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Eswatini Supreme Court hears LGBTQ rights case

Advocacy group hopes to legally register

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Members of the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group, after the Eswatini Supreme Court on May 5, 2023, heard arguments in their case in support of legally registering in the country. (Photo courtesy of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities)

Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group, is hopeful the country’s Registrar of Companies will allow it to register after the Supreme Court heard its case on May 5.

The Registrar of Companies in 2019 first denied Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities’s request on grounds the organization advocates for LGBTQ and intersex rights that are illegal. 

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under common law, which criminalizes sodomy. The law, however, has never been enforced, but Emaswati who identify as LGBTQ or intersex still face discrimination.

Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities in 2020 approached the Supreme Court with the case. The Supreme Court dismissed it in 2022, but Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities appealed the ruling.

Closing arguments in the case took place on May 5.

“There is no law in Eswatini that prohibits the LGBTI+ community from identifying. Nothing is criminal about that. Don’t we have in this country an association of ex-prisoners? Isn’t the Registrar not scared that the ex-prisoners association includes rapists and murderers who will share ideas but is afraid of the LGBTI+ community? How is that association legal and ESGM is not? Homosexuality was not outlawed by the constitution and therefore the refusal to register ESGM is clearly a rights infringement,” said Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities in a statement.  

The Supreme Court has not said when it will issue its ruling.

Eswatini’s government has not forbidden Pride celebrations or obstructed their planning, even though it continues to oppose LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Rock of Hope, an LGBTQ and intersex rights organization, in 2018 organized Eswatini’s first Pride event.

The country is the continent’s last absolute monarchy, which has been under King Mswati III’s rule since 1986 when he was 18. Eswatini is deeply rooted in traditional and customary practices, which are mostly patriarchal, that do not include the LGBTQ and intersex community.

According to Gerbrandt van Heerden, an African researcher, historical evidence in many instances dispels the notion that LGBTQ and intersex people, as well as non-traditional gender expressions and identities, are alien to African culture.

“Whether it is the elite pushing the gay rights are un-African narrative out of pure ignorance, or whether power-hungry politicians dance to the tune of the people they govern in order to remain popular with the electorate, there is no question that categorizing same-sex attraction as a foreign concept and a form of neo-colonialism serves as a major obstacle to LGBTI rights on the continent,” said van Heerden.

Van Heerden also noted that in order for there to be less stigmatization of LGBTQ and intersex people, there should be more awareness of the LGBTQ and intersex community.

“Debunking the idea that LGBTI people are un-African is another powerful tool to further LGBTI rights on the continent. It all boils down to education,” said van Heerden. “Studies have shown that tolerance for gay people is highest among educated Africans. LGBTI people are among the most vilified groups on the continent today, but simply paging through the history.” 

Although the government and many Emaswati only see LGBTQ and intersex rights organizations as advocacy groups, they play a pivotal role in ensuring the community’s health. 

Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities and Rock of Hope have been working to ensure LGBTQ and intersex Emaswati receive access to health care without discrimination.

The Rock of Hope last month on Rainbow Health Day provided free medical care to the country’s LGBTQ and intersex community. This care included COVID-19 vaccinations, HIV testing and counseling, psycho social support, TB and STI screenings, free condoms and lubricant distribution, among other things.

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Africa

Prominent South African activist elected to country’s parliament

Steve Letsike founded Access Chapter 2

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Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

A prominent South African LGBTQ activist has won a seat in the country’s parliament.

Steve Letsike, a lesbian woman who founded Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group, is a member of the African National Congress. She is also part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee that determines the party’s direction.

Letsike won a seat in the South African National Assembly in national and provincial elections that took place on May 29.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority that it had had since Nelson Mandela in 1994 won the South African presidency in the country’s first post-apartheid elections. MPs earlier this month re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa after the ANC invited the Democratic Alliance and other parties to form a Government of National Unity.

Letsike in a statement to the Washington Blade described her election as “a milestone for the people of South Africa, and also affirmative of our party’s posture that is inclusive and intention to transformation agenda.”

“I am not in parliament for myself but the people that trusted the ANC to send individuals that will put people first,” said Letsike. “In that cohort that includes the LGBTI people like myself. Rooted in the teaching of a just society, that seeks equality and believes in the rule of law. That demand on developmental agenda from a queer lens and clear priorities of the people is important.” 

“I am delighted by this task, trust and hope for our people,” she added.

