Thank you so much to Leila Hall for reporting and to Meri Hyöky for the incredible photos.
On Saturday May 21, The People’s Matrix Association successfully held their fourth annual public march in Maseru, Lesotho in celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). As has been the case in previous years, the march was well attended, with over 200 people coming out to show their support. The march has become a key event for the country’s LGBTI community: a day of pride, defiance and unapologetic self-expression. I spoke to a number of people at the march and asked them to share some of their stories and experiences, as well as their personal views on the importance of celebrating IDAHOT in a country that continues to face widespread homophobia and conservatism.
Here’s what a few of them had to say:
“I identify as bisexual. I came out to my family last year; I told them that I have a girlfriend. They took me to church, they told me that I have a demon inside of me, and they basically disowned me. Things are still tense between us; I don’t stay with them because we don’t see eye to eye. They don’t see their daughter when they look at me; they see something else. Things aren’t so good for LGBTI people in Lesotho. We’re still not comfortable in our skins, we’re still shy to walk out there and be who we are. This is my first IDAHOT march. I’m excited to see so many vibrant people and beautiful colours. We need movements like this. To me, this march means that I can express myself, my own identity. It kind of gives me a voice.” — Mpho
‘you’re not the only gay person in the world.’
“I’m originally from Thaba Tseka, but I now live in Motimposo in Maseru. As a gay man I encounter homophobia daily. People shout out homophobic comments at me all the time. I’ve learnt to keep quiet and keep moving, because I know that these people are just ignorant. I’m lucky with my family, because they are very supportive and understanding. My Dad even bought me a dress! I was shy when I first got involved with Matrix, but then I had the feeling that I didn’t want to go home, because I had found the people that I belong to. This is my second IDAHOT march. I was hesitant about marching at first, but then I told myself that I have to stand against this homophobia. I have to show everyone that I have rights and that I can stand for myself. To me, the march is a form of counselling. I don’t have to talk to anyone; I just look at everyone else and it’s a kind of counselling. I see other people who are gay and bisexual and I think to myself: ‘you’re not the only gay person in the world.’ It makes me feel better, it makes me feel welcomed.” — Layla*
I also can’t go to church on Sundays, because I’m expected to wear a dress, and I don’t feel comfortable in a dress.
“I’m a lesbian, but to me ‘lesbian’ is just a word. I’m a lesbian, I’m attracted to the same sex, but I feel that I’m still a human being, that I’m just like everyone else. There are some people out there who are against us. We were once robbed because they saw us as lesbians, so they came behind us and robbed us and beat us, and they said, ‘no, these are just lesbians, we should take everything.’ I also can’t go to church on Sundays, because I’m expected to wear a dress, and I don’t feel comfortable in a dress. I wish I could find a church that would accept me for who I am. We face the same challenge when we go to funerals, because people expect us to wear dresses. People need to accept who we are in this country. We want to get married – that’s something that should be legalised. This is my third IDAHOT march. I don’t have the words to tell you what this march means to me. It means the world. This is my day. Every year I come out to support this movement and to fight for our rights. This march makes me feel proud, it makes me feel good about allowing the world to see me for who I am. This march teaches other people that we are who we are. We are the children of God, God loves us, and we should be accepted for who we are.” — Indigo*
“I’m a lesbian. We face a lot of challenges in Lesotho. People don’t like us. They say, ‘you’re a girl, so why are you behaving like a boy?’ I have to explain that I know that I’m a girl, and that I’m not pretending to be a boy or anything else. I’m just being me. I’m married to another woman. It’s illegal here, so we had to do it away from home, in our own way. We just booked a space and held our own reception. We didn’t have a priest or anything, just us and our families and a few friends. It was a bonding of two families, and our families were supportive. My brother was against it at first, but he came to my wedding and he behaved. He’s getting to know my friends, and he’s slowly coming around to accepting me for who I am.” — Flabie*
My family needs to be taught about LGBTI issues. My mother has never accepted me, she needs to be taught or counselled, because she doesn’t really appreciate the way that I am.
“This is the first time that I’ve been to an IDAHOT event. I’ve known that I’m gay for a long time, but I tried to hide myself because of my fear of discrimination. I was in the closet until last year, when I exposed myself by taking part in the ‘Miss Gay’ contest held by Matrix. There’s a name that people call us – ‘stabane’. Wherever we pass, a lot of boys call out stabane stabane. I feel very bad when a person calls me that. That name hurts, it’s like an insult, especially because of the way that it’s said. My family needs to be taught about LGBTI issues. My mother has never accepted me, she needs to be taught or counselled, because she doesn’t really appreciate the way that I am. She once asked me why did I decide to live such a life? She doesn’t understand that I was born like this. It has helped me so much to become part of Matrix. I saw other gay men being free and living like other people, and I told myself that I have to live the life that I’m comfortable with. I don’t care what people say now, I move on with my life, I feel free to be myself.” — Max*
* The majority of the people interviewed for this story opted to use their nicknames to preserve their anonymity.