Homophobia hurting anti-AIDS campaigns in Africa

When Commonwealth countries met in Perth in October, there was a call to decriminalise homosexuality, which is still illegal in Commonwealth nations including India and Sri Lanka.

The move ultimately went nowhere, but it did put some pressure on countries that outlaw same sex relations. Asian nations have mixed policies on homosexuality, while in Africa it is still illegal to be openly gay in many countries on the continent. In the landlocked country of Botswana in southern Africa, this is hampering efforts to tackle the HIV epidemic. The government is thwarting attempts by the country’s leading human rights group to run an advertising campaign, because of its references to homosexuality.

Presenter: Ginny Stein, Africa correspondent
Speakers: Paco Luke; Pastor Strike Ben; Manno Setaelo; Reverend Rupert Hambira, member of the Gaborone City Council; Festus Mogae, former Botswana president and currently head of the AIDS Council of Botswana

Ginny Stein: In Botswana, to be out is not just a difficult decision but a potentially dangerous one.

Paco Luke chose to tell his family that he was gay and counts himself lucky they’re being supportive. But that’s not the view of most people in Botswana society or in his government.

To be gay in Botswana is to be considered a criminal.

Paco Luke: I need to enjoy my freedom. I need to go to places I wish to go to without worrying about who’s going to see what, who’s going to do what to me. I need to go to these places and feel free.

Ginny Stein: Across Africa more than 30 countries still consider homosexuality to be a criminal offence. To discuss decriminalising it is to invite vilification, and the most strident voices are those with the most influence – the nation’s church leaders.

Pastor Strike Ben’s message that homosexuality is wrong is preached to an accepting audience.

Strike Ben: We would want by God’s grace to see people move from situations that are not right to the right situations.

Ginny Stein: But not all find the message helpful – just ask Manno Setaelo.

Manno Setaelo: I spoke to my pastor then he told me we have to fast about this thing. Actually we fasted like every Wednesday we were fasting and praying. Then I was like, no Pastor, you know what, this thing working. The more we fast the more I get interested into ladies.

Ginny Stein: Reverend Rupert Hambira from the United Congregational Church, who is now a member of the Gaborone City Council, is one church leader who is game enough to speak his mind.

Rupert Hambira: Discrimination is wrong. Discriminating against these people is wrong, it’s unconstitutional, it’s un-Christian. It cannot be acceptable. Constitutions are not written to support, to protect the views of majorities and popular beliefs but are written to protect the minority views, the small people. They are written to protect those people.

Ginny Stein: Festus Mogae, the former president and now head of the AIDS Council of Botswana, admits that while leading the nation, he said nothing in support of gay rights.

But he says he knows now that while uncomfortable, the state has to stand up for the rights of homosexuals – but he’s not seeking election.

Festus Mogae: If I was fighting an election and decriminalisation of homosexuality was one of the issues, I would not want to risk losing elections because of homosexuality, because I would think that I would want to win first and do some of the other things.

Ginny Stein: In Botswana, gay marriage is definitely far from a reality. The first step towards decriminalisation is yet to be taken.

Source – ABC Radio Australia