Marching against homophobia in anti-gay Lesotho

IDAHOT celebration in Lesotho on May 17, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Matrix Support Group / The Hub)
IDAHOT celebration in Lesotho on May 17, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Matrix Support Group / The Hub)

In Lesotho, where same-sex intimacy between men used to be illegal, a local LGBTI advocacy organization has held a peaceful march for the second year in a row, seeking justice and fair treatment for LGBT people.
Observers at this year's IDAHOT celebration in Lesotho.
Observers at this year’s IDAHOT celebration in Lesotho. (Photo courtesy of Matrix Support Group / The Hub)

More than 200 people attended this week’s event, according to The Hub, a Lesotho-based website that supports human rights and protection of the environment in that small land-locked nation surrounded by the Republic of South Africa.
The events, organized by the local LGBT community’s Matrix Support Group, were held May 17 to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. In addition to the procession through the Lesotho capital, Maseru, the day also included speeches, discussions and performances.
The Hub last year described the problems faced by LGBTI people in   Lesotho in the article “Small march is a big step for LGBTI in Lesotho”:

In Lesotho, female same-sex sexual activity is not criminalised, but male same-sex sodomy is illegal as a common law offence. The country’s law offers no protection to individuals against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, as [Lineo ‘Sheriff’ Mothopeng, a self-identified transgender man and member of the  organising committee] says, the sodomy law is a ‘silent’ law. “It has been around since 1976, but I’ve never heard of anybody being convicted,” he says. “At the same time, it is a silent weapon: people hide behind the sodomy law and use this as an excuse not to implement programmes.”
Lesotho has the world’s third-highest HIV prevalence rate and, as is the case in many countries, men who have sex with men (MSM) have been identified as a particularly vulnerable group. However, the criminalisation of male same-sex sexual relations, together with widespread homophobic attitudes, make it difficult for MSM [men who have sex with men] to openly access the education, health care services and HIV prevention products that they need.
“MSM are not included in HIV programs in this country,” says Sheriff. “There are many cases where they are included in writing – such as in our National AIDS Strategy – but there is no implementation. We do not have gay-friendly health services. As a result of cultural beliefs and the taboo around homosexuality, people do not disclose their sexual practices, and so health-care workers are not able to respond to the challenges that MSM face.” …
Being unable to be open about one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity continues to be a challenge faced by many LGBTI people in Lesotho. In rural communities in particular, traditional gender roles are firmly entrenched and those who do not conform are often subjected to discrimination and abuse from community members.

IDAHOT marchers in Lesotho on May 17, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Matrix Support Group / The Hub)
IDAHOT marchers in Lesotho on May 17, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Matrix Support Group / The Hub)

This article was corrected in 2016 to acknowledge that the Lesotho sodomy law was not in force in 2014. It was repealed during an overhaul of the Penal Code in 2012.
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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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