Individual Rights and Liberties in a Conservative Society, Why Botswana must accept sexual diversity

Boemo Delano Phirinyane

‘If I have to choose between betraying a friend and my country, I hope I have the courage to choose my country,’’ said Edward Morgan Forster as he demonstrated his distrust for larger institutions as a gay outsider in England. I start with this quote for I believe that it’s a general feeling held by most homosexuals who find themselves excluded by conservative societies like ours, which for some reason resist change on the sexuality front.  By far, these are societies that have a strong sense of wanting to maintain a pure and natural sexual agenda, and are quick to squash any form of dissenting and unwanted voice.
At the core of every society, whether conservative or liberal, is the idea that values, norms and preferences are mostly shaped by the position of those on the majority. This was true and ideal when the interests of society were homogenous, but since the transition from isolation to a more global and interactive world where the needs, and   vary and constantly change. The old corrosive metric can no longer apply especially when it comes to individual choices, rights and liberties.
One thing is becoming increasingly clear; we have more gay people living amongst us than ever before. It is because they are finding their voices and openly declaring their sexual preference and admitting they exist, because they reserve that right. They are our daughters, sons and most importantly they are human, they are not some alien type of species that is an existential threat to us like most people believe. This is why now more than ever, we must as a society start stimulating discourse surrounding sexual diversity for we can no longer afford to defer the discussion. Even the Great Russian architect Vladimir Lenin recognized that ‘‘sometimes History needs a push.’’ The world is evolving; countries have made great progress on this front, South Africa being a prime African example. We can no longer afford to mortgage on our future and that of our children for temporary convenience of the present because the topic is just too sensitive to touch.
The true value of a society is contingent on how best it protects the most vulnerable groups that do not have sufficient social and political capital, to challenge the boundaries of social acceptance like gay people in our society. We grant special protection and privileges to certain groups in society, like the disabled, children and the elderly. We recognize that they are a vulnerable group deserving of protection. That is why we have special laws, like the age of consent, which protects children from sexual predators.  The high level of oppression, criticism and scrutiny we put them under is enough to classify them as a minority. The continued rejection of people who identify as gay is based on old-fashioned excuses amongst them, being that it’s unreligious and highly unnatural.
“If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”; Pope Francis uttered these words, sending shockwaves throughout the Catholic Church and the world. As he was challenging the old cliché that religion is totally against homosexuality and that even the biblical scriptures can account.
Under the revolutionary leadership of Pope Francis, one of the world’s oldest Churches, the Roman Catholic is engaging in discourse on LGBT issues. This backs the sentiments of theologian David Cloutier that, the process isn’t political, it’s spiritual. The church has begun to discern more deeply the full measure of God’s presence in LGBT individuals and yes, couples too. This argument that we cling onto to perpetuate oppression of one group can be deemed to be hypocritical. We say that God accepts us for who we are, our church doors are opened to thieves, murderers and adulterers but somehow, they are too narrow to even allow us to tolerate the existence of gay people.
Contrary to the progressive stance of the revolutionary Pope, we still have staunch charismatic pastors who condemn in the strongest terms the slight thought of inclusion of gay people into the church. One intriguing case in point has to be that of Pastor Steven Anderson, even before he landed in Botswana we readily invoked authorities, calling for him to be denied access into the country, as we believed his sentiments that gay people must be killed were too toxic and had the propensity to cause civil unrests.
From a superficial perspective, it might have been a strong indicator that we are willing to accept gay people hence our desire to defend their right to life. But then again it might have been a gesture meant to raise false hope; we were just guilt tripped by the idea of the sanctity of life that we value in a conservative setup. One might also argue that, we only wanted to squash the external voice that might have shifted the base of monopoly of oppression that we have harnessed as a local community. We want to be the only medium through which gay people can be reminded of how much they do not belong here and are just a natural misfit.
Gender is a social construct that we use to give meaning to bodies. It is not an absolute concept as it is only valid as far as more people are willing to give it legitimacy and accept it. Being born with a penis does not inherently imply that one should identify as male. It doesn’t directly translate to the kind of sexuality he wants to subscribe to. We have long had individuals who had traits of being gay as early as (c. 2494-2345 BC) in Ancient Egypt, with the case of two high-ranking officials, Nyankh-Khnum and Khnum-Hoyep. Both men lived and served under Pharaoh Niuserre. This deep and historic trace of homosexuality disproves one of the loosely thrown around arguments of it being a fashion trend choice.
‘‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads onto fortune’’; Brutus highlights to Cassius that it’s ‘‘now or never’’ as two men were busy discussing the final phase of their civil war with the forces of Octavian and Marcus Antonius.
We are also as a society at a cross road, we cannot afford to continue living in denial. The time has come for us to make a choice, though it’s quite clear we don’t have much of a choice but to accept the shift in the sexual agenda and liberate the long oppressed homosexual group. The alternative is one which History will harshly judge us for, because at its core entails the continued denial and subjugation of a people, something which can be deemed to be akin to racism and modern day slavery.
We must not only stop at words in our quest for inclusion, as it also entails us accepting and integrating gay people in our social structures and granting them access to their God given rights, of finding love and establishing families. Somehow, we are in the right direction, but we can’t wait and hope the change is organic. The registration of LEGABIBO was a crucial step we have to embrace. It gives us a focal point, and should give homosexuals an element of hope for representation.