By Uyapo Ndadi
I recently returned from freezing Germany at the invitation of the federal government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I had the privilege of meeting with several prominent people, among them, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Members of Parliament, activists and judges. The purpose of the trip was to discuss the rights of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgendered and Intersex people (LGBTI).
The government of Germany had assembled a team of 13 activists from Africa and I was nominated to be part of the group. The primary objective of the trip was to expose us to the evolution and historical overview of LGBTI rights in Germany and to find practical ways of engaging one another in pursuit of equality for all.
The meetings were insightful in many ways. We learnt that the Germans fought gallantly for the recognition of the rights of sexual minorities. The struggle began as far back as 1867 but was only won in 1969 when homosexual acts between two consenting adults were decriminalized. Before then, more than 100,000 people were prosecuted and convicted. Several were sent to concentration camps where they were killed.
The statistics and level of intolerance back then shocked me. However, despite the law reform victories, homosexuals continued to be considered as immoral and those who dared to come out lost their reputations. At present, the society is much more tolerant, in that sexual minorities are able to express their sexuality to the extent of getting married to one another. In 2001, LGBTI couples could marry each other in terms of their law. Several prominent people in Germany took advantage of this law and married.
The Foreign Minister, whom I met, is a beneficiary of the law. I was amazed by the level of political involvement in advancing the rights of sexual minorities. Members of Parliament Volker Beck and Michael Kauch shared with us their experiences and involvement. Beck is hailed as the "father of homosexual marriage." Kauch made me laugh when he shared his experience in Namibia. He said he presented his diplomatic passport at the diplomats' counter together with that of his husband but his husband's passport was returned because it was not a diplomatic passport.
He painstakingly explained that they were married and therefore they should be assisted together as is customary practice. The immigration officer was apparently in shock with disbelief. Kauch is likely to be part of the delegation of German MPs coming to Botswana in May 2011 to meet with our government and BONELA, among others. I am warning our immigration officials to be ready for HIM and HIS husband.
I commend these politicians because they are able to pursue principle rather than votes. They are able to advance the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority even if it means losing elections. Do we have such politicians in Botswana? You be the judge. I could not believe one thing though - lesbian couples having babies through artificial or natural insemination from known men because the law requires that the identity of the donor be known. The children then have only mothers while their fathers are invisible and virtually non-existent when in reality they could be staying next door or be a colleague at work. As to how it is handled when the child grows up and insists on knowing the father, I don't know. I met a lesbian couple with five children between them with one man, one with two kids and another one with three.
The German people are grappling with this issue just as I am because as much as I am for sexual minorities rights, the best interests of the child always prevail in my world. We were taken through many places of interest peculiar to LGBTI. For instance, we had the pleasure of touring the gay museum whereat the history of the movement is banked. We visited gay chain stores where we found a wide range of stuff, from magazines and adult movies to clothes. We also visited media and publishing houses of LGBTI magazines and newspapers. Unfortunately, I could only enjoy the pictures because the magazines were in German.
The gay movement in Germany is so powerful and has eminent persons. I tried to lure some businessmen to come and invest in Botswana, but the response was a flat no.
"We don't want to be sent to jail because we are gay men who like to enjoy being gay," they explained. The answer struck me even though I knew they were right. I gave up on being Nkate for once.
I guess I should call him and ask him how he would handle such a scenario so that I am empowered going forward. President Ian Khama was reported in The Voice newspaper saying as far as he was concerned, being gay was a private matter and the police had better things to do than chase gays.
He is right, but the anti-sodomy law is there in our Penal Code. I respectfully say to him, Mr President, because you and I know that the law is useless, please exercise your constitutional powers and change it. At any rate, you have Rre Mogae's blessings on this issue.