Human Rights day on 21 March 2019 was magic. I covered a little about the history of Human Rights Day in S. Africa in my last blog post as well as why Muzi specifically wanted to honour the LGBTQ+ community at this particular event.
In this blog post, I want to share the day with you, mostly through pictures because words cannot capture the explosion of love and joy and honesty that we experienced and witnessed.
At 9:00 am on 21 March, my colleague at Soul Home, Rev. Gerd Pontow, came to pick me up so that we could travel to Birchwood together. We found the right street address but realised that Birchwood was so huge that we did not know which entrance to pick. Just then, as we were wondering where to go, Muzi drove up in the lane next to us and we were able to follow him. 🙂
I had a ticket in my bag for my friend Marcia. I had told her I would leave it at Reception for her to pick up. But where was Reception? As I wondered about that, I saw Marcia’s car driving past us in the opposite direction. So I stopped her, gave her her ticket there and then and told her to turn around and to follow us to the VIP parking area. Her prayer was answered because she was not sure where to go either and it would have taken a while for her to find us in the crowds.
Steph and Marcia – soul sisters
Once inside the VIP lounge, we connected with the other speakers and the Empowaworx team.
Rev. Gerd, Rev. Steph, Somizi Mhlongo and Muzi Pontow gathering in the morning before the event started. What a buzz in the air!!
Muzi and I gathered the speakers and MCs in a circle to pray. Muzi said he wanted transformation and healing to happen on such a huge scale that this event would still be having its ripple effect 500 years from today. He asked us to be spontaneous and funny so that people would be healed while they were laughing and not even know that the healing was happening. Then I spoke a prayer for the event and we were off!
Birchwood Conference Centre is so huge that golf carts are provided to move people around. Here we are setting off for the main event space from the VIP lounge
My beloved colleague, Rev. Gerd Pontow, did the opening meditation and prayer and created a beautiful sacred atmosphere in the room.
Muzi greeted his audience and then did something most unexpected: he grabbed Somizi as if he wanted to hug him but instead he picked Somizi up! As you can see, Somizi was totally in the flow and seemed to enjoy it. 🙂
Thami Ngubeni and Somizi Mhlongo, our two MCs, singing and vibing together on stage as if they had been working together all their lives.
The lovely Rev. Gina Pearson was our keynote speaker in the morning. This was an answer to prayer for me as I had seen that this slot on the programme was empty until shortly before the Summit started. I prayed that Gina would be asked to fill it and sure enough, she was the one! Rev. Gina spoke about the courage to live an authentic life and be true to oneself no matter what the world thinks. She set the tone perfectly for the next item on the programme: the LGBTQ+ panel that I would be facilitating.
So there I was, on the stage, but we could not start the panel discussion because my panel members were making their way over and the event staff were setting up a couple more chairs on the stage. I had not prepared a talk, even though I always have plenty to say about religion and sexuality so, naturally, to keep the audience entertained, I did what any irreverent reverend would do and I told a naughty religious joke. “There were three nuns…..” 🙂
Finally my panel joined me so I prayed us in and we got started with our conversation.
My panel members: Top L-R: Moi, Mpho Malepo, Somizi Mhlongo. Bottom L-R: Dr. Love, Rev. Gerd Pontow and Lekogwe Nono Thipe.
Let me give you a bit of background to this panel experience: I was terrified! I have facilitated plenty of small groups in my time but never an LGBTQ panel and never in front of an audience of approximately 1500 plus! The chances of bombing were high in my rabid imagination. Plus I am white. Would my black panel members, whom I had never met until we were up on the stage, even talk to me?
Well, Spirit had gone ahead to prepare the way. First to join me on the stage was Mpho Malepo, a human rights lawyer, who knew me intimately because she had read my book “The Sex Goddess: Debunking the Mythology of God & Sex”. And when I asked my first question about the panel members’ experience growing up and what they learned about masculine and feminine genders, there was an initial elongated silence of about 3 seconds and then Mpho spoke up and got the ball rolling.
For the most part I was very present with my panel but then I had a moment outside my body where I was observing my experience and thinking “Wow, this is juicy!” I knew I was in my groove and that the panel discussion was unfolding perfectly. The panel members were stellar, each one sharing so honestly about their sexuality and their experiences of shaming and rejection as well as acceptance and inclusion. I even jumped in and started sharing some of my own experience which was a little unorthodox as the panel facilitator. Then Muzi cried out from the audience “Steph, tell them the story of how you lost your virginity!” He had heard me tell the story at my book launch and, since it is in my book anyway and available for public consumption, I obliged.
After nearly 1.5 hours (instead of 1 hour), I wound up the panel discussion and opened it up to the audience to share and comment or ask questions to the panelists. In the spirit of inclusivity, I asked the audience to share from the perspective of identifying with the speakers rather than engaging in a debate. The sharing that occurred was magnificent – so real and profound. People had clearly been moved by the honesty of the panel and felt a sense of permission to be their authentic selves. Tears were shed. Hearts were opened. And after all that, it was time for lunch.
Beautiful heartfelt sharing after the panel
More about the Human Rights Summit on 21 March 2019 in the next blog post.
Appreciating the miracle of global communication via technology.
Author of “The Sex Goddess: Debunking the Mythology of God & Sex”
“The Miracles of Earth are the Laws of Heaven” – Johann Richter