LeGaBiBo and registration: It’s not about sex

By: John McAllister

Would it surprise you to learn that 200 years ago there were no homosexuals? Not that men did not have sex with other men or women with other women. Same-sex relations have always been there, in every society, at every time in history. But the idea that there were homosexuals — people whose personal identity was defined by a lifelong sexual interest in the same gender — was something that European doctors came up with in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Since it was a new idea, there needed to be a new word for it. Several were invented — invert, pederast, urning, uranian, and others — but homosexual was the one that stuck. But where did this new idea come from? If there had always been same-sex relations, why this new need to come up with a special label for people who engaged in them? Up to this point, European science had progressed by classifying natural phenomena into categories — genera, species, typologies, and so on — as the first step in understanding them.

Now science started to use the same method for human phenomena, including sex and desire. And since doctors already tended to think in terms of “binaries” (simple opposites) like healthy/ill, sane/insane, man/woman — they proceeded to divide sex and desire into opposite categories — heterosexual/homosexual. From that point on, people were thought to have fixed, distinct sexual orientations that defined their identity (i.e., the essential category of person they were), not just preferences or inclinations for various kinds of sexual acts.

Before this, there was no concept of sexual orientations. There were only sexual acts. Those considered “unnatural” or “immoral” — such as anal and oral sex acts generally were, thanks to a sex-phobic church — were known collectively as sodomy, regardless of the gender of the partners. A man and a woman could as easily commit sodomy as two men or two women. Performing such acts made you a sinner, but it did not define your identity or make you a different type of person. According to the church, everyone was a sinner in one way or another. Later on, the doctors added more orientations to their new system of sexual categories. Bisexual. Transgender. Intersex. But it was always about defining people by their gender and what they do (or are imagined to do) in bed, and then using these categories to privilege the majority and marginalize everyone else.

When European colonialists came to Africa, they brought their binary ways of thinking with them and in the new education systems they imposed on African societies, they brainwashed Africans into thinking in terms of sexual orientations and gender identities too. Pre-colonial African societies had their own ways of dealing with same-sex relations. Some denied them, some ignored them, and some accepted them. But for the next hundred years, they were taught the Western pseudoscience that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Africans were a different kind of people and that their identities were totally determined by their sexual desires. It was all about sex — sick, unnatural, deviant sex.

Then the West had its “sexual revolution” and started to change its mind about homosexuality and transgenderism, and finally LGBTI Africans began to demand a change of mind here too.

In Botswana the LGBTI community first got together in 1998 and formed an association, LeGaBiBo, to campaign for their rights. For the past four years, the Botswana government has refused to allow LeGaBiBo to register and operate normally like any other welfare organization, even though the constitution guarantees everyone the right to associate and organize freely. The government claims that it cannot register an organization that enables illegal activities, but this is just a hangover from the old-fashioned, colonial obsession with what people do sexually. As LeGaBiBo’s brilliant legal team argued at the Court of Appeal hearing on 15th January 2016, LeGaBiBo is not about enabling illegal activities. It’s not about sex. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is not illegal in Botswana, but sexual acts “against the order of nature” are. That law is unnecessary, unjust, and immoral. It condemns tens of thousands of citizens for natural sexual desires that harm no one, it destroys families, and it ruins lives for nothing.

Even if the law is rarely enforced, it stigmatizes and marginalizes lgbti Batswana and prevents them from exercising their full rights as citizens — as the refusal to register LeGaBiBo shows. It encourages homophobia and gives homophobes the idea they can insult, abuse, rape, or beat up anyone perceived to be “gay.” A law that does this needs to be repealed. Citizens have a right to organize for the repeal of unjust, harmful laws, and that is why LeGaBiBo was formed 17 years ago.

Campaigning against an unjust law is still LeGaBiBo’s main business. Since that campaign needs public support, LeGaBiBo also has a mandate to educate Batswana on why their LGBTI family members, neighbors, and colleagues pose no threat to society and should have the same rights as everyone else. Every community organization is concerned with the welfare of its members, so LeGaBiBo also provides psychosocial and health services to its LGBTI brothers and sisters throughout Botswana. Everyone has a right to such services. As part of these services LeGaBiBo distributes free personal lubricants and condoms, as well as information on STI and HIV prevention. We work in cooperation with government ministries and departments and international organizations such as WHO, UNAIDS, and many others. We are not enabling people to have “unlawful” sex; we are protecting our community’s health.

