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The bite behind the bark of homophobia

in BOTSWANA, 28/11/2012

Homosexuality is a topical issue in Botswana’s political and social discourse. While the country’s laws imply that the practice is outlawed, it is pellucid that it is a reality that the nation cannot ignore. At the centre of the debate is liberal versus conservative views with the former speaking for gay rights and the latter disagreeing.

The Gazette reporter, ATLANG SEBAKILE uncovers more on the subject. Unlike in countries like neighbouring South Africa, for instance, gay people may not be experiencing brutal killings but they sure experience discrimination, emotional abuse and rejection.

Kobamelo Koko, who is openly gay and proud about his status despite the hostility, revealed in an interview that the things people say about him are often humiliating and very painful. “A good number of Batswana are homophobic and believe that being gay is a choice. Some people taunt me using derogatory terms like ‘woman’ or ‘sissy’. It’s very painful to be called names and being rejected. It is extremely unfair because such attitude can destroy one’s self-esteem and self-belief.”

Tragically homophobia in this country is endemic, says Tracy Tsheko, a lesbian. According to her, during her high school days she was called names like ‘dirty dyke’ and experienced general homophobic bullying with other students accusing her of ogling other female students, which was totally untrue.

“At some point I ended up hating school and I opted for the easy way out which was absconding school because some of the teachers were equally insensitive. The sad reality is that at some point, when things were very confusing and the hatred was so strong, I contemplated suicide.” Tsheko strongly believes that if it weren’t for the hatred she experienced at school, she could have done much better in her studies.

Lame Charmaine Olebile, the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) coordinator, said, “Some of the effects of homophobia in our society include gay people being depressed due to the rejection which drives them to alcohol and drug abuse or worse contemplating suicide. Some victims of homophobic attacks or rejection in fact resort to self harm.”

Olebile further on shared with this publication some of the sad cases their organisation has previously handled. “Some lady was once fired from her job only because she was gay, which was wrong and illegal. Another case was of a death threat posed to a lesbian lady by her lesbian partner’s father. Some bizarre cases include the landlord throwing out a tenant simply because he/she was gay,” she said.

When reached for comment, Flyed Seloka, a professional counsellor and devout Christian, stated that he doesn’t support homosexuality but he is against homophobic attacks.
“In my experience, as a counsellor, I have never come across a client who had problems associated with homophobia but I know they do exist. Upon coming from the closet gay people are most likely to be rejected sometimes even by their own families, which can be quite traumatizing.”

A mother, who accepted her gay son but would not identify herself for fear of rejection, revealed that it’s painful to have your child being discriminated against because of something that is beyond their control. “These people who say gays chose to be gay should ask themselves this question: If being gay is a choice when did they (heterosexuals) choose to be straight?”

Masego Moeng (not her real name) who is a divorcee, shared with The Gazette via facebook that homophobia is not good at all. “Homophobia is sad and I must take this opportunity to urge parents to be supportive to their gay children. I was married for three years and trust me it didn’t change my former husband into being straight. One day he plucked the courage to face me, came clean about his sexuality and that is how we got to divorce. He confessed that he married me because of the pressure he was getting from his family and for fear of rejection he had to act. Who knows maybe the divorce rate in our country is a result of gay people marrying straight people, it just doesn’t work,” she said.

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