Gaborone, the vibrant capital city of Botswana, recently witnessed another historic LGBTIQ+ event that sent ripples of acceptance and love throughout the nation.
The annual Gaborone Pride, a celebration of diversity and inclusion, took centre stage in the Southern African country known for its increasingly progressive stance on LGBTIQ+ rights.
This event marked a significant milestone in Botswana’s journey toward embracing and celebrating its diverse community.
A landmark legislative victory
Botswana made headlines on 11 June 2019 when its High Court decriminalised consensual same-sex relations, and the Court of Appeal concreted the ruling on 29 November 2021. This ruling not only decriminalised consensual same-sex sexual conduct but also laid the foundation for a more inclusive and accepting society.
Activists worldwide celebrated the landmark decisions, setting the stage for the first-ever LGBTIQ+ Pride event in Gaborone that year.
Equal rights, politics, and semantics
LGBTIQ+ people are not seeking special rights, but rather equal rights as afforded in the Constitution of Botswana. The pursuit of equal human rights was recently put in jeopardy when Botswana’s Minister of Defense, Justice and Security proposed tabling a divisive and unnecessary bill seeking to amend Section 164 (a) and (c) of the Penal Code, which criminalise homosexuality, during the July/August 2023 Parliament session.
The proposed motion tabled by the Minister resulted in an outcry from some religious church bodies and politicians, with several demonstrations throughout the country urging Parliament not to support LGBTIQ+ rights.
One may wonder if there had been a misinterpretation of the Court of Appeal’s decision to recognise and protect equal rights by the Minister, politicians, and the church bodies, or if this was another political tactic as Botswana heads for its General Elections in 2024. Whatever the reason, this action caused many LGBTIQ+ people to wonder about their safety and even legality.
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre released a statement discouraging the intention to debate the Court’s judgement, as the Court made it clear that the right to privacy extends to “protection of the right to make personal choices about one’s lifestyle, choice of partner, or intimate relationships among a host of others.”
The Court concluded that sections 164(a) and (c) of the Penal Code “have been rendered unconstitutional by the march of time and the change of circumstances” and are unnecessarily harmful to and stigmatising LGBTIQ+ people. Such sections “incentivise law enforcement agents and others to become key-hole peepers and intruders in private spaces,” which is “neither in the public interest nor in the nature of Batswana”.
The Minister later informed Parliament that he would defer the tabled bill to allow for an intensive interrogation on the constitutional issues raised with his ministry regarding the bill and would seek counsel from the Attorney General of Botswana on how to proceed with the Court of Appeal’s ruling.
United with PRIDE!
The Gaborone Pride celebration united a diverse crowd of individuals regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The event aimed to create a safe and supportive space where people could express themselves, celebrate their identities, and foster understanding among the broader community.
The colourful, lively, and inclusive atmosphere was filled with joy and solidarity. Attendees were seen waving rainbow flags, donning extravagant costumes, and showcasing their uniqueness. Various forms of artistic expression, including dance performances, live music, and a fashion parade, were featured, providing a platform for LGBTIQ+ voices and allies to share their stories and talents.
In Botswana, LGBTIQ+ persons have been historically marginalised and silenced. In the face of rising challenges to gender, women’s rights, LGBTIQ+, and human rights in Africa, Gaborone Pride provided a platform for visibility, allowing queer people to be seen in a society that continuously tells them that they do not belong. Gaborone Pride was indeed a declaration of resilience and strength.
Support from all corners
One of the most heartening aspects of Gaborone Pride was the support it received from various sectors of society. Embassies, civil society organisations, community leaders, the media and the public supported the event, sending a powerful message of unity and acceptance.
The event not only highlighted the importance of building a more inclusive and equitable society but showed the transformative impact of solidarity, emphasising that the journey toward a more inclusive and equitable society is a collaborative effort where allies play a pivotal role in advocating for and amplifying the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community. It reaffirmed one’s dedication to upholding the rights of all citizens, irrespective of their sexual and gender identity.
The road ahead
While Gaborone Pride was a resounding success, it is essential to recognise that the struggle for equal rights and acceptance is ongoing in Botswana and worldwide. Despite the legal victories, challenges such as discrimination, stigmatisation, and lack of access to healthcare persist.
Events like Gaborone Pride play a vital role in increasing visibility, fostering understanding, and advocating for the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community. Pride acts as a catalyst for societal change by offering forums for open discussion while creating spaces where individuals can come together to celebrate their identities and educate others about their challenges.
This promotes genuine empathy and informed discourse, which are essential for eradicating long-standing stereotypes and advancing true equality and respect for diversity and human rights.
Article by Bradley Fortuin, LGBTIQ+ Program Officer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and a social justice activist, and Matlhogonolo Samsam, LBQ Officer at Iranti and a queer feminist working towards developing an inclusive LBQ+ society.
Photos by Kitso Ramarumo, a Health Officer for the LGBTIQ+ community in Gaborone and a member of Black Queer DocX.