*For purposes of this article, and because of the acronym IDAHOBIT, this piece will refer to diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression as LGBTQIA++ and not LGBT.
This is a political statement and a call for the inclusion, in the naming of the day.
International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia is observed on May 17, 2020. This year’s theme was “Breaking the Silence”.
This was the first commemoration of IDAHOBIT since the High Court of Botswana, in a landmark ruling, found that intimacy between homosexual persons is not unlawful, celebrating, as it did, the rich diversity of our darling democracy.
It was also the first IDAHOBIT commemorated and observed since the first Gaborone Pride, an opportunity and moment when LGBTQIA++ persons in our country celebrated the community’s own social acceptance, and demonstration against exclusion and rights violations.
In this sense, it was incredible. It wasn’t just this past year either. We have seen a vibrant movement grow, and transform in the last decade. We have seen an assertive movement which has ensured that the rights of the marginalised are not set aside for the views of the supposedly cisgendered heterosexual majority.
A great many closets are empty, having been vacated. Other closets were broken out of, and the doors are hanging from flail hinges. It has been a great many wins, with the law - sceptical as one must always be of where it comes from, and who crafted it – walking with, and affirming the rich diversity of our country’s people. All the Court wins, and the legislative reforms of the past decades have mostly felt like that hug the father gave to the prodigal son.
It has almost been convincing that diversity is not, in fact, “prodigal” as we have been raised to believe. The best part of this decade, however, for the LGBTQIA++ community of Botswana, has to be our young ones! We have seen the ma2000s show patriarchy, exclusion and self hatred more dust than any other generation.
They have boldly, unapologetically, and unforgivingly claimed spaces in our society we never thought possible. Has it not been beautiful?!
In many other senses, it has not been so beautiful. We have seen the ugly head of heteronormative hegemony and its punitive rules which insist on conformity for identity, reared a lot more aggressively.
We have heard the most vile arguments and rejections hurled against LGBTQIA++ persons by government, the church, the society and sadly even the family. It has been gruesome. Many LGBTQIA++ persons have found themselves in some form of internal displacement which they have had to overcome with very little help from the outside world. We have seen the movement severed by money and donor politics.
We have seen our own choose the after-life or whatever else lies yonder, because this life can be so difficult for anyone who is different. We have watched the desolation of our kin in the rest of Africa, continue to be marginalised
We have seen Africanness weaponised against anyone who does not conform to the coloniality of various systems which govern the people of Africa. We have seen many dragged out of closets. We have watched many suffer in the silence of societal expectation. We have seen many fading off into the shadows.
We have seen bodies and PrEP and ARV provision become ticked boxes. In these senses, it has been gruesome. Unfortunately, this has meant LGBTQIA++ persons have been most in need of psycho-social support because of the prevalence of depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation in the community.
This IDAHOBIT has also been the one we spent on lockdown, or extreme social distancing. One can’t help but consider the #StayHome instruction. Whose home? Which home? What do you mean? One of the least addressed issues when speaking about LGBTQIA++ lives is the stigma and discrimination, which play themselves out as rejection, that often follows the process of “coming out”. “Coming out of the closet” usually shortened as “coming out” is the metaphor for LGBTQIA++ persons’ self-disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender diversity and expression. Many families in Botswana are not accepting, tolerant or embracing of sexual or gender diversity. Some families are deleterious to their LGBTQIA++ family member, and completely put them out of a home. Other families, equally as harmful and rejecting, won’t kick their LGBTQIA++ family member out, but will continue to make them work hard for inclusion. “Home” is apparently a “living space”.
Many LGBTQIA++ persons, even when in houses are not home, because you cannot remain alive in some places…because some places are not yours to call home. I suppose one may even say, many LGBTQIA++ persons have been socially distant for a while.
In all the solidarity that this year’s IDAHOBIT exhibited, it presented an opportunity for honesty, openness and shedding light on the realities of LGBTQIA++ persons in Botswana. The phrase “breaking the silence” demands that we address the things we have not spoken about before, shed light on it if you will.
Botswana has a long way to go when it comes to the full protection of her people. Even when we celebrate the successes, we must be honest about the realities.
The world as we knew it has changed. Earth, in her very own way, was arguably cleansing the atmosphere, and readying herself and us for the change and new reality that we will exist in, after all this is over.
The #Lockdown has arguably been the portal to the other side for many. I wonder, as we cross over, into the new reality, how much discrimination and stigma we are bringing into the new space? Don’t you think it’s time we shed it?