Pushing back

Pushing back

………LGBTI community wants acceptance………..

MASERU – IN a conservative country where being gay is often viewed as taboo, one teenager is refusing to be boxed.
Lehlohonolo Mohale, an 18-year-old, prefers to be called by the feminine name, Pinki and he makes no secret of it.
‘‘I am not a closeted teenager in a conservative country. I am out here living my life to the fullest,’’ says Mohale, who learnt that he was gay from a very young age.
“I felt and behaved differently from other boys,” he says.

He spoke freely at a three-day workshop organised by Matrix Lesotho, an association advocating for the rights of gays, to sensitise different role-players on sexuality, religion, human rights and sexual health. The workshop was held in association with House of the Rainbow Association, an international organisation advocating for the inclusion of gays, bisexuals and transgendered, based in Nigeria.

Mohale says he enjoyed “girlish” games such as ’mantloane where he played a role of a mother, skipping rope (khoele) as well as liketo during his childhood days.
“I also refused to wear pants as I felt I had to wear dresses,” Mohale says.
He says he had always felt comfortable around women and he did most of the things with them, adding that he struggled to hang around other boys.
His family was supportive, he says.

“However at first, my father could not understand me. He thought everything I did was just an act and I proved to him until he made peace with it,’’ Mohale says.
He says discovering his sexuality opened doors to discrimination from his peers and some community members that included service providers.
“Service providers should stop treating (gays) so bad like they are not ordinary human beings because this leads to emotional abuse,” he says.
For Mohale, the discrimination did not put him down.

Rather he “forced” them to accept him for who he is by changing his entire wardrobe.
“I wore crop tops, sexy pants and started using make-up,” he says.
Mohale, who came out as first princess in the 2017/2018 Princess Miss Gay Lesotho competition, says he has never dated a woman and wishes to legally get married to a person of his choice, irrespective of gender.

He encouraged other young gay people to stop being in denial, warning that they can only get support from their parents if they open up about their sexuality.
“Inform close people to ease the burden of the challenges,” he says.
Mohale’s sister, Rethabile, narrated her brother’s love for women’s stuff from an early age.
She said Mohale would even donate his toys to his younger brother.

At first Rethabile thought this was because there were more girls than boys in their family.
However, his sexuality became clearer especially after he changed his nickname from Spinkana to Pinki, she says.
’Mapoloko Masena, speaking on behalf of the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL), says her turning point was when she attended a three-day Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender Intersex (LGBTI) workshop in April this year.

‘‘I was very angry because I failed to understand why I was assigned to attend a gathering for homosexuals and I never participated (in the discussions) during the first two days,’’ Masena says.
She says “everything felt so different” on the third day after the director of Matrix Association, Tamposa Mothopeng, gave a moving speech.
Masena says she regretted why she had wasted time by not participating in the sessions from the start.
She added that it was after that meeting that “I realised I had an attitude issue against LGBTIs due to lack of knowledge”.
After the workshop, Masena says she did everything she could in her hometown of Butha-Buthe to ensure that she shared the information she had gained with the community, including with churches.

She says her teachings were “highly appreciated”.
Masena appealed to people with little knowledge about the LGBTI community to seek more information before embarking on judgmental or discriminatory behaviour.
“LGBTIs should be appreciated, loved unconditionally and supported just like anyone,” she says.
Speaking at the same occasion, Jude Macaulay, founder of the House of Rainbow, said LGBTI people go through different traumas ranging from physical and emotional neglect, sexual and spiritual trauma.

Macaulay, a transgender, said sexuality is not a condition that could be reversed through beatings or other actions because it comes naturally.
Beatings can only traumatise a child further as this is tantamount to physical abuse on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, said Macaulay.
‘‘Parents cannot take away their responsibilities because a child is born LGBTI but rather they should look after their children,’’ he said.

He said LGBTI persons who fail to find love in the home will often seek compassion elsewhere and this could lead people to engage in vices such as drug abuse and prostitution.
“Let the children grow knowing they are loved unconditionally,” he said, highlighting the dangers of what he called “spiritual violence” involving parents and religious leaders.
“Let us not make them comfortable in their own churches. Understand that we should live at our own pace. This will help us to avoid living a double life; hiding the real us through certain people while prevailing it to others,” he said.

He appealed to LGBTI persons to stay in the church.
“Do not leave. Go claim your space in church. Preachers are not God but just his servants. Also, talk to parents, service providers and parliamentarians and find the courage to be honest and get them to understand,’’ he said.

Matrix director, Tampose Mothopeng encouraged love, understanding and support for community members regardless of sexual identity.
Mothopeng said the workshop’s main agenda was to embrace creation in different ways and to share some love and support.
‘‘This support marks the beginning of our journey and I hope it will lead to positive change within our communities to transform to a place we would love it to be,’’ she said.
Like Mohale, she views discrimination in communities as abhorrent.

‘‘We are special in our own way and being different from others does not mean one has to be treated differently in anyway,’’ Mothopeng said.
“I am tired of the discrimination in villages, in public service facilities and churches. We are normal beings with different preferences. We need the freedom to love without judgments,” she said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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