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Community fights for equal rights


Pascalinah Kabi

Lesotho yesterday commemorated International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).

The event is held annually on 17 May in most countries to make the nation aware members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community should not be victimized for who they are.

In Lesotho, the LGBTI agenda is driven by Matrix Support Group, which organized yesterday’s belated celebration in Maseru.

The commemoration, held under the theme ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing’ was in the form of a march from Lakeside to Central Park, which attracted over 200 people, among them American Ambassador to Lesotho, Matthew Harrington.

Addressing the crowd, Matrix Support Group Director Tampose Mothopeng said although Lesotho had made progress in respecting the rights of LGBTI members, more still needs to be done to ensure the rights of every member of society.

“We are people just like any other person. We have rights, we are not mentally ill, which is why this commemoration is being held under the theme ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing’”, Mothopeng said.

He added this was the third time Lesotho was celebrating the day through a peaceful march and awareness campaigns among communities. Yesterday’s event was sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), according to Mothopeng said.

He added: “After realising we were making a lot of noise in town, we appreciated the fact that some of us are from typical villages where culture and religion are still a driveing force behind stigma and discrimination against LGBTI members.

“As a way of doing away with this stigma and discrimination, we have visited eight districts and held public gatherings and invited parents to these meetings.

“I am happy to mention that we have also made headway in working with the police and health departments on this journey.”

He encouraged the LGBTI community not to lose hope and soldier on “trusting that you can make Lesotho a better place for everyone regardless of your sex-orientation”.

A member of the LGBTI community by the name Mafifi told the Sunday Express on the sidelines of yesterday’s march: “I grew up as a girl in rural Maseru, but only started accepting my sex orientation in 2006, when I was 22 years of age.

“Somehow, I knew I was different from the other girls but did not pay much attention to it.

“My parents were OK with my tomboy lifestyle and my father loved me the way I was. It’s only now that my mother is voicing her concerns about it and saying this is satanic behavior.”

Mafifi continued: “I haven’t changed. I am still the same person they loved and embraced as a tomboy many years ago. This is just the final product of what they cherished many years ago and I don’t understand why they must change now that I am accepting who I am”.

Mafifi said yesterday’s commemoration helped Basotho realise the LGBTI community existed.

“I would want to get married one day as a lesbian and once funds permit, I will surely settle down,” Mafifi said.

On her part, AIDS Healthcare Foundation Country Programme Manager Mapaballo ‘Mile said they decided to partner with Matrix Support Group because their services are not discriminatory.

“We offer free HIV-testing services and soon we will join government in rolling out the test-and-treat programme because our services are non-discriminatory. We embrace diversity in all its aspects and we are always happy to offer our services,” Ms ‘Mile said.

She commended LGBTI members for leading responsible lifestyles and always being eager to know their HIV status.

“Since I joined AHF last year, our enrolment has increased and LGBTI members are using our services in Katlehong because they are user-friendly, and non-discriminatory in terms of culture, religion and sex-orientation, amongst others.”

In his address, Ambassador Harrington said every human being deserves respect.

“Whoever you are and whoever you are in love with doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be treated with respect and equality,” Ambassador Harrington said.

“As we come together, we are sending a strong message that you have a right to freedom and fundamental rights and you should be treated with respect and equality.”

He further said although progress had been made around the world regarding respect for the rights LGBTI members, many are still murdered and detained for being who they are.

He congratulated the Matrix Support Group for the “good work” the organization is doing to promote and fight for the rights of LGBTI members.

“As the struggle continues, please note that you will continue to have a strong ally in the form of the American Embassy.”

European Union Delegation to Lesotho representative Mokone Mafethe also said the delegation would continue to support the LGBTI members in their fight for equality.

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