Transcript of an Interview conducted by a Sunday Mail reporter: Edwin Mwase (SM)and members of GALZ Management (GALZ) at the GALZ offices on Wednesday July 6 2011.(shortened version) The Interview was on an article on whether the Zimbabwean community is ready to welcome homosexual people. The State controlled paper is notorious for publishing homophobic rhetoric.
SM: There is a paradigm shift in our newspapers whereby we have decided to give people opportune time to speak out their views as long as it does not concern politics.As you are aware that we are currently in the process of drafting a new constitution, which is all-inclusive to all sectors of the society, what is your view in the process?
GALZ: On which issue since you mentioned several issues.
SM: Particularly the issue of gay rights whether they should be included in the new constitution.
GALZ: It’s not an issue of gay rights, but an issue of universal rights. When GALZ put through its constitutional submission what we are talking about is not set rights or special rights.What we want is for LGBTI people to be afforded the same rights that other human rights have. We want LGBTI people to have access to human rights in general and broadly because human rights are indivisible, inalienable and universal. Which mean everyone has rights. What we are saying is that we have difficulties in accessing our rights when it comes to issues of health -education, housing and employment. And when we have challenges and we try and seek redress we are unable to get redress because people just throw ‘you are a homosexual’ in our faces. What we want to do is have something in the law that says that people cannot be discriminated based on their sexual orientation, which then affords us an opportunity to then challenge when we are being discriminated because of our sexual orientation. So its not that we want special rights but rights that recognize and do not discriminate LGBTI people.
SM:When you say LGBTI what do you mean?
GALZ: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people.
SM: Do you think Zimbabwean community is ready to accept the gay community?
GALZ: It’s time that Zimbabwean community accepted diversity because that is within our communities. We also need to be tolerant on how we interact with each other. Having a different sexual orientation from heterosexuality does not in any way entail that homosexual people are going against the laws of the land. What we want is an environment that is tolerant and accepts diversity.
SM: What is it exactly which you want included in the constitution which you think will safeguard your rights as equal citizens of the country.
GALZ: As said earlier on we advocate for non-discrimination, right to privacy, freedom of expression, opinion and association. Those are the core requests that we put in as GALZ. Those rights cannot in anyway be then associated with one sector of the society such as the Gay and Lesbian community only. These issues affect everybody regardless of sexual orientation. So those are the kind of rights we are advocating for and our submission speaks to that. We are not in any way advocating for our right to marry or some of the issues that have been put in the newspapers.
Often times people ask that If LGBTI people are given rights does that mean we are also opening doors for those who engage in sexual relations with children or rape animals to ask for their rights. One thing that is very important just to put a clear distinction between what it means to be homosexual and what it means to be someone who abuses. Pedophilia is not something that homosexual people engage in. In-fact-it’s also something that as a community we are trying to fight against. Neither do we advocate for abusing animals (bestiality). When we talk about rights it is important to note that we live within the laws of the land. When it comes to abuse of people including animals those are the kind of things we fight against as human rights organizations. We believe in the rights of all people including the rights of animals too in as much as we eat them.
SM: So, what’s your criteria exactly for one to become a member of GALZ, so that you may not be associated with things which you mentioned earlier on?
GALZ:We provide counseling services to young people that are experiencing problems with their sexuality although we do this through other organizations that deal with young people.Those who associate with our organization are over 18-years they are not necessarily LGBTI people only but their families,friends and siblings. Even heterosexual people who want information on homosexuality so that they can understand it. Even institutions that also need to understand LGBTI people join as well as those that want to do research in the community also seek our services.
SM:When it comes to issues of sexual health how well are you equipped?
GALZ: We don’t provide any medical help directly because we are not medical professionals. We do create referrals where we can refer members to get help. Talking to hospital and clinics personnel we provide them with knowledge on the needs of LGBTI people. Part of the problem is that, we deal with issues of mental health, which means they also need to have access to counseling, psychiatrist and gynecologists, for instance the lesbian women have same needs just as other women. We have counselors, we produce information, which we share with members and other organizations and the broader society. We provide information on HIV/AIDS, what it means to be a same sex practicing person, relationship, the dangers of engaging in unsafe sex and the use of protection when in same sex relationship. Half the time people struggle with why they are gay, based on their religion, their culture, and families. These are things which we try and provide counseling for. It’s not easy for a lot of people to accept that they are gay given the background they are coming from. Through linking mental health with sexual health we also look at issues of what the law says in terms of same-sex practices, if you do sexually engage, what it means in case you are incarcerated for sodomy. We also look at what is ones’ responsibility as we try to differentiate between consensual sex and rape.
SM: Do you think the government should be providing condoms to those incarcerated in prisons as a measure to fight the spread of HIV and other STIs?
GALZ: It’s an interesting area that has been explored by prison services, currently there is a research I think that is being done by the National Aids Council (NAC) to try and find out what are the needs of the people that are in the prisons. So we do know from the stories that have come out over the years. I don’t know if there is any research done in Zimbabwe, but in other countries there has, where same sex practices do take place in prisons because of the confinement of the place. These are the kind of situational sexual practices that do take place. The interesting thing is that people even though they are locked up for long some still have to come back into society. If they do get infected by HIV half of the people don’t get back into same sex practices they go back to their ‘wives and girlfriends’ hence the need for people to start having this dialogue and see what measures can be put in place in terms of infections that happen in such confined places as they impact on the broader community outside the prison. As an organisation we advocate for making sure that our prisons have facilities that are adequate and enable individuals to have sexual health.
Most Zimbabweans are not aware of the risks when engaging in same sex practices because we have been prevented from putting out information on the risk of engaging in same sex practices especially for men. So you will find in a situation like a prison setting where people do not have information when you are misinformed or not informed at all there is a misconception that you are safe. So then people engage in same sex practices without understanding or knowing what risks they may then face. Condoms is one way of doing things then there is also another step of how we have sex education in schools I think its also an important and critical to have this kinds of talks within other spaces.So advocating for condoms in prisons is not to say men should have sexual acts but to allow for safe sexual relations and the right to health.
SM: So the question was is the Zimbabwean society ready to accept homosexuality, as traditionalists, heterosexuals and Christians.
GALZ: In the event that we have a society that has a majority that says No and this something that I worry about does then that mean you discriminate people based on a majority knowing that you have a vulnerable community.
SM: No in my own perception I don’t think I can discriminate anyone based on their sexuality.
SM: After your participation in the constitution making process what are your prospects of having your views being considered maybe in the final stages the drafting and finally the constitutional itself?
GALZ: I am not privy to the process of how then our views are going to be translated on the drafting of the constitution. But I know we took part. Whether my view is going to be accepted or not, it’s up to the drafters and those sifting the information and analysing that data. We managed to lobby our constituency to say here is an opportunity to speak about your issues demand your rights.
SM: The president of Zimbabwe has been on record in each and every fora discouraging homosexuality in Zimbabwe. What is your comment as the leader of the association.
GALZ: He is entitled to his own opinion. What i feel is wrong, is to say the law should discriminate against a minority group.
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