HOLAA Loves: IDAHOT 2015 in Lesotho

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On May 19, 2015

By Lineo Segoete/ @Lineothefeline

Photo credits: Lineo Segoete

It’s a gorgeous warm Saturday. Cars are slowly slithering down a narrow main road which leads from our national stadium, slices through a taxi rank teeming with people and then connects to a freeway that makes its way past the Central Bank of Lesotho. A bright and colourful mob of people is being escorted by the police as they march to celebrate IDAHOT. Shielding themselves from the sun’s lashing rays under fittingly rainbow umbrellas, they sang and danced through the city waving rainbow flags and punching rainbow coloured placards into the air. Some drivers hooted their support while onlookers either joined the cheer or stared in bewilderment at what was going on.

The march, organised by Matrix Support group Lesotho; a limb of Open Society Initiative of South Africa, took its usual route from Setsoto Stadium to the Maseru Club for the third year on 16 May. They did this to raise awareness and advocate for gay rights in Lesotho. Granted our small country is not as homophobic as Nigeria or Kenya (I won’t even mention Uganda), but there is a lot simmering below the surface and a long way to go yet.

I aimed my camera at the demonstrators with the intention to extract and expose their raw and uncensored emotions as they demanded for their voice to be heard. It struck me that although most marchers were down to smile and pose for me, some were very quick to either hold their umbrellas or placards or flags in their faces to protect themselves from my gaze. There were several other photographers besides myself so I missioned to get a reason why I was being avoided.

“Why won’t you let me shoot pictures of you?” I asked a group of guys. With a shy giggle, a 25 year old gay man answered, “because we do not know you and we cannot be sure where those pictures might pop up”. I asked why it was that my identity mattered and he said, “some of us are out but we are not free because our families are still homophobe”.

His answer broke my heart and snapped me out of my short bout of memory loss.

Among the myriad of topics we still cannot explicitly converse about with our parents and/or elders (regardless how old we are) sexuality and sexual orientation top the list. I refuse to attribute conservatism’s destructive barriers to individuals’ right to expressing themselves, to us being ‘stuck in our ways’. Basotho are a fluid people, for example we embrace and customise elements of international music culture while we retain our own sound.

Negative perceptions around homosexuality, some of which were articulated through sketches done during a session after the march, are perpetrated by people looking out for their own selfish interests. Cases range anywhere from; a man who wants his son to bear children in order to sustain their family lineage; a woman who was hoping to marry a man who comes out as gay down to religious fundamentalists who quote Sodom and Gomorrah in one breath and then denounce the old testament in the next, citing that it is outdated.

Human rights, particularly those of women, children and LGBTI peoples, are constantly being violated globally. Most activists limit their protest to social media and conversations among friends, but very few actively take to the streets, media and courtrooms to see that fairness and justice are fulfilled. It saddens me that some awesome individuals who are courageous enough to take to the streets do so in fear of being found out by those who are meant to love them unconditionally.

It is going to take tons of will and (respectful) sass before we see the rights of every single human being honoured, regardless how different they may be. I’ll say this much though; I am happy I live in a country which generally tries to stay out of peoples love lives so long as people are happy and living the way they see fit. I’ll be even happier when people at community and family level become accepting enough to let people freely express themselves, queer or not.