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For instance, it is worth noting that in many countries that no longer criminalise the lives of LGBT+ people, discriminatory social norms and institutional practices still persist, triggering even greater violence and injustice. Unfortunately, societal attitudes do not change alongside legal changes as such stigmas that have been ingrained into the society due to adverse cultural norms take even more time to address. 

In Botswana, where same-sex relations have been decriminalised and greater protection and recognition of sexual minorities under the existing laws has been awarded (2019), the LGBT+ community continues facing stigma, discrimination and hatred. Even in countries such as Rwanda, where consensual same-sex relations were never criminalised in the first place, there is a lack of legal provisions that would explicitly prohibit discrimination against people with diverse intersecting identities, including LGBT+ people, as well as programmes in place that would promote and educate about their rights and lived realities. 

Overturning archaic colonial laws is always a breakthrough moment for social justice and human rights advocates, however the impact of legal and policy changes can be elusive unless coupled with substantial and sustained shifts in social norms and perceptions. Changing laws does not always result in changing hearts.

LGBT+ rights organisations in Botswana and Rwanda are working hard to change the public discourse and help decision-makers understand how critical it is to support and defend the human rights of all people sharing intersecting identities. This work continues inspiring Kaleidoscope Trust as we help ensure these organisations are supported in such endeavours where possible. 

Media Sensitisation in Rwanda: Telling Honest Stories

In Rwanda, Feminist Action Development Ambition (FADA), in partnership with My Right Alliance (MRA), have undertaken a multifaceted strategy to ensure the lived realities of LGBT+ people are properly understood within the public discourse. 

To achieve this, they hosted working dinners with the owners of 11 leading media outlets and initiatives to highlight the importance of media sensitisation training for their journalists. FADA and MRA then conducted a sensitisation training with 30 media practitioners resulting in the publication of nine pieces of content about LGBT+ experiences, ranging from print to TV broadcasts and Youtube interviews.

FADA and MRA also developed a guide on SOGIESC for Media Professionals and shared it with over 100 media professionals to help improve the portrayal of LGBT+ people contributing to a shift in public opinion.

“Working directly with community as partners will positively change government narrative, society’s perception and mindset as that is the cause or main button of the discrimination and violence against them” –  Uwingade Murenzi Hassna, Executive Director, FADA

Empowering the LGBT+ Community to Take Up Space in Botswana 

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), an organisation working in the country to defend the human rights of LGBT+ people, also grows public awareness of LGBT+ peoples’ experiences through innovative and community-based interventions. This year, the organisation created a short film and series of podcasts, working closely with the Banna Emojy Production, all featuring stories of LGBT+ people, and also in collaboration with Setabane, a well-known LGBT+ media platform, LEGABIBO also produced a photo documentary of LBT women and non-binary people highlighting their personal hardships and aspirations.

As a country still suffering from the impact and legacy of colonialism, Botswana still has a long way to go for equality and safety for LGBT+ people. Consensual same-sex relations may have been decriminalised in the country, with the direct and strategic effort and commitment of LEGABIBO and sister organisations, but there has still been an increase in marginalisation due to a lack of understanding of LGBT+ rights by the public and decision-makers that leaves the community vulnerable to various forms of discrimination and violence.

“Despite the legislative progress that has happened in Botswana like the recent decriminalisation of same sex sexal acts, LGBTI people continue to experince stigma and discrimination. Through this project, we are able to continue our advocacy work through telling our stories in our own words, a strategy we believe has the power to change societal perception about LGBTI identities. We are thankful for the support we have received from from the UK government, because of it, we are one step closer to a more inclusive Botswana.” – Matlhogonolo Samsam, Education, Awareness and Communications Manager, LEGABIBO

Crucially, alongside LEGABIBO’s advocacy efforts to defend and advocate for the safety and equality of the LGBT+ people in the country, the organisation encouraged LGBT+ community members to be critically involved in their proactive participation in the ongoing Constitutional Review process. This resulted in members of the local LGBT+ community attending national constitutional hearings and consultations across six different country regions to discuss and address matters of national concern, including issues related to stigma, discrimination and violence that LGBT+ people continually face in Botswana. 

Various strategies can be implemented to change the hearts and minds of those who have learned to oppose LGBT+ people. Often the stigma towards LGBT+ people is due to ignorance and lack of exposure to this community, which is why sensitisation and sharing lived realities are so important; as is often said in the human rights ecosystem, “to just exist is the highest form of advocacy”. 

For this very reason, Kaleidoscope Trust puts efforts to ensure these deeply committed and passionate organisations continue to be supported through programmes such as those funded by the UK and the Canadian governments. Kaleidoscope Trust is very grateful to these governments as their funding enables our partners in Botswana, Rwanda and elsewhere to continue the valuable and urgent work they do. 

If you’d like to contribute to our work upholding the human rights of LGBT+ people across the Commonwealth, please consider making a donation.