- ‘Our biggest challenge is accessing basic services such as healthcare, police stations’
- Endorsing LGBTIQ rights will pave the way for peadophiles -Police Officer
- Sexual minorities shunned in Religious, Educational institutions
The Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) community has gone through a rollercoaster of events since their journey towards having their rights recognized in the country. The experience has and is still a challenging one as the ice surrounding their organization and its members in society has not melted. LEGAGIBO was established in 1998 but only managed to successfully get registered in 2016. This speaks volumes of the hardships they have to endure for being different from what is perceived as morally and socially acceptable. Their greatest achievement is the decrim case of 2016, prompting government to decriminalize homosexuality.
Communications Officer for LEGABIBO, Matlhogonolo Samsam came forth to speak on the experiences and challenges that come with belonging to the LGBTIQ society. “There is definitely a long way to go as far as society is concerned with accepting and understanding what we are about however our biggest challenge right now is accessing basic services such as healthcare facilities or getting assistance from the police in cases of GBV as equally as the next heterosexual,” Samsam said. She insists there have been instances where transgender individuals have shied away from hospitals out of fear of being ridiculed by nurses for their transition and how they choose to identify. “Utlwa gotwe, hee semangmang, tla o mpontshe hee, is this a man or woman, type of remarks and these tend to crush one’s confidence and they ultimately leave without getting the help they need,” she explained. LEGABIBO has held workshops with different civil organizations including health workers and while a few seem to understand, a great bunch of them are still lagging behind.
The number of LGBTIQ GBV victims that seek counselling with LEGABIBO personnel is apparently not in sync with the cases reported at police stations. According to Samsam, there have been occasions where some of these victims have failed to open cases against their abusers, especially gay men because when they get to the police offices, they are mocked for ‘failing to fight back in defense, akere ke banna botlhe‘. “Although we continue to engage the police and educate them about our community, we have gone the extra mile to request statistics that show how many of our cases go reported and if they were successfully attended to, but we have not received anything from the police,”added Samsam. The poor reception from the police workforce was further confirmed at a recent workshop with police officers in Kasane, where LEGABIBO was explaining the decrim case and its importance as a human rights issue. “One officer asked if society would not be paving a way for social ills such as pedophilia, by endorsing LGBTIQ rights, thereby insinuating that we were a social ill,” Samsam said.
Public relations officer for the Botswana Police Service (BPS), Dipheko Motube insists they are currently unaware of any such mistreatment. “We are not aware of the alleged discrimination of individuals based off of how they choose to identify,” he said. Motube further mentioned that if anyone was treated otherwise, they should report the specific police station and police officer who did not assist them accordingly. “We take people’s human rights seriously and stand firmly against any form of discimination and so anyone who received unsatisfactory service should desist from going in circles reporting to the media and rather speak to the relevant people in the polic workforce, be it the commissioner himself,”. As far as statiscs of GBV cases are concerned, Motube says they do not compile reports according to association but rather offense and there is no way they can be in a positon to offer LEGABIBO statistics specific to members of the LGBTIQ community. He said according to the constitution, everyone is and must be treated equally and that is exactly what they strive to do everyday as the police.
There are a number of issues that are not in black and white for all to see and LEGABIBO is concerned that stakeholders are not forthcoming to address them together. Currently, there is confusion over civil and national registration of LGBTIQ members, especially for intersex individuals and transgenders. According to Samsam, some of their members are constantly given the run around, not necessarily because the law prohibits one not to change how they choose to identify, but because of the attitude of the person at the front desk offering assistance.
“I think it would be better if there were clearer policies around registration and the responsible service providers informed and educated so as to avoid the stagnancy and avoid taking them to court as in the case of Mrs Tshepo Ricki Kgositau-Kanza, who had to go the legal way so she could ultimately identify as female and get married,” she mentioned. Samsam went on to say how such cases are misrepresented even in the media and often draw the wrong kind of attention towards the LGBTIQ community.
It would be unfair however to state that there has been no positive feedback completely, especially from the healthcare department. We are working closely with the Health ministry and Gaborone DHMT to fight the discrimination and to close the gap in service provision,” Samsam said. Other sectors include Religion and Education. “We are closely working with Global Interfaith Network, to offer counselling to LGBTIQ members who have been humiliated in churches, often referred to as demon possessed, to help them understand that they should accept themselves as they are and still be religious, they don’t have to choose,” said Samsam. She added that they as an organization, have an ongoing research on LGBTIQ persons in the education sector and are hoping to do targeted advocacy on LGBTIQ rights, and if all goes well, perhaps even request for the curriculum to change and be a bit more accommodative of their community.
BONELA provided housing and mentorship to LEGABIBO prior to 2016, while the latter was fighting to be legally recognized and regsitered. Although LEGABIBO operates independently now, BONELA still offer support and work together on a number of projects. Policy and Legal Coordinator for BONELA, Tebogo Gareitsanye said they continue to collaborate on community engagement with LEGABIBO. “Where grievances or violation of rights may occur, we as BONELA facilitate access to certain spaces, such as decision making boards of various organizations responsible for designing strategic policies so LEGABIBO may be able to communicate with them” she added. Gareitsanye also mentioned that BONELA offers capacity building to LEGABIBO ensuring they have a sound structure but also by mobilizing resources which they later sub grant to them.