When hate becomes law…

Africa has become a horribly more intolerant place for the LGBTI community. In less than two months, Nigeria and Uganda have legislated hate and intolerance. In the few days since the laws were passed, angry mobs have besieged and killed suspected gay men in both countries. An anti-gay lobby has become more vocal in the Kenyan legislature and is threatening to enact a similar law there. Here in Zimbabwe, GALZ is back in court defending it’s existence in a trial that should never have gone forward. The High Court of Zimbabwe has already ruled that GALZ does not have to register as a Private Voluntary Organisation. This case is a waste of the courts’ time and money. Incidents of harassment by both police and citizens are on the increase up and down the continent.

I was going to talk about how disappointed I am by the South African government’s silence on the issue. They have instead chosen to release a statement condemning the treatment of LGBTI people worldwide, failing to name and shame a single country. That speaks of the cowardice of Zuma’s government and makes it harder for South Africa to stand on the moral high ground when it comes to human rights in Africa and beyond. The ‘West’ rather has rallied against Nigeria and Uganda and have threatened to pull development aid from Uganda. While this step reminds Africa’s governments that they are being watched and will be held accountable for anti-human rights moves, it could also backfire. The last thing African governments want is to be told what to do, especially by the ‘West’. Threatening aid cuts only emboldens them. They know they can turn to China easily; Chinese investment does not come with restrictions or the need to uphold human rights.

I don’t know what needs to be done to address the issue if hate becoming law. Except to say that legislating morality should be a no-go area, especially when it relates to consenting adults. If governments are willing to look into my bedroom and legislate what I can and cannot do, how long will it be before they look into yours.

Update: Dr Paul Semugoma

It looks like Paul will be released by the end of the day to be reunited with his loved ones in Johannesburg. According to the reports I’ve read, Paul has applied for asylum in South Africa and as such his continued detention at the OR Tambo International Airport is no longer warranted. The team that had gathered at the courts to protest his detention has confirmed that they are going to the airport to ensure and celebrate his release. The campaign to free him seems to have worked. This was a campaign spearheaded by local activists, with the international community following their lead. This is how campaigns should be run from now on!

This is definitely good news, but I wonder how many more LGBTI Africans have been deported by the South African government back to countries where their safety cannot be guaranteed? The world needs to keep watching.

South Africa, get it right please! Free Dr Paul Semugoma

I’ve written about how South Africa has been disappointing Africa’s LGBTI community by remaining silent on the discriminatory laws being passed all over the continent. Now, they have detained and are ready to deport Dr Paul Semugoma back to Uganda where he will undoubtedly face harassment and detention for being a vociferous opponent of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. He is also an activist and specialist on health rights for MSM. His deportation would be a loss for South Africa and it’s fight against HIV especially in the MSM community. This is strange move for a country that talks the talk when it comes to human rights. It is, however, consistent with the country’s shoddy and inconsistent record when it comes to LGBTI rights. My prayers and thoughts are with Paul and his partner Brian and everyone on the ground in Johannesburg who is actively fighting this deplorable action. If you want to help in some way, I urge you to sign the petition here and spread the word! This is an ongoing story and will continue being updated.

A not so happy new year…

2014 has started and I can’t help but feel like the air has been violently removed from my bubble. During the past few weeks, Africa has become a less tolerant place for its LGTBIQQA citizens.

First, the Ugandan parliament passed a bill that proposes lengthy sentences for both same-sex loving people and their supporters just before Christmas. It was audaciously called an early Christmas present to the people from the parliament. The good news is that Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni, has since refused to sign the bill into law. His reasons, according to this article, don’t exactly inspire hope for the future of LGTBIQQA citizens of Uganda.
The second and similar problematic thing is the unannounced but expected signing of the Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Act by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan early in January. The act was adopted and passed by the legislative branches of government in 2011 and 2013. Consensual sex between adults of the same sex was already criminalised in Nigeria, with punishments as severe as death in some northern states where sharia law. What this new law does is to even criminalize groups that advocate for gay rights in Nigeria.
While all this has been happening, a transsexual friend of mine who lives as a woman was arrested for using a female toilet in Bulawayo. The case was thrown out by the judge. Also in Bulawayo, a GALZ sponsored Christmas party was raided by the police and several prominent figures within ZANU PF’s Youth League were outed to the party structures. No charges have been filed but they still live in fear.
Meanwhile, South Africa, seen by many as a beacon of hope when it comes to gay rights in Africa, has remained silent. International condemnation has been loud and quick. Petitions from all over the world are littering the internet. And still South Africa remains silent. There are serious discussions about reform of the United Nations Security Council to include a permant seat for an African country. The top two contenders are South Africa and Nigeria and that saddens me. We cannot allow African countries that don’t respect or protect African LGBTI rights the privilege of representing the continent on the Security Council. The time has come for us to speak out and stand up for our rights!

Hamba kahle Tata

It’s been ten days since Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela passed away. Like the rest of the world, I’ve mourned the passing of a great and inspirational leader and human being. I’ve cried and sung and danced with those mourning him across South Africa. But I’ve also taken the time to examine what his legacy means for me as a young black gay African man.

