Out and proud at first lesbian festival

The participants and organisers of the festival hope that the event will create a platform from where the women can share a message of resilience, pride and courage.

22 November 2017 | Events

More than 80 young Namibian lesbians from eight regions are taking to the stage at the inaugural lesbian festival this week to start a conversation about widespread human rights violations and prejudice against lesbians and to rally for their right to be a part of an inclusive Namibia where no one is left behind.

“We are holding our president accountable to his promise of building an inclusive Namibian house for all, in which no one feels excluded,” the organisers of the festival hosted by the Women's Leadership Centre (WLC) in Windhoek said at the launch yesterday.

Many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Namibia face intolerance, injustice and other abuses, ranging from refusal of services by police and health workers, being banished from families, churches and communities, bullying, crimes and more.

“I've been raped because of my sexual orientation. Men try to challenge us.

But I am a lesbian and I love women. Don't try to change me. I will still be me, even though you raped me,” said Laina Nairenge, who shared her story alongside four other young lesbians yesterday.

She said she knows of lesbians who have been beaten and violated in a number of ways, in the misguided belief that a lesbian will become a heterosexual.

Nairenge said she did not report her rape because she feared that because she is a lesbian, the police would blame her for the rape or simply ignore her.

She discovered she was pregnant, and is now the mother of a two-year-old daughter.

“The way you treat us, it just makes us stronger,” she said.

She said the birth of her daughter helped her to forgive the rapist, who was eventually sentenced to 18 years behind bars for another rape.

Nairenge said after she joined the WLC's young lesbian project, which advocates for the promotion and protection of lesbian women's human rights, and started focusing on poetry and music, she became more empowered and realised she had a “voice to speak up”.

The participants and organisers of the festival hope that the event will create a platform from where the women can share a message of “resilience, pride and courage” and help them “transform their living realities”.

Florence /Khaxas, WLC volunteer and director of the Young Feminist Movement - Namibia, said the young lesbians will use the three nights of performance art to creatively express themselves and give voice to their lives.

She said it's important for the LGBT community to speak up and share their realities.

“If we don't, who will tell our stories?”

She also warned that while mental health issues, especially untreated, are a generally widespread challenge in Namibia, in the LGBT community it is especially prevalent. She said alcohol and drug abuse is rife, to help “numb the pain”.

She said grassroots movements are crucial in helping the community build self-esteem and confidence in a life where they have faced crushing disappointments, being rejected by families and communities and told they do not fit the accepted roles.

She said it is crucial to challenge the belief that it is “not African” to be lesbian, or the religious dogma that overshadows the needs for human rights and dignity of the LGBT community.

The women told about being cast out from churches, from families and friends, and being told they could only get jobs if they dressed differently to look more like “a lady”.

Many have experienced denial of services, and abuse, at the hands of officials working at hospitals and police stations.

Ronatjie Tjivera, from Khorixas, said the LGBT community is asking for their rights to “feel free, to express our feelings freely”.

Boy Dons from Walvis Bay said the message is simple: “We are all created equally. We don't need to discriminate against each other. Just give us dignity and respect, and we will do the same.”

/Khaxas added that a main goal is to help strengthen and amplify the voices and resilience of young participants, so that they are empowered to go back to their communities and start their own projects and help others tell their stories.

The festival opened last night at the Warehouse Theatre, with the sharing of stories through dramatic performances, a photo exhibition and movies. Tonight, a panel discussion on the feminist movement will take place at the Imagine Games Café at the Zum Gruenen Kranz complex.

On Thursday, music, dance, poetry and spoken word performances will be hosted, free of charge, at the Warehouse Theatre.

The festival concludes on Saturday with a family and friends fun day at Brakwater Recreational Park.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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