Last edited: February 14, 2005

Zimbabwe Gays Seek Rights

PlanetOut, October 25, 1999

SUMMARY: Activists brave booing from Constitutional Commission delegates to seek protection for l/g/b/t’s 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 Chiyausiku’s 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 Zamba.

"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 Zimbabwe’s tightly government-controlled media diminished considerably over the course of the lengthy trial of the nation’s 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 Mugabe’s 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 Zimbabwe’s involvement the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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