Saturday, May 17, witnessed the world-wide commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).
With this year’s theme being ‘freedom to express’, the question pops up: Are nations around the world ready to accept and grant the minority groups the freedom to speak and be heard?
Three minority groups are urging civil society, NGO’s, government and Botswana at large to join forces in advocating for equality, non-discrimination at health settings and access to prevention, treatment, care and support for all.
This is regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The three groupings pushing for this position are the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) and Rainbow Identity Association (RIA).
Most importantly, they urge all to stand up against any kinds of injustices.
At a press conference at BONELA head office on Thursday, LEGABIBO officials expressed dismay with the way they are segregated by the communities in which they live.
“To me this commemoration is always about the hope that as a society we are headed somewhere, but then again what if we really are going nowhere?” asked Ratanang Mosweu, who is gay.
Explaining how he has felt the challenges of coming out first hand, Mosweu nonetheless said he is happy to be a part of the movement and is optimistic that one day he will get to be fully accepted for who he truly is.
He spoke at length about how fortunate he is to be a son to such understanding parents and wondered why the rest of humanity could not be as empathetic.
LEGABIBO said Batswana as a nation do not condone homosexuality and use Christianity to justify harshness against the gay movement.
According to LEGABIBO’s understanding, Christianity is a religion whose fundamental principle is unconditional love. They expressed puzzlement given the lack of love they experience when they need help at places like health facilities and border gates.
They feel animosity against them as they simply walk down the streets and said the fact that transgender babies are mutilated at birth sends chills down their spines.
What really concerns them about this kind of decision making is that they see it as a trampling of human rights; after all the babies do not obviously consent.
They said that government facilities mutilate such babies and give them after care, but not beyond their fifth year.
Their main grievance here is that it is these children and their parents who are left to deal with the unpleasant aftermath of the mutilation. One such aftermath is that often the sexuality that was chosen for the baby at birth is not always what they become as they go into adolescence, leaving the parents of such babies to face the consequences of the crisis.
Africa as a whole was also seen as a continent that passes as homophobic which could mean a lot of Africans are trapped in relationships which they are not supposed to be in out of fear of being persecuted, in extreme cases.
The group said fundamentalism seems to be a disease in the continent which denies them the protection and love they feel entitled to.
Their worry is that perhaps globalisation may be hindered by such attitudes across Africa and also politicians might be held back from thinking and acting objectively in passing laws out of fear of losing votes.
Africans, they said, tend to use culture to fuel homophobia, which by acknowledgement is hatred.
“I feel for other gay men out there who get this hatred even from their parents, siblings or extended families. At least I only get the prejudice out there in the world and therefore have a place called home where I get to escape the darkness of homophobia,” said Mosweu.
This year, LEGABIBO is standing in solidarity with people like them, in other countries where the governments have made it clear that their lifestyle is unacceptable.
Their festivities will be about giving all affected the platform to speak out and be heard with the hope that their self-expression will bear fruit. They wish to see a day in Botswana and other countries with emphasis on Africa when human rights advancements including sexual orientation and gender identity issues will be tackled objectively and impartially.
Mosweu and many more like him will pray during and beyond the commemoration to see the end of the horrific homophobic and transgender attacks that happen in the world.