A male friend of mine contracted some sexual infection on his rectum. He went to a clinic for treatment. For the sake of his health, he decided to be honest. So he disclosed to the nurse that the sores appeared after he had unprotected sex with his boyfriend. Instead of concentrating on his physical condition, the nurse started to ask questions like ‘What were you thinking, being a man and sleeping with another man?’ She told him that his condition was beyond the hospital’s responsibility, and that he should seek ‘divine intervention’. The nurse didn’t exactly help him, but was more concentrated on interrogating him. So my friend became his own doctor, searching on the internet about his condition and going to the pharmacy to buy the recommended medication. He wanted to avoid a situation in which he felt judged.
I myself haven’t encountered any direct stigma or discrimination in a health institute, simply because – as I’m told – I don’t look lesbian. But a butch friend of mine had an upsetting experience when she went for an HIV test with her girlfriend. Instead of a proper testing procedure, the service took very long. They realised that the atmosphere had changed because of them, two girls holding hands as a couple and ‘advertising’ such taboo. My friend told me that the situation was so demoralising, that they couldn’t even wait to know the test results. They just left.
We would rather live with a disease than go to a place that makes us feel that we deserve to be sick, just because we are gay
This kind of stigma and discrimination leads to many LGBT people fearing to go to a health institution when they are not well. Homophobia harms the health of the LGBT community in Botswana. When we are sick, we carry this mentality that we would rather live with a disease than go to a place that makes us feel that we deserve to be sick, just because we are gay. And that is the atmosphere we experience in most of the health institutions in Botswana. Being homosexual is not easy in my country. Our Constitution does not specifically protect people on sexual orientation. While ‘being’ LGBT is not illegal in Botswana, the Penal Code defines homosexual sex as an unnatural act and, therefore, punishable by imprisonment. In addition, homosexuality is regarded as sinful and called a ‘western illness’ by many. This is why the LGBT people of Botswana are a vulnerable group, frequently exposed to aggression and ill-treatment.
My organisation LeGaBiBo is committed to promoting the sexual health of the LGBT community and protecting the human rights of people affected by HIV and AIDS. Besides raising public awareness, we organise workshops for health care professionals and for other service providers such as the police. LeGaBiBo wants Botswana to be a safe place for LGBT people to live their lives and enjoy their human rights. I’m proud to be part of this effort!