What Botswana’s Ruling on Homosexuality Means to Me

Dr. KP Mblane and Kutlwano Kabelo.

Dr. KP Mblane is a bisexual woman living in Botswana who tells us the joy she felt when the high court legalized being gay earlier this week.

Last year, Dr. Mbalane, who used to work in the Ghanzi (Gantsi is the Batswanan pronunciation) province of Botswana, told Plus magazine they primarily treated the San people. It’s a remote part of what most people already consider a remote part of the world, but Botswana is actually the seat of commerce between many other African nations—notably South Africa and Zimbabwe—even though it’s landlocked, and as Mmalane notes, “Our one river is the only river that runs inland and dries up in the middle of the [Kalahari] desert.”

Herein she expresses her feelings on the ruling that decriminalized homosexuality this past week.

Here in the country there is a lot of celebrating going on within the queer communities and a lot of amazing conversations to be had. We (my partner and I) went out to celebrate and came back at 4 AM and crashed out.

Nicola Keletso Sarameng and Dr. KP Mblane, Friday, July 27th, 2018, Amsterdam. 

This whole thing, has sparked amazing conversations within the country and I realized that nobody knew why the the anti-sodomy laws were set up in the first place—they were vestiges of British colonial law set up in the 19th century and we just followed them and incorporated these laws into our own government and society, when we became independent and also when we were baptized in their interpretation of Christianity. 

Within Africa there’s now a conversation about how the persecution of homosexuality and homophobia is actually un-African.

I have had great conversations with my mom and my sister—neither of whom know that I am bisexual and dating a woman right now. My mother, I believe, suspects, and she has made some nice comments but then she’ll turn around and say something homophobic that will surprise me so I’m not sure where she stands. My dad on the other hand is quite homophobic–yet he’s willing to listen and talk and have a discussion and I like knowing where he stands (laughs). They both know that I am pro-LGBT rights and it’s this thing where our debates often end with my parents throwing up their hands and saying, OK, we can’t win this conversation with you.

But I’ve made clear that my kids—their grandchildren—could be LGBT  and they should never ever feel that there is something wrong—and they maintain they would love them no matter what—so I’m like, OK, I hope this also applies to me when I come out (laughs).

But back to the ruling: I am ecstatic! I am so happy—particularly because my current partner, I think she’s the one and I want to get married.

READ: Joy and Pride as Botswana Decriminalizes Gay Sex in a Historic Judgment for a former British Colony in Africa: WATCH

The Botswana and Rainbow Flags mashup. Shutterstock

And I gave her a ring—I wouldn’t say I proposed—and we’re letting everyone guess—keeping it mysterious—but the fact that our existence is no longer illegal is the icing on the cake.

We feel free, but having said that, I felt safe in the past. Botswana people were quietly homophobic but quite tolerant.

There’s even clubs out here that are known mainly for the queer community and we all dance side by side—there’s not the level of stigma you would imagine—unless you’re an effeminate gay man who has unwittingly hit on a straight guy—but I think that’s something still faced in many places in the world.

But I have never heard of any kind of LGBT hate crimes happening in Botswana, the kind that happen in other countries in Africa like Uganda or Nigeria. 

We even have a famous transgender woman, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau, the first transgender woman whose identity was recognized by the same high court that made this judgement in 2017. They allowed her to be issued a new government identity card—a milestone for LGBT rights in and of itself.

Look, our lives don’t change overnight because the laws changed, right? We’re still the same, but it feels good to know that if the wrong type of leader came into power and decided to start enforcing those anti-gay laws—because the police were not—the police wouldn’t enforce them. But if a despot came in like our last one, Mokgatsha Mokgadi —he was pushing things in some scary ways, well his hands would be tied in terms of LGBT rights.

No leader that comes in now going forward into the future can take this away from us; feeling free and comfortable.

I’m in love with a woman and I’m very happy. One of the members of an association of Botswana doctors that I am part of said the best thing, “I love this for the health sector.”

She said that she hopes that she can now give better treatment now that people won’t as scared and maybe will be more honest about their sexual histories. It will help stem the transmission of HIV.

We even have a few hospitals that I know of that are performing top surgeries for trans men (Female to Male or FTM) and it is paid by the government because the doctors list it as being urgent and necessary. The doctors here say we are here to treat our patients, not get involved in politics, and do what’s best for them. That’s it.

But I agree, now I can get a full sexual history from someone without them telling me they got anal warts from a toilet because they fear reprisal.

Dr. KP Mblane is from Bobonong, Botswana and works at Gantsi primary hospital. She is a passionate advocate for women and children, LGBT  folks, and people living with HIV in Botswana and globally.

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