By Colenso Holder, Delegate of the Executive Council
I am sitting in my hotel room in Johannesburg. There is a constant hum of cars. I just got out of the shower so the sound of water dripping is also filling the room. Today was the first day of parliamentary sessions at the ALAMAU conference. Countries from all over the continent are here. From Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa and more.
At the beginning of the ALAMAU conference we were briefed by the chairperson that the main goal of this conference is to have impact. I am proud to say that the Maru-a-Pula delegation has achieved just that.
After supper a fellow Maru-a-Pula student from Botswana told me about his committee and how homophobic arguments had ensued during their conversations. I told this delegate that if I were to be in that council I would leave because of the delegates’ ignorance and also because their comments would hit too close to home since I am a gay male.
After dinner, this same student told me that some representatives who are against gay rights had gathered in one of the conference rooms. He then asked the rest of the Maru-a-Pula delegation if they were up for joining him for a debate on LGBT rights. Our entire team was very enthusiastic about this, arriving at the debate venue to find the said delegates still having their dinner.
At first the debate was very informal since it was not actually part of the conference, but occurred spontaneously. We were privileged to have Mr. Jantsankhorol Damdinsuren, advisor for the Maru-a-Pula School delegation, as chairperson for the debate, even going on to label it as a ‘bonus session’. A moderated caucus of 5 minutes and 30 seconds was voted for.
During the few speeches given, there were passionate expressions of opinions on the topic: homosexuality goes against Christianity, homophobia also goes against Christianity, homosexuality is seen as unnatural by some African citizens. Homosexuality is natural since there are more than 2000 species that are known for sometimes having same sex partners, and lastly, the fact that being homosexual is not a choice but one is born that way. These arguments were not presented in a serious manner since this was not part of the actual conference.
After the first motion was exhausted, there was a motion to extend it by six minutes with a speaking time of one minute. I was the first to speak. I did not know what I was going to say to the people that were sitting in front of me. All I saw was ignorance. So I started talking about myself and the experiences that I have encountered as a gay male.
During the previous caucus I was totally unemotional but as soon as I started talking about myself I started to shake and emotions started to take over. I addressed my fellow delegates from Uganda telling them about how I would have committed suicide if I did not not have an accepting family. I also spoke on the fact that it is people like them who cause innocent people like myself to commit suicide. When I was up there I started to cry, not out of the fact that I was offended but because of their lack of understanding and all the pain that they could potentially cause because of their lack of tolerance.
After I gave my speech, there was an obvious shift in the atmosphere as the hostile tone which had overcome the room just a few moments before transformed to a more welcoming one. The delegate of Uganda went on to apologize to me on realization that I had taken offense. She then started to cry as well. When she approached the delegates again I could see that there was a major change in her attitude towards the seriousness of the discrimination at hand. My fellow delegates from Uganda and another country then stated that they also believe that people should be seen as equals.
Some of the statements that followed included the fact that it is us, the youth’s responsibility to create a world that accepts all and leaves no minority group behind. Some of these points were supported by the fact that black people were called animals in some European schools and this was not the truth. Therefore vibrant young people should be open-minded towards any situation regardless of our upbringing and our parents’ beliefs. We should have the ability to create our own rational judgment towards situations, given any circumstance.