Bonela scores for gays and lesbians

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In an unprecedented move, the government will meet with representatives of gays, lesbians and sex workers next month, in a development that could signal official acceptance of the existence of these groups.

In a coup for NACA and the advocacy group that has been campaigning for these groups to come out from the cold, the Botswana Network Of Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) will lead the Lesbians, Gay and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) and the Research Triangle Institute (TRI) to a meeting of the National Aids Council on June 4 to discuss research findings on these groups.

TRI represents the interests of sex workers. 

The aim is to chart a way forward for addressing issues of HIV/AIDS and related illnesses as well as intervention measures for these marginalised groups. The National Coordinator of NACA, Richard Matlhare, has confirmed this meeting, saying these groups cannot be ignored because the HIV/AIDS pandemic affects everyone. 

"We will take the research findings to the council to discuss intervention measures that will benefit these specific people," Matlhare said. However, he could not provide any further details on the meeting.

The meeting is anticipated as a break with the past, when the government steadfastly refused to even acknowledge the existence of homosexuals. Last year, a lesbian working for BONELA, Prisca Mogapi, and a gay member of LEGABIBO, Caine Youngman, threatened to sue the government over Section 164 of the penal code which criminalises same sex relationships.

The two wanted the 'offending' section to be declared unconstitutional.

The controversial section provides that "any person who has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature or has carnal knowledge of an animal or permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years".

Significantly, in 2007, the Registrar of Societies dismissed an application by BONELA to have LEGABIBO registered.LEGABIBO had stated that its objective was "to integrate a legal, ethical and human rights dimension into sexual, reproductive and health rights without discrimination".

Registration of LEGABIBO was based on Section 164 of the penal code. To-date, LEGABIBO is not registered with the Registrar of Societies.

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