#StickYourNeckOut

Trevor Molife – Zimbabwe

“You think we do not know what you are: you are gay, such a disgusting abomination to the human race and a disgrace to the family!” These were the words I got from my nephew, which sent me straight to a sleepless night of tossing and turning in bed, with a stream of tears on my face. This was the last time I cried after someone insulted me for being gay…

Growing up as a gay man in Zimbabwe was challenging. As a young person, I was exposed to the hateful rhetoric of the former president, Robert Mugabe, who claimed lesbian and gay people as “worse than pigs and dogs”. His statement reflects the attitude of the state, which has long persecuted lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people. Many, including myself, experienced regular bullying, harassment and violence. Many LGBTQI young people in Zimbabwe (and, indeed, the continent) are pressured into acting straight in order to access crucial family support. Those who do not conform are disowned and, as result, do not have resources necessary to continue with their education. This has a roll-on effect: openly LGBTIQ youth often struggle to find employment, secure housing or access healthcare and other state services. 

Like many Zimbabweans, I grew up in a deeply religious household and community. Any deviation from ‘normal’ gender expectations was frowned upon and often policed through mockery, exclusion or violence. As a young person, I was told that I was possessed by a demon. I suffered regular abuse from community members. Peers would use derogatory slurs when referring to me, and in doing so making me feel less human. I remember being ridiculed for being a “girl” and “bringing AIDS to the school”, not just by fellow pupils but also by the school authorities. 

The economic situation in Zimbabwe is such that one needs to rely heavily on family and social networks. I was raised by an unemployed, widowed single mother, after my father passed on in my early High School years. My mother’s words that, “education is your lifetime inheritance” kept me motivated and eventually I managed to complete my tertiary education. The words helped me understand the value of education and recognise its potential for transforming lives. My hard work paid out when I got my first internship in Johannesburg, South Africa. South Africa is a country often seen as a haven for LGBTQI people in Africa. Despite boasting a progressive legislative framework, in practice it offers little protection for LGBTQI people, and even less for migrants, who are often undocumented. 

I met my peers from the LGBTQI community in Johannesburg central. Once I was invited to one of my Zimbabwean gay friend’s place which was a bachelor apartment he shared with 8 other friends. As we became closer I learnt that they all worked as commercial sex workers. This was because they did not have legal documentation to be in the country, because of the xenophobic and homophobic home officers that are supposed to be the ones to help the migrants. 

Every single day seemed like a party for them, but the reality check came when they shared experiences of the abuse they faced from some of their clients. They eventually got caught up in the labyrinth of drug, substance and alcohol dependence. As time progressed one of them got arrested, the other two ended up homeless, with one dying from HIV/AIDS after he moved back to Zimbabwe.

This reality touched home for me when a close friend committed suicide. He had been denied an education because of the homophobia that exists in Zimbabwe and this stopped him from living a full and meaningful life, even after moving to South Africa. His death made me more determined to work with LGBTQI young people in and from Zimbabwe. Getting a chance to have my Leadership for Social Change training at kanthari helped in boosting my confidence and having a refreshed drive to follow my dreams of making this change a reality. Swimming in Lake Vellayani where we would exchange ideas with other change makers from across the world focusing on various social issues helped in the formation of a realistic approach in the service provision for the Zimbabwean LGBTQI community.

My nephew who called me an abomination is now my number one ally after I took him to an LGBTQI workshop and exposed him to the community. My breakthrough in our relationship and having him changing his statement to saying, “I now understand the LGBTIQ community and they are equal humans.” Is what drives me to turn mindsets of many other Zimbabweans.

It was my dream to start Purple Hand Africa, an initiative focusing on mental wellness, livelihood promotions and documenting of stories for LGBTIQ people in Zimbabwe. The vision of PHA is to have an inclusive Zimbabwe that embraces diversity.