The old-fashioned, colonial idea that lgbti identities are all about sex is just wrong. Heterosexual people understand that their own lives are about much more than just their sexual desires. They have jobs, hobbies, friends, families, their faith, and goals of all kinds. Lgbti people are no different. We should have the same rights to enjoy all these things that everyone has and that the constitution guarantees. That is LeGaBiBo’s goal. It’s about much more than just sex, and there is no reason it should not be registered. Private, consensual relations between same-sex partners are a victimless crime. They harm no one and should no longer be illegal. In a democracy, LeGaBiBo must have the right to organize to persuade other Botswana, and the government, to accept this. Denying us registration is a denial of democracy. php5887-tmp

The War on Homosexuality: A look to Botswana

By Lame Said

The war on homosexuality has been raging for decades. With people on opposite sides of the debate often fixated on whether homosexuality is inherent or learned behaviour, whether homosexual people are fully human, whether the  world should rest on the face of this “scourge” of homosexuality which supposedly  causes  global warming, and whether the punishment against homosexuality is enough; this war has not evolved!

Other outrageous questions are whether gay and lesbian people can bear children, whether the “gay agenda” will eventually call for marriage equality and whether homosexuality will spread and therefore result in the extinction of Batswana. In one camp are the human rights organizations, their allies and sometimes the government. In the other camp is the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana (EFB), their allies, non-affiliated homophobic people and at times, the government. In the middle of this conflict are the gay and lesbian people and their families, who seek nothing but to live their lives with equal dignity.

It would be simple, almost appealing, to claim that the question of whether homosexuals deserve equal rights and constitutional protections is debatable and should be put to question in a democratic society. However, the rights, dignity and humanity of gay and lesbian people, guaranteeing them equality before the law and within society are not debatable; they are a given. While constructive and healthy discourse is necessary for the social development of a people, the discourse on homosexuality has not been healthy. It has been violent, degrading and abusive of gay and lesbian people. It has become a war that has now reached the Botswana Court of Appeal where fundamental questions regarding the equality of gay and lesbian people are now being discussed.

A war, no matter where it is fought, has real life implications for those whose rights are in question.

Therefore, it is time that we boldly question the actions of the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana (EFB), an institution of power that has led the onslaught of physical and online violence against gay and lesbian people. What is staged as the upholding of God’s commands has maimed the dignity of gay and lesbian people, destroyed families and encouraged physical and online violence against gay and lesbian people. We can measure the contribution of this institution of power to social justice or injustice just as we can measure that of a government.

What they instigated several years ago, with repeated degrading and homophobic statements in the media, is a strategic obstruction to any work of social justice organizations seeking equality and dignity for gays and lesbians.  Branding gays and lesbian as criminals and perverts, the EFB has made it its mission to ‘purge the country of this evil’. The EFB has been vigorous in their work to portray gay and lesbian people as delinquent beings and deserving of nothing but to be thrown in prison cells and mental hospitals. If there was ever an opportune moment to describe hateful speech from a religious institution, this would be it. They went further to challenge the gay and lesbian group’s (LEGABIBO) application to the High Court to protect their freedom of association before suddenly withdrawing their challenge. We should be able to ask who the EFB claims to be protecting against homosexuality when the results of their dehumanizing campaigns have yielded family segregation, violence and hate.

There is a distorted idea of who ‘these homosexuals’ are- who are accused of opening the doors for paedophiles to claim rights too. It is the idea that homosexuals live in isolated communities, where they practice the ‘gay lifestyle’ of engaging in endless same sex activity, abusing alcohol and drugs and performing ‘evil’ acts in dimly lit corner bars where they also seduce heterosexual people and children to join their lifestyle. And then in the early hours of the morning they will crawl back to join the ‘rest of society’, camouflaged in assumed heterosexuality to maintain their secret identity. Of course, this is a harsh and ridiculous misrepresentation of the lives of gay and lesbian people. However, these are precisely the harmful stereotypes and ideas of gay and lesbian people that have fed the agendas of the EFB and other institutions engaged in this ‘war against homosexuality’.

More importantly, many Batswana have supported the dehumanization that is catalogued in the objectives of the EFB, resulting in more hate and fear of gay and lesbian people. When you strip someone of their humanity, you feel no discomfort with violating, insulting or even killing them. Strategic dehumanization is evident from Apartheid, where black people were thought of as not fully evolved humans and therefore subjected to many forms of cruel and inhuman treatment. EFB’s perpetuation of same-gender-loving people as perverts, delinquents and evils has the same effect. Not only has the EFB’s campaign affected this section of society but they have subjected the families of gay and lesbian people to secondary discrimination and shame for having family members who are homosexual. To assume separateness from the human struggle of gay and lesbian people does not inoculate them against being held responsible for the harm they are propagating.

Granted, everyone has the right to freedom of speech. It is also absolute that all rights come with the responsibility to exercise them in a manner that doesn’t violate another’s rights.

