My story is one of great failure. It is the kind that sticks with you; etched in your mind and persistent with each turn of life. In this piece, I am going to share some aspects of concern, thought and passion on issues relating to being a part of the LGBT community and serving as an activist. When I first learned about activism in Botswana, it seemed a profession solely based on one being a part of the LGBT community. Growing up in an environment where you have to be educated to earn a living and subsequently create a family wasn’t a choice but it was a mandate as a son. I had lived with a lie as many others have done, refusing to rid myself of the mental, financial and physical security I had. Little did I know that the closet I was in was as transparent as the wine glass I’d often fill to drown out my sorrows. My life had been filled with wanting to please people, the need for belonging and losing the academic stealth I once had. My awakening in understanding who I was had turned my life around in the worst of ways a 16 year old in varsity could experience.
I was quite confused when I first heard of a Motswana man engaging tribal platforms to raise awareness on LGBT issues. This opened me to the injustices I had experienced but could never describe. This man was an activist and I found myself, wanting to assist in his cause. Before I knew it, I had started my finance career in a Big 4 audit firm and began volunteering for an LGBT organisation I would later be elected to Chair. Had I known the challenging journey I would take in the three years leading to now, I am not sure if I would be able to take the multiple challenges and more often than not, disappointment. Last year, I found myself having compromised my leadership learning curve and struggling to find my way again in this complex journey. This was a result of pressure and trying to figure out the influence culture within organisational structures had on the outcomes of an organisation such as that which I led. Little did I know this would become a subject to explore in Masters dissertation. This served as a critical point in my growth as a leader, creating a new definition of how I understood failure, confusion and challenge.
In a recent trip to Kampala, Uganda as a participant in a UN Special Rapporteur regional consultation, I found myself in the heat of a debate I unconsciously initiated. I was in a country known of being hostile to persons like myself, acting, behaving and talking in the normal flamboyant manner I would back home. Little did I know that this could have compromised my safety at that of my accomplices. My concern came from the reaction I received from a fellow activist, who I felt impeded my right to expression and how I identify myself with the world. The lesson of that experience for me was that there are the environments that enable, and those that do not, different kinds of activism. There are those who are quite radical or flamboyant in their approach, as in my case; being educated in post-apartheid South Africa and a citizen in a country considered an esteemed democracy. Likewise, there are those who prefer to carry out their work under the radar, in contexts where one’s future may be uncertain due to security forces, state administrative power or society itself.
The dynamic lessons one learns when engaging with others and discovering new contexts is mind blowing. In especially for a young mind trying to find its voice in a world of many others fighting the forces of stigma, discrimination, legislative constraints and inadequate health provisions. I connected this to a similar situation back home, where I as an advocate can easily express my views on public platforms with no concern or worry of my family, state or friends’ persecution/rejection. I never thought that my actions could result in other young people in remote areas being subject to hate crimes. The representative of gay or lesbian in those remote areas was not me, but the boy with an extra sway to his hips or the girl dressed in a masculine manner. This is the responsibility my story turned to, where one’s work can have an impact on others’ lives in an unimaginable manner. Likewise where a father has to ‘come out of the closet’ as many times as you do whenever his colleagues mention your work.