Leading the struggle for LGBT rights in Mozambique

Imagine a beautiful table setting in a tropical garden next to a meticulously renovated historic home. Reminisce as selections of classic jazz and R&B from our hosts’ personal collection set the mood. Enjoy the breeze as it carries hints of a feast all gathered shall soon enjoy and sweet scents from the garden.

The event was a big gay Easter brunch in Africa where homosexuality is outlawed in 32 of 55 states. Our hosts, Danilo da Silva and his husband Igor were married in South Africa under Portuguese law but live openly in Maputo, Mozambique. I was there with my partner Mike and our friends James and Jeff who were married in Washington, D.C., right before they were posted to Maputo. In addition to an engagingly eclectic mix of straight and (mostly) LGBTQ friends from Africa and Europe, Danilo’s mother and younger brother were there; and the couple cares for Igor’s father who lives with them.

Danilo da Silva is executive director of LAMBDA Mozambique, founded in 2006 and supported by 164 full-time staff and volunteers across Mozambique. Da Silva is one of the co-founders and has been director for about eight years.

I interviewed da Silva from D.C. after my first trip to Africa via video teleconference.

Washington Blade: Can LGBTQ people live openly in Mozambique?
Danilo da Silva: Yes and No. Mozambican society has a live-and-let-live attitude toward homosexuality as long as it is not in your household. Mozambique is not “pro gay” per se. Gays are not harmed or harassed on the streets. Homosexuality is tolerated as long as it’s not in your family.

Blade: So, how did your mother come to accept who you are?
da Silva: Mom went through a long process to accept me. It wasn’t easy for her. She doesn’t talk much about it. I’m the eldest son and one of her favorites. Igor had difficulty with his sister but his parents and other siblings were supportive. His parents are liberals and open to his sexuality.

Blade: What’s it like being a bi-racial gay couple in Mozambique?
da Silva: People assume that someone is taking advantage of the situation. Waiters, for example, would just hand the bill to Igor who is of Portuguese descent. People know us now so this is less of a problem. We’ve been together for 10 years and were married 5 years ago in Cape Town. Mozambique does not recognize LGBTQ marriage or provide legal protections for civil unions.

Blade: What happens in families with gay members?
da Silva: People are ostracized. Those afraid to be ostracized by their families don’t come out. Some folks still marry and have kids and live the double life. They seek men on the side. We do not have a term for “down low.” We use “brother or friend.” Many who do come out, move away from their families to the cities to be free and anonymous.

Blade: What about trans people?
da Silva: Trans people don’t hide who they are; and their families treat them more harshly. Trans youth are most likely to become homeless as a result. Trans people band together, create their own communities, or houses, which have a family structure for self support and protection. Trans people, however, have the same problems with sex work, drugs and other criminal activities found in the U.S.

Blade: Are there support organizations or institutions for LGBTQ Mozambicans?
da Silva: Aside from LAMBDA, no, not financially or technically. There is no government, church or community center support for the LGBTQ community including HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

Blade: Marriage equality is sweeping the globe, is it time for gay marriage in Africa?
da Silva: No, it’s not time for gay marriage when people are still being killed for who they love. The only African state that recognizes same-sex marriage is South Africa.

Blade: Robert Mugabe is strongly opposed to LGBT Rights in Zimbabwe. Should I have been concerned while visiting Victoria Falls with my partner?
da Silva: Gays won’t have issues in tourist areas or big cities in Zimbabwe. You may have problems in small towns with the police. The State of Zimbabwe is anti-gay.

Blade: Can the U.S. help the fight for LGBTQ rights in Africa?
da Silva: Megaphone diplomacy didn’t consider how African governments would deal with the pushing, blaming and shaming. That approach didn’t work well. African governments don’t want to appear weak or appear to bow to the Imperialists. It put a target sign on the backs on the African LGBTQ community. Behind the scenes efforts work better. We have learned to be more strategic and diplomatic which is paying off.

Blade: What are your priorities for Lambda Mozambique?
da Silva: Continue to lobby the State for support. MPs are not directly elected so it’s difficult to gain support from parliament. Organize, network and train new leadership to support the LGBTQ struggle. It is important that we know each other and that we are visible. Develop and revise programs to meet the needs of LAMBDA Mozambique members and partners.

by Marvin Bowser
Source – The Washington Blade