Quaker conference examines lives of LGBTI community in Zimbabwe

| July 26, 2015
Stan Kahonde

Stan Kahonde

By Paul Ricketts

Special to Frost Illustrated

Friends General Conference is the third largest Quaker denomination in the United States and held its annual conference at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.. The beautiful campus is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Quakers  have for the past three centuries affirmed the worth and dignity of each person, believing the presence of God is present in all people. To this religious body all life is sacred!

“No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and God’s   love is made perfect in us.”—1 John 4:12

Stan Kahonde, a 28-year-old human rights activist from Harare, Zimbabwe, attended at this year’s gathering. He works for Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a coalition of 21 human rights organizations, and sits on the board of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe.

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) is an organization which strives for the attainment of full and equal human, social and economic rights in all aspects of life for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) persons. I interviewed Kahonde about the status of LGBTI people in Zimbabwe.

Robert Mugabe has been the leader of Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980 and is one of the longest-serving heads of state in southern Africa.  After a disputed election in 2009, Mugabe and his political party, Zimbabwe African National Union—Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), was pressured by regional allies to form an inclusive government. While it has implemented some political reforms, ZANU-PF continues to subject opposition leaders and human rights workers to arrest, imprisonment and torture.

During our interview, Kahonde recounted the reign of terror and persecution that exists today in Zimbabwe.

Can you please share briefly the human rights situation for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals in Zimbabwe today?

First and foremost gay rights are not human rights in Zimbabwe. Homosexuality is believed to be a borrowed culture from the Western nations and is un-African. So this being said it makes the environment unbearable for minority groups like lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals. They are treated like outcasts and do not belong to the human, social and professional circles whatsoever. Most are disowned by families because of the culture that hinders acceptance by family members.

You said, “Many prominent political and human rights groups in Zimbabwe are not willing to defend openly the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals in Zimbabwe.” In your opinion, why have Zimbabwean activists not paid attention to the rights of this community?

I personally feel that there is a conflict of interest when it comes to prominent political and human rights groups in Zimbabwe to defend these rights. Gay rights should be one of their priorities, as this is a very sensitive issue and needs immediate attention, but they are concerned mainly about other issues that will benefit themselves only and not the ones that are especially in need of assistance. I believe gay rights are human rights and must be defended like all other human rights.

What motivated you to get involved in LGBT activism in Zimbabwe?

The need to give the voiceless a voice motivated me to get involved in LGBT activism. This is a group that has been looked down at as worse than animals, and I certainly do not believe that this is a borrowed culture, and neither is it by choice.

How difficult, rewarding, and uplifting is it being a human rights activist for gay rights in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwean law is very strict on LGBT issues. It is forbidden to mobilize the gay community and hold meetings and workshops freely. You can be raided at any time, leading to detention, imprisonment, torture and trauma for those attacked. Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe remains active in this area and has managed to achieve its goals. It is uplifting when you see how the gay community has managed to support us as activists, although it has not been an easy task

How has your work impacted your relationship with family and friends?

My work has affected relationships with family and friends. They cut communication with me, as they did not want to be associated with someone who does work that is “taboo” to African culture and against Zimbabwean law, but I think the main reason they did this was for the safety of their lives and immediate family. A few have remained loyal and did not leave me on my journey.

What can we do to help you and the other LGBT groups in Zimbabwe further your work?

We hope that the U.S. government can engage more with the Zimbabwean government to try and alleviate the problems the LGBT community is facing. This could include the acceptance of gay rights as human rights as the first step, along with giving the LGBT community space and a voice to address their grievances and providing safer spaces for this vulnerable minority group. Sending solidarity messages to show support to LGBT groups could also help.

Paul Ricketts is a member Fort Wayne Friends Meeting (Quakers).

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Category: Civil Rights, Courts and Justice, International, Spiritual Matters

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