In his autobiography “A Long Walk to Freedom,” Nelson Mandela wrote about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and how it drove him to continue in the struggle against Apartheid. Of particular value to him and his defining philosophy was the first article which declares: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The South African Bill of Rights proudly guarantees and promotes that equality. South Africa became the first and, to date, only Afican country that explicitly protects the LGBTI community from discrimination when a new constitution was signed into law by Mr. Mandela in 1996 leading to the eventual decriminalisation of sodomy in 1998 and the legalisation of gay marriage in 2006.
However, having said all this, it cannot be forgotten that Mr. Mandela was a man of his time. He was educated at a conservative Jesuit mission school, he spent many years in prison where homosexuality is used as a tool for abuse and control, he never once vocalised support for the LGBTI community and most shockingly he never spoke out against the horrific practice of what has come to be known as “corrective rape.” It’s a complicated and difficult reality to reconcile with the image of Mr. Mandela as the heroic saintly champion of equality. Moreover, he never used his status as a elder statesman in Africa to challenge his fellow leaders to respect and protect the rights of their own LGBTI communities.
I am not trying to speak ill of the dead or minimise the enormous impact Mr. Mandela has had in South Africa, in Africa and across the world. But I believe it is important to fully examine his life so we can learn from and be fully inspired by his legacy. I am moved daily by his message of love, hope, forgiveness, tolerance, reconciliation and justice. I can only pray and wish that when my time has come, I would have lived a life only one tenth as inspirational as Mr. Mandela’s. I’d like to finish off by quoting Mr. Mandela himself:
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion … if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”

Even liberals can discriminate

I’m an educated, free-thinking, sex-positive liberal. I’m sure that’s been apparent to everyone who’s been reading my blog. Nothing really unsettles me. Until a few nights ago. I met a guy online and we hit it off really well. We’ve met a couple of times and our chemistry is really good. Our last date was intense and we were going to take it to the next level, until he stopped and looked into my eyes and announced that he’s HIV positive.

I never would have thought that about him. And I never could have guessed my reaction either. I was visibly stunned and remember recoiling away from him. The first thought that went through my head was “OMG, we were kissing, do I have it now?” Stupid, I know! He must have read all of that on my face because he promptly stood up and put his shirt back on (yes, we’d gone that far). I immediately started apologising again and again, blaming my reaction on shock and nothing else. But the mood had changed and there was no way we were going to pick up from where we left off, even if I’d wanted to. We chatted for a bit about nothing in particular, doing our best to avoid the issue we should have been discussing. I left after about half an hour later and made my way home. We haven’t seen each other again since then, but we are still talking and chatting online.

That incident really got me thinking about stigma. I had convinced myself that I was a part of the population that didn’t stigmatise based HIV status. I had convinced myself that my years of working in HIV, sexuality and sexual rights education had left me unable to discriminate. I had convinced myself that having colleagues and relatives living with HIV in my life made me a shining example to the rest of the world. But, I have learned that I am just as bad or even worse than the people I called ignorant for their prejudices. Because I was teaching others how to overcome their prejudices, I thought was automatically free of bias and intolerance; my intellectual snobbery masked my own prejudice and allowed it to fester unchecked and unchallenged. Nothing could ever make me more ashamed of myself than that. Now that I’m so keenly aware of it, it’s now something I can work on.

As for the mystery man… Perhaps I’m not ready to be in a relationship with someone who’s HIV positive. I just hope that my reaction doesn’t discourage him from disclosing his status to potential sexual partners. It was really brave of him and I applaud him for letting me know his status. I would love to still be friends with him and I hope that will happen. And who knows where that may lead.

Africa = Ubuntu – but is it for everyone?

I am an African, not because I was born in Africa, but because Africa is born in me – Kwame Nkrumah

What does it mean to be African? Is there really a definition for African? Africa is such a diverse continent with over 50 countries and over 2000 languages. This incredible diversity makes it very difficult and perhaps mischievous to define an African. However there’s a sense of unity as you travel across the continent derived from the concept of Ubuntu or Hunhuism. Ubuntu is an ethical philosophy that affirms the humanity of everyone, but most especially the “other”, the outsider, the visitor. My humanity is measured by how I treat others. This concept, that is almost universal across the continent, is what gives rise to sayings like “everyone’s child” and “it takes a village”. There’s an inherent warmth that Africans have for everyone, family, neighbours and strangers alike. I love how no matter where my travels have taken me on the continent, I can walk into almost any home and be received warmly with a glass of water and an offer of food. Until they realise I’m gay.

LGTBIQ Africans seem to be the only exception to Ubuntu. We are not accepted or received with warmth and respect. In fact leaders of every shape and form take it upon themselves to demean and dehumanise us with harmful and, oftentimes, violent rhetoric. We are called un-African, a perversion of African culture and a manifestation of Western society. We are called “worse than pigs and dogs”. We are called “the biggest threat to humanity”. We are threatened with beheading, arrest, deportation, land dispossession and a myriad of other crimes. Where is Ubuntu in all of this? How is my humanity being affirmed by all of this? How can I be expected to respect and honour my culture when it is used against me?