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As Batswana, we champion Botho as a cultural value that defines how we treat one another. Are gays and lesbians exempt from being treated with Botho? At what point do we draw the line between freedom of speech and the premeditated dehumanization and violation of other people? When will we hold institutions with such power over public opinion to account for the immediate harm they cause, and the ripple effects of that harm in our society? Does our humanity and responsibility for one another diminish in EFB’s pursuit to save Botswana from homosexuality? Does someone have to kill a gay person before we appreciate the destructive potential of homophobic indoctrination?

This ‘war’ is not taking place in a bubble of human rights jargon and a theatre of intellectual verbal diarrhoea. This discourse is not one of hypothetical gays and lesbians and imagined experiences of violence, hate and discrimination. It is a struggle in our own homes, of families disowning their own, employers firing their gay and lesbian employees, landlords evicting their gay and lesbian tenants as they all find validation in the fast spreading homophobic messaging which affirms their actions. Institutions of power should exercise restraint, control, responsibility and a high degree of introspection when it comes to the application of their power. The gays and lesbians that are affected by the decisions of the EFB are real people who are breadwinners in their families, health care workers, police men and women who protect us while we sleep.

With power comes great responsibility but it cannot be said enough. For the sake of all Batswana, I hope the EFB will disarm their weapons.

This article was first published in The Botswana Gazette 27th January 2016 and adapted from Holaafrica.

Botswana LGBTI’s position on Rre. Mogae and his activism.

 

The former President of the Republic of Botswana, Rre. Festus Mogae has over the years initiated his activism on access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care support for criminalised populations that include men who have sex with men. In a recent interview with Africa Renewal dated 15 January 2016 Rre Mogae has reiterated this position by calling on African leaders to be more open minded, informed and embrace differences.

The LGBTI community in Botswana would like to recognise and commend the selfless leadership that Rre Mogae has shown over the years. We appreciate his support for LGBTI community in Africa, in condemning some of the attitudes of African leaders towards homosexuals by affirming that it is a shame and embarrassment for a leader to make hateful public utterances towards fellow human beings let alone pick and chose which sector of the community to protect and or discriminate against.

We would like to affirm his wise words that ‘leadership is not about you as a leader…’ but about the people that you lead; leadership is impartial and leaders across Africa and the world should take heed to this advice. We appreciate forward thinking leadership and we would like the current Botswana leadership to take this advice into consideration while making public utterances about homosexuality to be non- discriminatory and non-stigmatising.

Further, the Botswana LGBTI community appreciates Rre. Mogae’s continued advocacy for repeal of discriminatory laws. Although we appreciate the argument that these laws are inherited from colonial masters, we would like to acknowledge the Botswana Government’s continued efforts to reform laws to be more inclusive of the emerging populations: e.g. the 2010 Amendment of Employment Act which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Botswana in this case has demonstrated that we cannot always give colonial laws as a reason to continue to discriminate against fellow human beings.

The LGBTI community would like to join Rre. Mogae in calling on traditional and religious leaders including African leaders to be selfless in their leadership inform themselves so that they are well equipped in making decisions and public pronouncements with the aim of protecting the marginalized communities. The LGBTI community appreciates this kind of exemplary leadership that he is demonstrating and we call upon more Batswana leaders to be human rights defenders and make clear their support for the LGBTI community in Botswana. We call upon our leaders to join Rre Mogae in the fight for non-discrimination, building tolerance and acceptance towards the LGBTI.  The Botswana LGBTI community pledge support of Rre. Mogae’s activism and commit to working with more leaders in building a tolerant nation.

 

For further information, contact BONELA on;

BONELA LGBTI Program Coordinator

Mrs. Anna Mmolai-Chalmers

Tel: +267 393 25 16

Email: legabibocoordinator@bonela.org

Mr. Caine Youngman

BONELA LGBTI Advocacy Officer

Tel: +267 393 25 16

Email: caineyoungman@gmail.com

Mr. Bradley Fortuin

BONELA LGBTI Communications Officer

Tel: +267 393 25 16

Email: dblfortuin@gmail.com

 

LEGABIBO Fights for Freedom of Association and Expression

The Lesbians Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana today went to court for the appeal to the judgment made by Justice Rannowane to allow the registration of LEGABIBO. A panel of five judges heard the appeal. Government wants the court of appeal to overturn the decision of High Court Judge, Terrence Rannowane who had ordered government to register LEGABIBO as a society.

In his judgment in November 2014, Justice Rannowane said the refusal violated the applicants’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly as enshrined under the Constitution of Botswana.

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The Botswana Government believes that the order to register the LGBTI rights group is in violation of the Constitution as it would appear that government encourages same sex in the country. They further argued that it would go against public morality. They stated that disseminating information about LGBTI may offend the public, however it was argued that one can advocate changing public morality. It was further stated that laws passed by parliament are assumed to be a representation of public morality. It is important to note that the Government of Botswana amended the employment act in 2010 to include that one cannot be fired from their workplace based on your sexual orientation.

