Fighting for Gay Rights in Zimbabwe
Homosexuals have few rights in Zimbabwe
BBC Online News, October 23, 1999
By Grant Ferrett in Zimbabwe
It looked a familiar, if old-fashioned, sight. Beauty contestants parading along a
catwalk in evening dress to an enthusiastic, mainly male audience.
The various hopefuls were asked questions by the master of ceremonies, who explained
that this competition was about personality, not just looks.
"What would you do if you became Miss Jacaranda?" one contestant was asked.
There came the standard response about working tirelessly for charity. But the
questioning became progressively more political and loaded with innuendo as the evening
went on. Defiant display
President Mugabe is anti-gay
"The first prize is two nights at a top holiday resort," said the host to
"Who would you most like to take with you? President Moi of Kenya, President
Museveni of Uganda, or our own President Mugabe?"
The response was drowned out by shrieks of laughter from the audience at the outrageous
absurdity of the question.
All three African leaders have made stridently anti-homosexual remarks, and the Miss
Jacaranda contestants are all gay men who enjoy dressing as women.
By Western standards, this was a fairly routine drag contest. But in a conservative,
male-dominated African country which usually avoids confrontation at all costs, this was a
spectacularly defiant display.
It's one thing to be secretly homosexual, but quite another to publicly parade oneself
in women's clothing and make lewd remarks about a head of state whom local gay activists
describe as "the world's number one homophobe".
Worse than pigs and dogs
Former President Banana: Convicted of sodomy and sexual assault
President Mugabe perhaps invited such confrontational tactics when, several years ago
in a row about a book fair, he described homosexuals as not only "un-African",
but "worse than pigs and dogs".
The most senior civil servant in the Ministry of Information, who's now the editor of
the main state-run daily newspaper, later attempted to clarify the government's position
by confirming that homosexuals had the right to life, but little else besides.
After a year or so in which the issue had largely dropped out of the news except
for the highly-colourful trial and conviction of the former President, Canaan Banana, on
numerous charges of sodomy and sexual assault against his male employees
homosexuality in Zimbabwe is once again making headlines.
The country is in the process of drawing up a new constitution to replace the one
signed 20 years ago on the eve of independence.
Little sympathy for gays
The wittily-named GALZ which stands for Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe has
seized this opportunity to promote its cause and demand a constitutional guarantee of
protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Its chances are, to put it mildly, slim. A huge consultation exercise in which
nearly 400 hundred commissioners have travelled the country holding thousands of public
meetings suggests that there's little sympathy for gays.
The main daily newspaper reported on its front page the comments to the commission of
residents in one rural area.
"Villagers in Umzingwane district do not want rights of homosexuals to be
enshrined in the new constitution, and have called for the hanging of those engaged in
homosexual practices," the paper said.
Gay rights leaders say such views reflect the impact of years of anti-gay propaganda by
President Mugabe and his party. They hope that, in time, Zimbabwe will adopt
constitutional guarantees which are as liberal as those in neighbouring South Africa.
But, given the fact that the findings of the constitutional review have to be approved
by Mr Mugabe before becoming law, such a change is unlikely to happen just yet.
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