There are Africans who are challenging this attitude; LGTBIQ Africans who are using Ubuntu and their cultures to stand up and be counted as African. But they are too few. I wish I could say I was one of them. I wish I could courageously and selflessly be out there fighting for inclusion and respect. I’m too afraid I guess. But step by step, I’m allowing myself to come out and be counted. This blog is part of that journey for me.

Homophobia rears its ugly head again…

It’s the election season here in Zimbabwe, and for us men and women of the same-gender-loving persuasion that means undue and unjust harassment and political scapegoating. Usually, it’s just a few articles in the government mouthpiece the Herald and its sister publications. However this time round the homophobic and violent rhetoric has been stepped up. First the GALZ (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe) 44 were arrested, detained without charge for nearly 48 hours and tortured in August last year. And then there was the bizarre incident in June where the GALZ offices were invaded by thugs wielding hammers and other weapons. This time the Zimbabwe Republic Police, renowned for unexpected and random raids on GALZ, came to the rescue and promptly arrested the thugs. No word yet on what has happened to the thugs. And then this article comes out in the Herald’s Features section last week, where the author uses the article to coin the new word “gayism” and paint Harare’s eccentric artistic scene as a gay recruitment centre.

All these attacks and many more have happened in the full view of the private media and other civic society groups, and yet very few of them step up to defend GALZ and its membership. But if we look at what else has happened in Zimbabwe since August 2012, we see a steady stream of other NGOs and civic society groups being raided, their members being arrested and their activities being disrupted. The list includes groups like WOZA, ZPP, ZimRights, ZCTU, NANGO and people like Beatrice Mtetwa. At a time like this, I always remember the wise words of the late German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller:

In Germany, they came first for the Communists,And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist…When they locked up the social democrats,I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
…then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew…When they came for me,
There was no one left to speak out.

Zimbabweans, we need to do more to speak out against injustice whenever and wherever we see it. We cannot continue to be a society that sits idly by while others are being dragged over the coals for holding and expressing an opinion. We cannot continue to be a society that turns a blind eye towards unnecessary hatred and a deaf ear to violent rhetoric. We need to become a society where everybody’s rights are upheld, especially the rights of those you most disagree with. That is the equal and just society we all say we want to be a part of. Then why are we so scared to stand up and fight for it. The time is now!

Happy Gay Day! IDAHOBIT 2013

It’s May 17, and that means IDAHOBIT. For those of you that need a translation today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. May 17 was chosen because in 1990, homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Disease. IDAHOBIT, more than Pride, is a global event whose main aim is to raise awareness about the endemic heterosexism and homophobia of society. Living in Zimbabwe as a black, gay, man, I am aware everyday of how entrenched homophobia and heterosexism can cause immense heartache and pain in many people’s lives. The hatred is media and government sponsored. There is very little space given for gay-friendly voices. And anytime anyone expresses a comment that is remotely anti-hate, they are accused of being gay. That is the society I live in. But as Daniel Radcliffe put it “you don’t have to be gay to be a supporter, you just have to be human”. I can’t believe I’m quoting Harry Potter!
This hatred sometimes becomes internalised leading to self-loathing and in the extreme cases suicide. I have a friend who killed himself a few months ago. His suicide took us all by surprise. I’m not saying that there weren’t any other underlying issues that lead to him taking his life, but the prevailing cloud of hate that we live under surely didn’t do much to help the situation.
I have nothing really to celebrate today. All I can do is stand up proud and be counted as member of amazing global family. All I can do is shout out loud that this is who I am; I am not sick, I don’t need to be saved and my existence does not and should not threaten you or your families. People let’s stop the hate. Love and let love…
Happy Gay Day! Today remember to make a homosexual smile or let a homosexual make you smile!

In the beginning…

My first post! Wow!

I guess I should start with the why. Well, like many bloggers people, I think my life is important and unique enough that other people would want to read it. I’m gay and Zimbabwean and living within the borders of this amazing country. I have traveled the world and lived in other countries (more on that later) but as Dorothy said “there’s no place like home.” And so I’m back in Zimbabwe trying to eke out a life for myself.

Contrary to popular opinion, Zimbabwe is not a violent country. Don’t get me wrong, there are human rights abuses that include torture and arbitrary arrest, but on the whole life here is peaceful. You won’t hear of or see gay bashings. Correction, I’ve never heard of or seen gay bashings. That doesn’t mean that life isn’t difficult and lived mostly on down low. It is a way of life here. My family and friends have known for years that I was I gay and I have a boyfriend (more on him later). We go out together, but you’ll never catch us in public displays of affection. There are certain bars and clubs that have become gay hangouts but you wouldn’t catch them advertising as such.

That is the background from which my confessions and musings shall spring. They may come as fast bursts or slow trickles, but hopefully they will show the world what it is like to be gay and living in Zimbabwe.