Zimbabwe Gays Seek Rights
SUMMARY: Activists brave booing from Constitutional Commission delegates to seek
protection for l/g/b/ts under federal law - which must ultimately be approved by
homophobic President Mugabe.
Members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) told a special session of the national
Constitutional Commission on October 24 that the new constitution should protect them from
discrimination. Many of the 400 delegates in this distinguished body openly booed and
tried to drown out the presentation, despite Chair Judge Godfrey Chiyausikus
instructing them that the gays had a right to a respectful hearing. One Harare newspaper
responded by publishing rural villagers remarks that not only denounced the call for
civil rights, but called for gays to be hanged. Last week an evangelical group had called
on the Constitutional Commission to prohibit homosexual acts and provide for censorship of
their depiction in media. Zimbabwe already has a criminal sodomy statute providing for up
to seven years imprisonment.
"I am asking for the ... inclusion of a sexual orientation clause in the new
constitution. This is not a special right but just an acknowledgment of the existence of
gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people in Zimbabwe," said Chesterfield
"A sexual orientation clause in the new constitution does not mean the slippery
slope down toward the acceptance of bestiality, or pedophilia, or sex in the streets or
necrophilia or rape," said GALZ programs manager Keith Goddard. "We are asking
for the recognition of consensual same-sex relations between two consenting adults in
private." Goddard said that the anti-discrimination protections would "end state
prosecution and harassment" and help end homophobia and anti-gay hate crimes.
Although neighboring South Africa was the first nation in the world to ban sexual
orientation discrimination in its constitution, the climate in Zimbabwe is so different as
to make GALZ public statement an act of courage. Several years ago when GALZ sought
simply to display some literature at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, President
Robert Mugabe -- who will have the final say on the content of the new constitution --
began an unsurpassed campaign of homophobic rhetoric. International protests did not deter
him in the least. When ultimately a court allowed GALZ to display at a later Book Fair,
their stand was attacked by a mob of about 100, openly including a government prosecutor.
The spate of anti-gay rhetoric in Zimbabwes tightly government-controlled media
diminished considerably over the course of the lengthy trial of the nations first
post-colonial President Canaan Banana, a long-time Mugabe ally, for eleven assorted counts
of assaults against other men; his January conviction and sentence are pending appeal. At
least one analyst has suggested that Mugabes homophobic campaign was largely an
effort to make his own marriage to a much younger woman more publicly acceptable; many
have suggested that it served as a distraction from numerous national problems including
repression, government corruption, hunger, and Zimbabwes involvement the war in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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