15 November 2018

Swaziland: LGBT Pride Film Shows What It's Like to Live With Prejudice and Ignorance in Swaziland

A ground-breaking documentary on life in Swaziland / Eswatini as an LGBT person has been released. It focusses on the first ever Pride event that took place in the absolute monarchy in June 2018.

Homosexuality is illegal in Swaziland and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) people are routinely discriminated against in the kingdom ruled since 1986 by King Mswati III. He has reportedly described homosexuality as being 'satanic'

Riyadh Khalaf made a documentary Fighting For Pride: Swaziland with the assistance of YouTube's Creators For Change project. It can be viewed on YouTube.

In an interview with Gay Times, he said there were three main contributors in the film, 'A gay guy named Mlando, a lesbian called Alex, and a trans woman called Polycarp, and it was amazing to see that each of them had their own struggle, but their struggles were very individual.

'So the gay guy, Mlando, actually fled Swaziland to neighbouring South Africa to have a somewhat free and open life. He just couldn't live as his true self in his home country, and it was devastating that he had to leave. But he made that journey back to his homeland for this Pride, which was a huge moment for him. There were tears in the interview, and he couldn't believe it was finally happening in Swaziland, talking about his father beating him as a kid for not being masculine enough.

'Then we had the lesbian side which was fascinating, because they're not believed to be lesbians, the men think that these women just haven't seen the light, and that they need to basically just get their shit together and realise they actually fancy men. That's why in Swaziland there have been corrective rapes of women, to try and snap them out of it, and if you say you're a lesbian, what you'll often hear is that the men will be really offended, like, "How dare you not be attracted to me?"

'And then for the trans woman, Polycarp, that's the most difficult story. She's essentially terrified for her life every time she leaves her house. She doesn't always "pass" when she's out in public, so she speaks of being afraid of people coming up to her, grabbing her hair, pulling her into a ditch, and she said that her auntie tried to send her to a pastor to rid her of her possessions because she believes she has a demon. Her parents understand that she's trans but beg her to present as a man for the sake of the family. So it's multi-level and it's just a constant battle with your identity and society and trying to find this middle ground where you can be who you are without offending everyone else.'

There is a great deal of prejudice against LGBT people in Swaziland. In May 2016, Rock of Hope, which campaigns for LGBTI equality in Swaziland and organised the Pride event, reported to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Swaziland that laws, social stigma and prejudice prevented LGBTI organisations from operating freely.

The report, presented jointly with three South African-based organisations, stated, 'In Swaziland sexual health rights of LGBT are not protected. There is inequality in the access to general health care, gender affirming health care as opposed to sex affirming health care and sexual reproductive health care and rights of these persons. HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care services continue to be hetero-normative in nature only providing for specific care for men born as male and women born as female, thereby leaving out trans men and women as an unprotected population which continues to render the state's efforts at addressing the spread and incidence of HIV within general society futile.'

The report added, 'LGBTs are discriminated and condemned openly by society. This is manifest in negative statements uttered by influential people in society e.g., religious, traditional and political leaders. Traditionalists and conservative Christians view LGBTs as against Swazi tradition and religion. There have been several incidents where traditionalists and religious leaders have issued negative statements about lesbians.

'Human rights abuses and violations against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex population continue to go undocumented, unreported, unprosecuted and not addressed.'

It added, 'There is no legislation recognizing LGBTs or protecting the right to a non-heterosexual orientation and gender identity and as a result LGBT cannot be open about their orientation or gender identity for fear of rejection and discrimination. For example, the Marriage Act, only recognizes a marriage or a union between a man and a woman. Because of the absence of a law allowing homosexuals to conclude neither marriage nor civil unions, same-sex partners cannot adopt children in Swaziland.'

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