Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, intersex and queer people (LGBTI) have in the past been a target of systematic verbal and physical abuse in Zimbabwe. The hate speech often escalated during the election season when politicians would use sexual identities as ammunition to fuel campaign rallies. But now, the LGBTI community is saying no and calling for protection against election violence.
This step signifies the beginning of a era after former Zimbabwean president; Robert Mugabe’s popular homophobic comments;
“We reject attempts to prescribe new rights that are contrary to our values norms traditions and beliefs. “We are not gays,” he said addressing the United Nations General Assembly in 2015.
This year there has been fewer reports of LGBTI abuses in the lead up to this year’s election, on July 30, but members of the LGBTI community still say they are faced with difficulties.
Ricky Nathanson, who is the executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy and Training in Zimbabwe and identifies as transgender, narrates some of the experiences.
“This trans woman went to register and she was kept by the polling agents for over an hour, while they tried to verify why she looked different from what her gender identity documents say,” Nathanson explained.
Ricky Nathanson has in the past experienced discrimination first hand and was in 2014 charged and subjected to humiliating treatment by authorities for using a women’s bathroom. The LGBTI community has urged political parties and the government to ensure that all citizens can vote freely regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Some political formations including the ruling party ZANU PF have responded positively, says Chester Samba, director of the Gays and Lesbians Association in Zimbabwe. The association works on advocacy for LGBTI rights and acts as a space for social community activities, as well as a support center for any issues affecting them.
“We are encouraged by the decline in the use of the LGBTI individuals in campaigning, as characterized by past elections,” Samba said. “We see a decline in the state being the perpetrator of most acts of harassment on our communities,” Samba added. Rights group Amnesty International has commended the prevailing political tolerance. “There has always been a lot of intolerance from the previous government and now the current political parties are saying let us embrace them and let us show some tolerance,” explained Lloyd Kuveya, Amnesty’s researcher for southern Africa.
“We are very happy about that to see a marginalized community being brought into the broader group of society in Zimbabwe – as Zimbabweans, as human beings that have inherent rights guaranteed in the constitution,” Kuveya said.
This comes after a recent initiative by the government to train health workers on better/hate-free service for the LGBTI community.
This post was made with excerpts from DW