Following a nine year-long battle to be legally recognised as a society; Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana LEGABIBO have finally breathed a sigh of relief. The High Court recently overturned the decision by the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, and the Registrar of Societies not to honour the group’s application to register as a society. In a case that tested the government’s ambiguous anti-homosexuality stance the High Court has ordered the government to register and recognise LEGABIBO.
In his verdict Judge Terrence Rrannowane said the refusal to register the group had violated the LEGABIBO’s rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly under the constitution.
Following the victory in court what is next for LEGABIBO? Lifestyle caught up with the organisation’s coordinator Caine Youngman to chat about their struggle for recognition and the rights of ‘homosexuals’ going forward.
He says they founded the group as a platform through which lesbians-gays-bisexuals and transgenders can voice their grievances and seek necessary support. He says they initially approached the Registrar of Societies in 2005 but were refused permission to register.
“Following the refusal we sought audience with the department to try and iron out our misunderstandings,” Youngman says. “There’s only so much you can say on paper.” But the meeting did not yield satisfactory results for the group.
In 2012 they applied again but yet again without success. “We were left with no choice but to take the matter to the courts,” he says.
He says they had also sought support from religious organisations but their attempts hit a snag. “The church is supposed to be a place of compassion, a refuge,” he says, “but instead they choose to go against the very Word of God they claim to subscribe to. They judge people.”
Youngman, openly gay, says he stopped going to church because at some point he got tired of trying to keep up with the emotional abuse as a result of his sexual orientation. He stopped short of calling the actions of the church hypocritical.
“There was an incident recently when a pastor had his congregation drink petrol but nobody cared. Mention the word ‘gay’ and they suddenly have an opinion.”
Although he says there are some homosexuals holding key positions in government and private sector he says they (LEGABIBO) could not engage them to publicly push their agenda for legislative amendments. “It is everyone’s prerogative to choose whether to come out or keep their sexual orientation a secret. I respect that.”
He says one of the challenges they face as activists is ignorance. Youngman says people do not understand their rights. “We tend to think rights are privileges,” he says. He also cautions the public against confusing homosexuality with sex.
“Not everyone who is gay engages in homosexual sex.” He says however that nothing justifies the constitution’s stance on homosexual sex. “This is my body. Nobody should dictate to me how I should use my own body provided whatever I engage in does not violate the rights of another individual. Anything that happens between two consenting adults in private should not be anyone else’s business,” Youngman says, adding, “Every individual has rights. Where your rights end mine begin.” He says after registration LEGABIBO aims to take their ‘message’ to the public.
Youngman refuses to be seen to be fighting for gay rights. “We don’t advocate for gay rights, we advocate for human rights,” he insists. He says nobody, gay or not, should be prejudiced on the basis of their sexual orientation. He says people should know that people of other sexual orientations besides heterosexuals are also humans and should be afforded the same privileges and rights enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts.
I’m also a taxpayer, “Youngman says. “Gay as I am, I also voted in the general elections and I deserve the same platform as other people to engage my leaders on issues of concern.”
He says the first step they will take as LEGABIBO is to establish structures that will coordinate activities by the organisation. “We will also engage our community to assess the challenges they face and engage the government where possible.
He says issues of health will also form part of their priorities. Although he hopes to have his own family Youngman would not reveal whether they will engage the government specifically on the issue of same sex marriage.
He insists he would not elope to South Africa and get married there. “What would be the point of getting married in South Africa when our own country won’t recognise the union? South Africa is the only country in Africa whose constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It also recognises same-sex marriages. Youngman says in the meantime his priority and that of LEGABIBO will be to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their membership.