Namibia needs more safe spaces

26 July 2019
Author   Leonore Tjikune
We all know our beloved country claims to be an advocate for human rights. But does this apply to all of us? Or just the “normal” people our society deems fit.
An event I attended last week created a safe space for expression and acceptance, with the most eclectic people; I felt inspired. Yet, a deep sadness overtook me when the reality of the dicey social and professional situation for this particular group of people hit me.
The recent story in the news of a same-sex couple fighting in our courts to have their legal South African marriage status accepted in Namibia, got me thinking. Namibia has a long way to go in truly being a “human rights for all” country.
What many today call the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer) community, is still avoided, rejected, and the subject of a socially self-imposed ‘ban’ on open acceptance and communication. 
A lesbian is a woman sexually attracted only to women.  Gay - a man sexually attracted only to other men; Bi – someone attracted to and by either men or women; Trans - either a man who identifies as a woman or a woman who identifies as a man, who underwent (or plans to undergo) a physical sex change; and Queer - is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or cisgender.  I know that these definitions are a lot to take in.  But people who define themselves in these terms are a permanent reality and demand acceptance.
People who try to hide who they really are inside in terms of their sexuality and live their lives in a closet, are unhappy and frustrated.  Forcing yourself to live a fake life negatively impacts everyone around them even if they don’t realize it. 
Think about it. Why would someone want to experience humiliation, hate speech, blatant disrespect, and outcast status in Namibia if they could conform to the norm? No one ‘chooses’ their sexual identity, you are born that way- it is who you are.  So how about trying to be a little more empathetic towards members of the LGBTQ community?  Why not take small steps towards walking in someone else’s shoes for a bit.
It is sad to see that there are still many people and countries that refuse to acknowledge people who have an identification that is different from what the majority may feel is ‘normal.’  Our country only recognizes a union between man and woman as a legal marriage; our people express hatred towards LGBTQ people, and some people go out of their way to harass and physically assault them.  Is this the society we want to live in?  Is it ok to beat-down another human being just because they are different?
History has disappointingly showed us that change is rarely received well and more often misunderstood and resisted.  People tend to destroy anything they don’t understand or that frightens them.  Regardless of these injustices, in recent years, many countries have changed their views and accept their citizens who are from the LGBTQ community. 
Many countries around the world have legalized same-sex marriages – more come aboard regularly.  Even conservative Botswana recently ruled in favor of decriminalizing homosexuality, inevitably telling people “it’s okay to be who you are, we won’t judge you.”
But what has Namibia and other countries actually done for these people (other than including nice words in speeches about inclusion)?  ZERO.
I admit, for many it is not an easy topic to discuss, but I think starting the dialogue is how we move forward. We need to engage with people of the LGBTQ community to better understand them. We need to provide safe spaces where everyone feels comfortable being their authentic selves, not just the heterosexually accepted. Let’s stop judging and try to open our minds a little.
AND, for those who argue homosexuality is against their religion, “a sin and against God” – consider this:  if God has made and loves us all, why would He create someone as a homosexual just to go through life being told he/she will “go to hell”?   Also, doesn’t the bible say that only God will judge? Therefore, who are we to judge how people live their lives and according to whose standards to make that subjective and selfish judgement?  If people are living their lives and trying to be happy while not hurting anybody, why should anyone try to destroy that?
It’s about time we stop saying we believe in equal rights and start living that way.  Let us accept every individual as part of our society.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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