I think we are all past the idea reflected in an ancient Court of Apeal case, that Botswana's society is not ready for decriminalisation of provisions in the Penal Code, that criminalise consensual same sex sexual conduct.
I think we are even over the propaganda that homosexuality in Botswana is not legal. The laws of a country are only a reflection of that country’s society. And as a country who’s highest Court has said, “members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community, though no doubt a small minority and unacceptable to some on religious or other grounds, form part of the rich diversity of any nation and are fully entitled in Botswana, as in any other progressive state, to the constitutional protection of dignity,” I think we understand that in Botswana, whether people like it or not, everyone can choose who they love.
Botswana is a special country because we are either very progressive or extremely fatalistic, even though we can be rather violent. As a result, judgements made in our country have set the tone in various other countries in the region, particularly those pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity as well as expression. Of course we also know that there is health programming through engagement with various government departments, aimed specifically at the marginalised communities. These are efforts that we celebrate, and continue to thoroughly commend.
There are other things under our rug however, that are piling up into a heap. Health is only a small aspect of the various facets to any human being’s lived experience. As a society, despite the many feats, we are still greatly struggling with social exclusion, in the forms of multiple forms of discrimination that interact to put LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and all others) people at a specific disadvantage. These are often socioeconomic and cultural injustices, which follow from lack of social recognition and invisibility. At the core of this however, is the idea that the acceptance of marginalised communities is some form of charity work, or a favour, that should be rewarded; instead of really interrogating our own prejudices as to why we are so threatened by diversity.
This is not unusual for a society that promotes a world view that heterosexuality is normal, acceptable and standard. You find some people saying, “I don’t have a problem with homosexuals as long as they stay away from me,” or others teasing someone they know is different, in an effort to exercise dominance over them, and
So perhaps the starting point is this, in Botswana, we all have the same human rights as the next person.
This therefore translates to the fact that no other person should be excluded from accessing a human right, as this would be indignifying. Dignity is a theme that cuts across the rights that the Constitution accords all of us equally. This right essentially means every person should be valued, respected and treated ethically. Certain limitations, including laws used in criminalising consensual same sex sexual intercourse, venture into the deprivation of the right to privacy, which privacy we should all have in our intimate spaces. However these limitations essentially make certain dictates, effectively compromising the privacy one should enjoy. Imagine someone walking into your bedroom and scrutinising how you do certain things. Watching and waiting to see your “head” go in the wrong direction. That’s exactly what those laws do.
Now imagine someone constantly waiting for you to make just one wrong move. Imagine the anxiety you would live with. The strain. How you would question yourself so constantly. Or imagine living in a body that just does not belong to you. Or one that names you against yourself. Many people are living with this burden, right in this country. Fearful of even attempting to find work because many work environments are hostile; a reflection of the society.
People often think of diversity as a foreign idea and one so novel that it has never existed in our country or continent before now. Some will say homosexuality (often referring to all queer identities) is un-African and therefore unacceptable. These are of course only excuses used by those who don’t want the respectability or the quality of being acceptable as valid and important, in society, sullied.
As a people, we pride ourselves in ‘botho’, a mutual social agreement of respect, responsibility, and accountability that we have towards each other. It also connotes that before I expect to be respected, I should myself offer up that same respect. So if the social notion on which we base and claim respect, is stemmed in acceptance, how are we so deficient, when it comes to this?! Does this mean we lack this ‘botho’ that we so often claim?!