Last edited: January 31, 2005

Zimbabwe Gay Group Wins International Award

afrol News, January 28, 2005

By staff writer

The grassroots gay and lesbian association in Zimbabwe, GALZ, is awarded international recognition for their human rights accomplishments. Despite arrests and intimidation, GALZ had made a great effort to promote the rights of Zimbabwe’s gay and lesbian community, according to the award.

The group Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) is to be honoured with this year’s International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s (IGLHRC) Felipa de Souza Award. The IGLHRC announced this after a New York meeting today.

The Felipa Award recognises “the courage and impact of grassroots groups and leaders dedicated to improving the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other individuals stigmatised and abused because of their sexuality.” Now in its tenth year, the award carries with it a US$ 5,000 stipend to assist and strengthen the ability of grassroots human rights groups to do their work.

“GALZ has been a creative and fearless human rights leader not just in Zimbabwe but throughout Africa and for all of us who share the struggle for social justice and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said Paula Ettelbrick, the executive director of IGLHRC. “At a time in which democracy and governmental respect for human rights are closing down even more forcefully in Zimbabwe, GALZ continues to provide life-saving services and programmes,” she added.

Formed in 1990, GALZ was the first organisation in the country to provide services to and push for the human rights of the gay and lesbian community in Zimbabwe. GALZ was also one of the first organisations in Zimbabwe to provide counselling services and HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns at a time when the Zimbabwean government was in denial of the disease’s existence.

Despite arrests and intimidation, GALZ made a submission to the government-led Constitutional Commission in 1999 for the inclusion of a sexual orientation clause in a new national constitution. Ultimately the words “sexual orientation” were not included, but through GALZ’s efforts, the phrase “natural difference or condition” was included and widely interpreted to include sexual minorities.

With what the IGLHRC called “the closing of democratic space, the worsening political and economic situation, and the HIV/AIDS crisis in Zimbabwe,” GALZ had turned its attention away from direct legislative lobbying in 2000 and focused its efforts on upgrading social services, including providing training in activism as well as in HIV/AIDS care and prevention to both local and pan-Africa organisations and activists.

Today, GALZ provides these kinds of services as well as offering its members professional and educational training and legal assistance.

“We are honoured to receive the 2005 Felipa Award,” said Fadzai Muparutsa, programme manager for gender at GALZ. “Our work to improve the lives of sexual minorities in Zimbabwe is extremely challenging but critically important,” Ms Muparutsa continued. “This recognition from the IGLHRC will boost our resolve in the face of adversity and is a wonderful gesture of solidarity from the international community.”

GALZ continues to work within a climate of impunity, according to IGLHRC. Zimbabwean President Mugabe has consistently iterated that homosexuality is “un-African” and that gays and lesbians are “worse than dogs and pigs.” GALZ has been banned from both radio and television since 1994.

With the passage of the Public Order and Security Act in 2000, which strictly controls the holding of public meetings, GALZ members have been arrested on at least two occasions. Most recently, the Mugabe government is attempting to pass a new law that bans any foreign non-governmental organisation from registering in Zimbabwe if the group’s principle objective is political advocacy, such as human rights work.

Similarly, Zimbabwean organisations working on such issues would be barred from receiving “any foreign funding or donation.” While GALZ is not affected because it only provides services to its members and thus has classified itself as a “social club”, the new legislation will place serious restrictions on GALZ’s freedom to speak out on issues of good governance and human rights.

The Award embodies the spirit and story of Felipa de Souza, who endured persecution and brutality after proudly declaring her intimacy with a woman during a 16th century inquisition trial in Brazil. Previous African Felipa Award winners include: Simon Tseko Nikoli, the famed activist from South Africa and Maher Sabry, the Egyptian activist who notified IGLHRC of the arrests of the Cairo 52.

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