ECGLA received NPO status, opened a bank account – and of course, the first two sponsorships from MAGI. The outreach programme which has helped both the poor and LGBTI persons, numerous successful social events and presentations, the film festival and music trivia evening – and I will never forget our famous attempt to donate blood at The Bridge SANBS donation point! For me though, the NMB Pride of 2011 just about sums it all up! Success upon success – and for the benefit of the pink community.

From the very beginning one of the goals of ECGLA was the formation of a Pride committee and the hosting of an annual Pride event in Port Elizabeth – a dream which remained on paper until this year – when instead of 100 people attending, almost 5 000 people graced the very first Pride event in our Metro! I am immensely proud of the ECGLA, and of all the committee members for the part each played in making this possible.

Each of us on the committee sacrificed – time, effort, talent – and even personal resources such as finances, venues, goods and other contributions to our common cause of equality and human rights for all. At times we and our predecessors opened our homes and even businesses to the presence of ECGLA, and to me all of this is a testimonial to their commitment to the community of which we are a part.

Since 2009 ECGLA has worked for the benefit of the pink community in the fields of counselling, outreach, community work, advocacy, health and well-being – and I am very proud to have been associated with the group through all of this, as its director.

This is the end of yet another year, time to reflect on the past – to evaluate my part in it, and also to consider the future. I was the last remaining of the original members of the ECGLA committee, and for some while felt that it was time for me to take my leave of the ECGLA and the NMB Pride Committee and to move on. I no longer felt that I could continue to give all my attention to the ECGLA, as I have numerous interests vested in different community organisations. It has to be said that although I have played the role of director these past three years, I am far more an activist than an administrator. In retrospect, though I never joined the ECGLA committee to become its leader, I have absolutely no regrets about the time and effort I invested in it. I just needed to cut back on my diverse activities in order to regain my focus as an activist for human rights.

I was saddened by this decision, and it may seem to some to have been rather sudden – but I have been mulling over this for several months already. Part of the reason I held back had to do with timing – I did not wish to leave ECGLA in the lurch in the middle of critical arrangements, or during critical periods where I could still provide a sense of stability and direction, and my departure could have precipitated failure and the potential collapse of the organisation. I think that this was the right time for me to step down as director of ECGLA, and to end my involvement in the group on a high note.

I feel that ECGLA is a strong organisation now, with support from the community, and its name has now been made and held high with Pride, and ECGLA now has the attention of other pink community associations and community bodies. There is a strong committee, and things are truly happening. It is time for me to pass on the torch.

Of course, I realise that I am just one who has contributed to the success of the ECGLA and our achievements over the past three years, and I can in no way accept credit by myself for these achievements. I feel it has all been a team effort, and I would like very much to publicly express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to each and every one of you for your cooperation, friendship and contribution towards the achievement of our group success. I wish my successor, David Hessey – in the new position of chairperson – and ECGLA all the very best for the future.

What does the future hold for me? Those of you who know me, know that the cause of equality, freedom and democracy lies very close to my heart – and not just for the pink community, but for all. To this end, I am charting a new course for my activism career, through some lonely and isolated waters. But hey, life is an adventure, and I intend to enjoy the ride.