“People tend to think that we spend the whole day having sex. No. We are normal people, who work in offices; some dig trenches and do other kind of jobs just like everybody else. We are like heterosexuals. As much as they can be celibate, homosexuals can also be celibate,” says Caine Youngman, a gay man who is also coordinator of LEGABIO - an organisation that represents gays, lesbians and transsexuals.
The people he represents are considered a sexual minority and have been on an endless crusade to get government to recognise them so that they can also have a platform to claim what they say are their rights.
The landmark case that saw Justice Terrence Rannowane say they are free to be registered by government was a culmination of long protracted war that spawns years, with the sexual minorities on one hand and the government, with the support of the church community and many others who are against what they think is a queer sexual orientation on the other.
Youngman says that finally they will have a platform to discuss issues that they have been unable to discuss, especially in the hostile social space.
“I am a Motswana and I am gay. Now I can engage my government, which I voted into power. People make it seem like we are not part of this society,” he says.
Discrimination, terror and extortion
The environment under which homosexuals live is extremely hostile, he says. They are treated as social outcasts, kicked out of homes once they are discovered to be homosexuals; threatened, called derogatory names and get beaten up in streets. They are unable to access health care in government facilities because of their sexual orientation, says Youngman.
There have been cases when some even lost their jobs because they were found to be gay or lesbian. Youngman describes some of the worst things that they go through, at worst even having to succumb to extortion.
“When somebody finds out you are gay and realise that you are not comfortable coming out about it they can even blackmail you. There are such cases where people ended up paying money or giving out things because they were scared that they will be exposed. This happens because we have a government that has consistently refused to listen to us,” he says.
Youngman says what even pains him more is that some church leaders are in the habit of attacking them, demonising them instead of sheltering them against all the abuse. The notion of the church is such that it is a symbol of charity, love and kindness. “I am disappointed by these pastors,” he says.
What is a homosexual?
But what does it mean to be a homosexual? What makes a man love another man and a woman another one?
“I can’t explain why I feel the way I feel. I can’t account for my feelings and say I feel this way because of this and that. Sexual orientation cannot be prescribed by the society. Only God knows why some of us are homosexuals and others are heterosexuals. It does not end here. There are people who are born with some parts of their bodies like legs,” he says.
“They should name one person who was socialised.” These are the words of Uyapo Ndadi, a human rights lawyer in response to suggestions that the church fraternity lives in fear of homosexuals socialising other members of the community, especially the young and vulnerable into become lesbians and gays. This discussion comes on the backdrop of the landmark judgement by High Court, Justice Rannowane which declares unlawful the refusal by government to register LEGABIBO.
Ndadi, who made a name for himself as a human rights lawyer, while in the employ of Botswana Network Ethics and Law on HIV/AIDS (BONELA) is adamant that society has nothing to fear. “They should name one person who was socialised,” he says challenging the church.
Botswana Council of Churches President, Mpho Moruakgomo, however insists that the faithful are fearful that the recognition of homosexuals by government will entice their children to turn into gays and lesbians.
Ndadi is not convinced by this argument. Having been labelled by some as gay, because of his relentless fight for sexual minority, he says that no one can choose a path of persecution, stigma and discrimination out of choice.
“It seems to me no one would be socialised. I could have been socialised myself, but I remained straight because I was born straight,” he says. But then, does he mean that homosexuality is an inborn thing? Is it not a lifestyle behaviour learned or copied from others?
Perhaps Ndadi himself was able to resist this, because he is focused and being an adult, knows very well what he wants. Critics say that others are not strong enough to resist being ‘turned’, and they end up being homosexuals. Nonetheless, Ndadi will not budge on his position.
“Resist what? I believe no one can be socialised into being gay as much as no one can be socialised into being heterosexual,” he says.
The lawyer posits that the LEGABIBO case did show the supremacy of the Constitution. It demonstrated that the freedom to associate and assemble cannot just be taken away without a sound basis, he says. “Homosexuals are now free to associate and assemble and lobby for greater causes that affect their rights including access to relevant and targeted medical interventions. They can openly lobby for decriminalisation of sodomy laws if they so wish. They can take cases to court in their name without being regarded as non-entities.”
Morality and the church’s fears
The world is awash with a lot of sub-cultures, some of which are seen as a danger to the society. Some of the people against homosexuality are of the view that Rannowane’s judgment will open a lot of ‘trouble’ for Botswana. Even population growth will be affected, especially in Botswana, a country that desperately needs to grow its population.
Moruakgomo posits that some in the religious fraternity are wary of what open acceptance of homosexuals will do in the society. Procreation will be under threat. With the government having been forced to recognise homosexuality, sexual minorities are bound to push further and claim other rights and this will see even gay marriages becoming part of the social discourse.
“At BCC we are careful. We don’t want to cause homophobia where people will end up persecuting others because of their sexual orientation. We know a majority of our churches are against homosexuality. However, what we have done at BCC is to call all heads of churches to discuss the way forward. We need to tread carefully on this matter,” he says.
What Presidents say
Former President Festus Mogae has openly stated his support for the recognition of the fact that people are diverse, even in sexual orientation, hence the need to try to accommodate even the sexual minorities in a democracy. In July 2010, he told the local media that:
“I do not agree with them (homosexuals) but I do not think that they should be persecuted. For example, they sometimes wear funny clothes. I don't like that. If you are a homosexual, you are a homosexual and you should not dress in funny clothes. Just dress like others dress and we will know that you are a homosexual. I don't say I understand, and I will not pretend that I understand, because I am heterosexual”.
He proceeded to say: “But, to an extent, it is said to be a preference. I personally do not think so. A preference is, for example, when you prefer to sit on a low chair or a higher chair. To sit on a table is no longer a preference. It is more like perverted taste. All I am saying is that there should be tolerance for preferences that we do not understand if it is a preference.”
One time he told a foreign media reporter that: "I don't understand it (homosexuality). I am a heterosexual," Mogae told the BBC. "I look at women. I don't look at other men. But there are men who look at other men. These are citizens."
Mugabe and other presidents on gays
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has called gays all sorts of derogatory names. At one point he said they are worse than pigs and said they should go to hell. Sometimes this year, he supported Uganda’s anti-gay legislation saying it’s a “human right” for men to marry women.
Museveni is well known for his views against homosexuals. His government even enacted a law that is anti-gay and has already seen two Ugandan men go on trial accused of homosexuality, the first under the new law. Though the law was declared unconstitutional, efforts are already underway in that country to have it established again.