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Idahobit Botswana 2021- Lorako La Botlhe and Reflections of The Past, The Present And Building The Future

The theme of this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) is “Together: Resisting, Supporting, Healing!”

The theme was selected with regard to the challenges that the world had faced in the last year. With the global pandemic being far from over. Yet, in the midst of the chaos it has brought, including a legacy of economic instability for most, including changes in livelihoods, the LGBTI community has seen it fit to provide inspiration.

The theme has four very powerful words, each of which, is a call to action. Together speaks to the collective unity of the body of the movement, necessary, to co-create the environment which is necessary for the resisting, supporting and healing.

Resistance considers the climate of increasing intolerance which has made the society dangerous for the LGBTI movement. The community, in its resilience, has to refuse to comply with the stigma and discrimination levelled against the community, collectively as well as the individuals within it. Support in this sense, I think has first to do with the movement itself, internally – the necessity to collectively work together towards the common goal of ensuring that the world is safe and safer for LGBT persons.

Finally, healing. I would argue that this is the most crucial of the whole theme. There is a great need for the community to collectively heal from the many wounds inflicted on it by the general society, which has ensured the marginalisation of the community itself. Historically, there was an assumption of global challenges faced by LGBT persons as homogenous and faced by all. Often, this “global outlook” of the ills against LGBTI persons resulted in assumptions that there is no discrimination or stigma against the community in Botswana because the violence it suffered differs from that in countries like Uganda where the government enacts and enforces laws which criminalise diverse orientation and gender identity and expression; or in countries like Nigeria where LGBTI persons enact laws which prohibit same-sex unions, exacerbating the cruelty against the community.

The discrimintation and stigma in Botswana, however, took on a different form. The solutions for it have had to be tailored to the experiences, contextually. To this end, and following in this same line of thinking, the local movement has agreed to localise the global theme, internalising and processing what it means to together resist, support and heal. The movement has had to specifically think about what is most important for it, and how the movement and its members can best show up for each other and themselves to ensure the elimination of the phobias and –isms against them.

This is the background on which the national theme Lorako La Botlhe was coined. Lorako is a protective wall made up of stones, otherwise known as a stone dyke. On their own, the individual stones are merely just stones. However stacked together, they form a wall, which is used to protect what is on the inside. The national interpretation of the theme suggests that the protective wall belongs to all members of the community. This is where the “together” comes up. In

this sense, the protective wall protects all community members, equally. The protectors are the wall itself, with each stone representing all the individual members of the community. The national theme goes further to say, “reflections of the past, present and building the future.” There is a need, community leaders have said, to consider not just the successes, but also the shortcomings and failures of the national LGBT movement of the past and the current one, in order to learn how to move forward, and build a wall that protects all and supports all by bridging the gaps between the past and the current, for a more formidable future. The suggestion is that there is need to discuss the hurts, and the pains of the past for a collective healing experience. With mafoko a kgotla a mantle otlhe in mind, everyone will be accorded space to speak openly and safely; and allowed to partake on the collective healing experience in that sense, everything being given the space it demands and being brought to the light.

This is critical in movement building, as it recognises that the movement is bigger than any one individual or any group – the movement is about everyone who is a member of the community, or affiliated to it. Many of the people who founded the LGBTI movement in Botswana are no longer as active in the movement. That generation believed in the allegiance of the movement with other movements, for its success. So they worked on founding groups to be housed by other organisations with greater reach and with more independence.

The ones who followed used the Courts to fight against discrimination and inequality. That generation believed in demonstrations in the form of marches, to get a point across. Both of these had very critical successes in that sense. The current movement believes in the use of social media for their activism.

The question the movement hopes to respond to, having dealt with its own internal challenges, is, how can all these movements intergenerationally work together to ensure the livelihoods of the community? At a national level there is recognition that the LGBTI community has been systemically and institutionally been excluded and discriminated against.

Lorako la botlhe is a political positioning of the LGBTI movement within the general population, and a statement that the protection of Batswana should include the specific inclusive protection of the movement. The phobias and –isms in Botswana are often hidden behind the absence of laws that specifically protect against discrimination of LGBTI persons.

The intricate design of the stone wall is well thought out and intentionally ensured by its builder. In a similar sense, there is a need for the country to consider the specific needs of the community, to ensure the elimination of rights violations against those in it.

*This piece was written with Onkokame Mosweu. Onkokame is a Human Rights and Gender Development practitioner and activist with a focus in representation, inclusion, gender and human rights.

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