In his argument, Mr. Bayford stated that the constitution of Botswana allows for protection of every person regardless of your sexuality – no one is excluded. and as society develops. He further added that freedom of association is a right to everyone in Botswana; they have the right to association and freedom of expression according to the laws and this does not exclude homosexuals.

The verdict is expected to be made at a date to be confirmed by the courts.

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LEGABIBO hosts Media Dialogue

LEGABIBO today 12th January 2016, held a media seminar with members of the local media; they included bloggers, radio, print and television personnel. The main objective of this seminar was to educate the media on positive reporting on LGBTI issues in Botswana. Over the last couple of years there has been some negative media reports concerning the LGBTI. The media has the power to shape the mindset of the public and by reporting negatively about the LGBTI fuels stigma and homophobia in the society.

The seminar was aimed at highlighting that the LGBTI are more than their sexuality; being gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans*diverse. LGBTI are not defined by who they are attracted to but rather by the morals and values that they portray. Ones sexuality should never be used as an indicator to label a person. The participants were also taught about sexual orientation, practices and desires – which is a complex dynamic topic. But understanding the basics and the foundation was a good start and both parties will continue to build on to that.

The seminar further talked about the LEGABIBO registration court case which is set for hearing the Gaborone High Court of Appeal on Friday 15th January 2016. The Government of Botswana has filed an appeal against the judgment made in 2014 in which the government was ordered to allow the registration of LEGABIBO.

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LEGABIBO Registration Case Back in Court.

In the LEGABIBO case where fourteen individuals filed a case before the Botswana High Court asking the court to review the decision by the Director of Civil and National Registration and the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs to refuse to register the organisation will be heard before the High Court of Appeal in Gaborone on Friday 12 January 2016.

The members applied for registration in terms of the Societies Act on the 16 February 2012. On 12 March 2012, the Director of the Department of Civil and National Registration rejected the application stating that Botswana Constitution does not recognise homosexuals and that the objectives of the organisation are contrary to section 7(2) of the Societies Act. LEGABIBO appealed the decision as prescribed by the Societies Act but the appeal was rejected by the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs on the 12th October 2012.

On 15 November 2014, LEGABIBO triumphed in court and Judge Rannowane ordered the Botswana Government to register the Human Rights group. The Judge stated that the “refusal to register LEGABIBO was not reasonably justifiable under the Constitution of Botswana … It violated the applicants’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly …”. He further added that lobbying for legislative reforms is not a crime and it is also not a crime to be a homosexual in Botswana. The Botswana Government appealed this ruling however.

Dow And Associates are the legal representative for LEGABIBO‬ during the  case with Dick Bayford as the lead council. The LGBTI human rights and advocacy group seeks to be registered as a legally operating NGO recognized by the Government of Botswana. The case is supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and the Botswana Network of Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS – BONELA.

We therefore invite you to attend the heads of argument on Friday 12 January 2016 at the High Court of Appeal in Gaborone. For further information, contact Mr Bradley Fortuin or Caine Youngman from LEGABIBO at +267 393 25 16.

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LEGABIBO Back In Court!

The Lesbians Gays and Bisexuals – LeGaBiBo case is set to be back in court early next year. The roll call is set for the 8th January 2016 while the hearing is set for the 15th January 2016. The Government of Botswana has appealed the ruling which was in favor for LeGaBiBo to register and operate as a registered NGO.

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On March 12, 2012 the Director of the Department of Civil and National Registration rejected the applicants’ application to register LeGaBiBo on the basis that the Botswana Constitution “does not recognize homosexuals and that the objectives of the intended organization are contrary to Section 7 (2) of the Societies Act.”

Following that, the applicants appealed against the decision but the appeal was also rejected on October 12, 2012.

Thus on on March 25, 2013 the applicants, represented by Dow Associates, filed a case before the High Court. The application was also supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and BONELA, she said.

In the application, the applicant’s argued that by rejecting their application as LeGaBiBo, the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs violated their right to form and join an association. The applicants would seek to emphasise the fundamental importance of the rights to freedom of association and expression in a democracy which they believed, strengthened the ability of individuals to collectively organise to promote their rights.

On November 14, 2014 LeGaBiBo won the legal case in the country’s High Court, allowing it to be officially registered, but the Government of Botswana appealed the courts ruling in February 2015.

Once registered, LeGaBiBo would provide an opportunity for lesbians, gays and bisexuals to form part of an association that would provide them with information on human rights and advocate for their rights, particularly the right to access health services.