On Tuesday 11 June 2019, civil rights activists and the LGBTIQ community in Botswana celebrated an essential step towards improved gay rights as Botswana’s High Court ruled against criminalising same-sex relations (Repeal164). Not only is this a crucial milestone in the fight for equal rights, it also paves a path for new opportunities in the HIV/AIDS response. This decision helps reduce stigma against the gay community and makes AIDS prevention and treatment accessible within this key population.

LEGABIDO and partners

LEGABIBO, partner of COC and MPact  in Bridging the Gaps, was a key influencer in this Court’s proceedings. The organisation, founded in 1998 with the purpose to fight for the rights and well-being of the LGBTIQ community, presented their expert evidence and educated the Court on the negative impacts of institutionalised violations of human rights against the gay community. It argued that the values of Botswana’s society were no longer represented in the government’s outdated discriminating laws.

“It has taken a long time for our community to be where it is. This incredibly life-changing decision, although it does not right all the wrongs done to individual members of the LGBT community, is a step towards restoring our dignity as human beings”, says Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, LEGABIBO’s CEO. “The decision has several implications for the LGBTIQ community. Not only does it provide legal affirmation and recognition of the rights of LGBTIQ persons, but it allows an important space for addressing public health issues more efficiently and effectively. We can finally start building a more tolerant society. The real work starts now”.

Decreasing stigma and increasing accessibility

Discrimination and stigma against the LGTBIQ community prevent many marginalised people from receiving proper health education and treatment against common diseases such as HIV/AIDS. The High Court’s decision to declare discriminating sections of the Penal Code unconstitutional is a step in reducing societal stigma. Personal autonomy on matters of sexual preference and choice must, therefore, be respected. Any criminalisation of love or finding fulfilment in love dilutes compassion and tolerance.” Botswana High Court

Legalising same-sex relations worldwide

There are still 69 countries left where same-sex relations are criminalised. A few weeks ago, a similar court case in Kenya (Repeal162) resulted in a disappointing outcome as the country’s High Court voted against removing discriminating laws against homosexuality. The prosecutors will appeal the Court’s decision.

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