UTLWA SELELO SA YO MONGWE (HEED SOMEONE ELSE’S CRY)
By: Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana - LEGABIBO
Across the globe, the 17th of May represents a day of recognition and freedom for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer- LGBTIQ community and is known as the International Day, Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia - IDAHOBIT. This year’s IDAHOBIT is commemorated under the theme “Breaking the silence”. #BreakTheSilence
Up until 1990, any sexuality that did not fall under heterosexuality was labelled as a mental disorder. After extensive research as well as engagements with the LGBTIQ community, the World Health Organisation World Health Organisation (WHO) declassified homosexuality from a list of mental disorders. That reduced but did not take away stigma related to sexual diversity. It left the honours of doing away with stigma and discrimination to the LGBTIQ community who took self-representation in strides.
Self-representation has always been important in every sphere of life hence our forefathers in Botswana have said “ga e nke e gangwa ke magogorwane namane ele teng”. The phrase is the epitome of self-representation. The LGBTIQ community started unifying itself in the late 1990s to develop a voice that will be heard across the country through a support structure known as LEGABIBO. It was not until 2004 that LEGABIBO aimed to move from informal to a more formal structure. This was the birth of outright “breaking of silence” in Botswana by the LGBTIQ community and their allies.
LEGABIBO and the LGBTIQ community however could have not done this alone without support of individuals and other partner organisations who shared their spaces with the LGBTIQ community to “break their silence” and to let Batswana know who the LGBTIQ are.
Our forefathers’ wisdom continued to guide us through language. As they have said before, “Setlhako se fisa morwadi” or “ngwana yo o sa leleng o swela tharing”. This statement utters that whatever you are going through, only you can feel the pain and if you do not let people know that you are in pain, then your pain will never stop. Hence why the LGBTIQ community through LEGABIBO and using some spaces is “breaking the silence” on sexual diversity and gender identity.
Many have used coming out as a form of “breaking the silence” by letting either their loved ones, peers, or those around them know who they are. Even though coming out and sharing our lived realities can “break the silence” on sexuality and diversity, coming out is a personal choice that cannot be forced but must be respected.
As we continue “breaking the silence”, there are myths about the LGBTIQ community that need to be addressed. One of these myths is that “there are no older LGBTIQ identifying individuals in Botswana”. Secrecy forms part of Botswana culture and that is the case where sex and sexuality are concerned.
For generations Batswana kept a lot of things a secret including things like domestic violence, child abuse, their sexualities, illness in the family, people living with disabilities to mention a few. By observing this cultural practice of secrecy, Batswana who were LGBTIQ were not excluded from learning and living. As self-preservation, many learned to hide or deny who they werewhile some went into heterosexual relationships to avoid any questions about their sexuality.
Some elderly LGBTIQ individuals have “broken the silence” by having same-sex families even though these are out of public eye but known to a few close individuals. The other myth is that the “LGBTIQ community are attention seekers who are only interested in drinking and not taking any responsibilities for their lives”. Some LGBTIQ identifying individuals have demonstrated that as a community they are responsible and such was shown by some LGBTIQ who occupy high executive positions, those who are entrepreneurs, those who are artists, public officers, professionals and valuable citizens who contribute to the nation.
Such individuals “broke the silence” by setting good examples for other LGBTIQ to make them appreciate that one’s sexuality does not limit one's capability, talent or dreams.
Stigma and discrimination continue to be divisive within the LGBTIQ community as well as between the LGBTIQ and the general community. Within the LGBTIQ community, for many years, bisexual identifying persons were seen as sell outs as they can be in both homosexual and heterosexual relationships consecutively while to the general public they were seen as indecisive and greedy. This caused bisexual individuals to hide in shame and in fear of being persecuted.
Platforms like commemoration of IDAHOBIT affords bisexual individuals to “break the silence” and be who they are with dignity and pride.
In keeping with the theme “Breaking the silence”, it is only fitting to call upon leaders in Botswana, Africa and the world at large to also “break the silence” about all atrocities, abuses, exclusion and witch-hunting of the LGBTIQ. It is time the leaders honour the principles of human rights as dictated by their national constitutions, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All these structures make it easy for the leaders to stand firm in support of human rights, but some choose to ignore the very structures they developed to protect their citizens. It is time the leaders break the comfort of having popular support and stand firm for human rights even if such a stand may not be popular.
Most African politicians use LGBTIQ as scapegoats to mobilise political votes while others watch from the sidelines instead of “breaking the silence” and holding their colleagues accountable to the human rights structures they all signed into existence. Structures like the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights - ACHPR - have made it possible for the leaders to stand for human rights as well as for the LGBTIQ. In 2014, ACHPR passed a resolution (Resolution 275) calling for the “Protection against Violence and other Human Rights Violations against Persons on the basis of their real or imputed Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity”.
Our leaders are not the only people who are being called to respect and stand for human rights. Batswana and the rest of the global citizens are being called to “break the silence” and stand firm on human rights by standing against any form of discrimination. I am “breaking the silence” and standing for human rights and the protection of human rights. What are you going to do to ensure that all human rights are realised and respected?
This article is made possible with the support from Delegation of the European Union to SADC.
#IDAHOT #EU4LGBTI #Breakingthesilence