Harare – As many as five Zimbabweans in the much-maligned Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender and Intersex community commit suicide every year because of homophobia, a Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) official said.
Speaking at a media training workshop in Harare on Thursday, GALZ Programmes Officer, Sylvester Nyamatendedza, said there was “nothing as painful as dying a social death”.
Nyamatendedza said his organisation had also recorded a lot of suicide attempts, mostly linked to ostracisation by family and harassment by the community.
Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, and offenders can be charged under the country’s “sexual deviancy” law.
“We have also had quite a number of attempted suicide cases among the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex community,” said Nyamatendedza.
“Although we could not collect all the evidence that would reveal why somebody would do such an act.
“From what we got from the people whom we have successfully managed to have an interaction with and provided with professional counselling, issues that were coming out were failure to be accepted by their families, being forced into heterosexual relationships, being forced to stop same sex relations.”
Nyamatendedza said there were also cases in which religious leaders, who were members of the LGBTI community, would attempt suicide after being excommunicated.
“Suicide is not a weakness… it is a cry for urgent help, especially to LGBTI and other key populations because with the struggles they face every day, if they don’t receive proper counselling and support, one sees no option but to take his or her own life.”
Nyamatendedza said reckless statements by those in positions of authority were also contributing to homophobia as ordinary citizens took their cue from them.
“There has been a situation where we have had political leaders coming up and castigating homosexuality, we also have our religious leaders who condemn homosexuality,” said Nyamatendedza.
“What then happens is people on the ground take the word to literally mean the law. There are also people who use political rhetoric to violate LGBTI people’s rights.”
Nyamatendedza said homophobic utterances by influential people inculcated negative perceptions against the LGBTI population and often resulted in violations against them.
“The tendency has been that every time political leaders make a negative statement, there is an increase in abuses as the community would then target the LGBTI in efforts to affirm support for their parties,” said Nyamatendedza.
He said homophobia resulted in discrimination and stigma, which led to a decline in health seeking behaviour among the LGBTI community, putting them at risk of contracting and spreading HIV.
Nyamatendedza said GALZ has 800 registered members and reaches out to 3 600 gay men and 564 lesbian Women.
He said the organisation had 16 affiliate groups and was working with the government, training 600 health care workers, 120 doctors and 60 journalists on the rights of LGBTI.
President Robert Mugabe, 92, is a fiery critic of homosexuality and is on record as saying that homosexuals were worse than pigs and dogs.
– African News Agency