|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
Thanks BONELA for educating the public. Former President Festus Mogae has called on the society to be tolerant and to protect gays and lesbians and other sexual minorities from discrimination and persecution.
Commenting on a study on HIV prevalence among sexual minorities conducted by the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), and discussed during a National Aids Council (NAC) meeting, Mogae recalled one of his Cabinet meetings that was attended by police officials; there were no reports of the harassment of gays and lesbians.
“I would not want us to persecute sexual minorities, not even sex workers. It is not something (behaviour) we like, but I do not think police harass them,” said the former President.
On suggestions that BONELA’s study should have been broader, Mogae pointed out that Botswana has limited resources.
“But we would welcome funds from elsewhere, or would use case studies from elsewhere. We do not want to discriminate; our HIV message applies to everybody. I thank BONELA for the education that they have given us; in future when we have enough resources we will have a bigger study,” Mogae promised.
“If we are fighting stigma associated with sex, let’s apply it to sexual discrimination in general,” he said. Mogae’s acceptance was seen as a victory for BONELA, which has been campaigning for groups such as the Lesbians, Gay and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) to come out in the open.
It can also be viewed as a break with the past when the government steadfastly refused to even acknowledge the existence of homosexuals; t one time LEGABIBO threatened to sue the government over Section 164 of the Penal Code that criminalizes same sex relationships.
Responding to questions from delegates, BONELA Director Uyapo Ndadi said their main concern was confined areas such as prisons, where prisoners do not have access to condoms.
“These people are vulnerable to HIV; another thing that worries BONELA is legislation that is not accommodative and as such fuels discrimination.”
Answering a question from the former President who wanted to know why BONELA wants specific interventions for sexual minorities, adding that his view had been that information on HIV targeted at everybody and did not leave out people in same sex relations, BONELA’s Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities Coordinator, Felistus Motimedi, said her organization does not advocate for exclusive health facilities; however lubricated condoms should be available in all health facilities.
Acting President Mompati Merafhe observed that Botswana’s health facilities have the capacity to include sexual minorities.