LGBTI+ people exist. They are alive and breathing, going through the human experience along with everyone else on the planet. However, unlike everyone else, a sad truth for many LGBTI+ people is that despite their existence, they are not recognised. In many countries, including Lesotho, LGBTI+ are not accepted in the eyes of the law, and not regarded as equals in society. Surviving as dismissed shadows among the masses, they continue to exist, encountering discrimination and prejudice across the board (rural and urban), from strangers who taunt, degrade and hurl derogatory labels at them, to family members and loved ones who reject and neglect them. Simply for choosing to live their authentic truth.
An absence of legislature that is dedicated to recognising and upholding the rights of our LGBTI+ population, serves to exacerbate this wanton reality. When one is not acknowledged in the judicial arena, by default one does not exercise or enjoy the protections, services and freedoms that law affords.
Homosexuality is not explicitly legalised in Lesotho. There are no laws outlining the legal status of Basotho LGBTI+, and they are not recognised in the workplace, domestic and social spaces in which they reside. In a country with a population of approximately two (2) million, there is no extensive evidence on the numbers of LGBTI+ Basotho. Many suffer gross violations of their human rights – marginalisation and stigmatisation; psychological and physical abuse – alongside personal challenges caused by living in a society that has made the LGBTI+ community feel as though if they do not conform, they do not belong. It takes great strength and courage to stay true and authentic to oneself in the face of constant adversity and discrimination, more so when one has to fight for acceptance by those we expect and hope to embrace us for who we are.
There are a handful of civil society organisations (CSOs) advocating for the equal rights of LGBTI+ in Lesotho. The Master of Healing Foundation (MoHF) is an advocacy group fighting for the equality of Basotho LGBTI+. In the past, activism has met resistance, spurred on by religious intolerance and/or personal prejudices and homophobia.
A national dialogue held between Lesotho’s LGBTI+ and the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation (MGYSR) in September 2019, indicated great strides in the work of civil society. This was attended by Basotho LGBTI+ from across the country and was held for the purpose of hearing testimonies on their various experiences. This engagement, the first of its kind in Lesotho, was a platform that highlighted one very important development – the woes of LGBTI+ in Lesotho, through the efforts of the organisations such as MoHF that represent them, were indeed being voiced, heard, and received.
Many local LGBTI+ have been subjected to injustices of their human rights as cultural understandings and social norms condoned homophobic behaviour. Name calling, ridiculing and socially outcasting members of the LGBTI+ community have for too long been commonplace in Lesotho, with the reaction of others more often than not, being to laugh at those being victimised, rather than stand against this ill treatment. The work of LGBTI civil society has been to stand with and for this community which has gone ignored for so long.
Until such a time that there is clarity on the legal status of Lesotho’s LGBTI+ people, legislature passed by government stipulating that members of this community (who should have been afforded these rights by virtue of birth, but rather have been side-lined because of their sexual orientation) will not be protected by law should their rights be violated. For this to be realised, efforts to change societal mentalities that have allowed homophobic behaviour, continue to be paramount. Public support, understanding and acceptance of LGBTI+ is the groundwork from which all other efforts can be built.
Inclusion and denial of any group of people are two sides of the same coin, a coin that is in our hands. For any laws to be effective, they need to be recognised by the public themselves, realised from an understanding that we are all human, and all have a right to live, equal and liberated. We must ally and rally with this segment of our people. A Sesotho proverb succinctly encapsulating this ethos says “Kaofela re chabana sa khomo”, meaning “We are one nation – We are one”.