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Namibian High Court strikes down Apartheid-era sodomy laws

Gay activist challenged statutes in 2020

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(Bigstock photo)

The Namibian High Court on Friday ruled laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country are unconstitutional.

Friedel Dausab, a gay activist, in 2020 challenged the Apartheid-era statute.

The Washington Blade previously reported Dausab said the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, which listed “sodomy” as a Schedule 1 offense, and a second law that criminalized “unnatural” sexual acts, promote stigma and exclusion of LGBTQ Namibians. Equal Namibia, a Namibian LGBTQ advocacy group, on its X account praised the ruling.

“Welcome to a new Namibia. A born-free Namibia,” it said.

Dausab, who challenged the laws with the assistance of Human Dignity Trust, a British NGO, told Reuters he is “just happy.”

“It’s a great day for Namibia,” he said. “It won’t be a crime to love anymore.”

Namibia is the latest country in which consensual same-sex sexual relations have been decriminalized in recent years.

The Namibian Supreme Court in May 2023 ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere. The landmark decision sparked criticism among leading politicians and religious officials.

Activists say their rhetoric has contributed to increased harassment of LGBTQ Namibians and hate speech against them.

Amnesty International in a press release notes MPs last June passed two bills that “seek to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminate against trans people and criminalize any support, celebration or promotion of same-sex unions with up to six years in jail and hefty fines.” Khanyo Farise, the group’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, said the organization in recent weeks has “observed alarming rhetoric threatening LGBTI persons in Namibia.”

“Whatever the outcome of the High Court decision on June 21, violence and discrimination against LGBTI people has no place in Namibian society,” said Farise. “Authorities should take decisive action to prevent human rights violations against LGBTI persons and hold perpetrators accountable.”

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Protesters vandalize Zimbabwean LGBTQ rights group’s offices

GALZ has reported the incident to the police

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Protesters vandalized GALZ's offices in Harare, Zimbabwe, with homophobic graffiti. (Photos courtesy of GALZ)

A handful of protesters over this past weekend vandalized the offices of Zimbabwe’s largest LGBTQ rights organization.

Although they did not enter GALZ (an Association of LGBTI People in Zimbabwe)’s building in Harare, the country’s capital, they did gather at the gate and sang homophobic songs. The protesters also left anti-gay graffiti on the gate and walls.

Several people after the incident started to question the authenticity of the protesters, arguing GALZ itself organized the protest in order to get funding. They said some of the protesters “looked gay” and even argued the organization had yet to approach the police.

GALZ has sought to discredit some of the reports, while calling the protest disrespectful and uncalled for.

“We categorically condemn the acts of vandalism and intimidation that occurred on Sunday afternoon,” said GALZ in a statement. “A group of individuals claiming to represent various Christian churches descended at our offices. They proceeded to vandalize the property, painting hateful graffiti on the walls. While we respect differences in values, it is utterly unacceptable to deploy acts of vandalism and intimidation against communities who hold different values.”

GALZ said it has filed an official police report, and is “cooperating fully with the ongoing investigations.” 

“We call on the authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable for these criminal actions,” said the organization. 

GALZ also said it remains steadfast in its commitment to LGBTQ rights, and urged religious and political leaders to be at the forefront of fostering unity in Zimbabwe.

“This act of violence has not been committed in isolation, it is a stark reminder of the ongoing discrimination and hostility that our community faces,” said GALZ.

“We urge religious and political leaders to condemn such acts of hate and to uphold the  constitutional rights and freedoms for all citizens to be protected by law regardless of their diverse backgrounds including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. We encourage Zimbabweans to resort to open and respectful dialogue to address indifferences,” added the organization.

Several United Methodist Church parishioners last month held a protest in Harare during which they protested the church’s recent decision to allow LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages. James Kawadza, one of the protest organizers, said it was un-African to engage in same-sex relations.

“Homosexuality is unlawful in Zimbabwe and marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “The church has aligned with the rainbow movement, and this is also a threat to our African traditions and human existence at large. Homosexuality is not contextual, it is an abomination where Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire.”

Section 73 of Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act on sexual crimes and crimes against morality says any “male person who, with the consent of another male person, knowingly performs with that other person anal sexual intercourse, or any act involving physical contact other than anal sexual intercourse that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act, shall be guilty of sodomy and liable to” a fine, up to a year in prison or both.

Cases of people being arrested under this provision are rare.

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