LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana) is a national membership organisation formed in 1998 to raise awareness, tolerance and celebration of sexual diversity. LEGABIBO was only officially registered in April 2016 after a long court battle seeking legal recognition of the organisation by the Government of Botswana. The organisation works across programme areas including legal reform, increased access to sexual reproductive health services, partnerships for movement building and public education.
IAM and LEGABIBO have partnered together since 2015, facilitating dialogues with religious leaders and LGBTIQ communities, training LEGABIBO staff through training-of-trainers facilitation in South Africa, sharing resources and strengthening the LGBTIQ movement in Botswana.
LEGABIBO help lay the groundwork for the recent High Court ruling in Botswana, partnering with UNDP to and the Southern African Litigation Centre to publish a booklet on the impact of criminalisation, raising widespread public awareness of the issue, training media, amongst other initiatives. Legally, being LGBTI was not against the law in Botswana but same sex sexual acts were criminalised. The law provided the legal justification for stigma and discrimination against the LGBTIQ community.
On 11 June 2019 newspaper headlines read: BOTSWANA DECRIMINALISES HOMOSEXUALITY IN HISTORIC JUDGEMENT, a tremendous success for the LGBTIQ activist community.
The High Court ruling has brought high hopes from the LGBTIQ community and allies in Botswana and throughout Africa that the ruling will help to transform and shape the hearts and minds of not only people in Botswana, but in the region. Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, LEGABIBO’s CEO said, “It has taken a long time for our community to be where it is. This incredibly life-changing decision, although it does not right all the wrongs done to individual members of the LGBTIQ community, is a step towards restoring our dignity as human beings. The decision has several implications for the LGBTIQ community. Not only does it provide legal affirmation and recognition of the rights of LGBTIQ persons, but it allows an important space for addressing public health issues more efficiently and effectively. We can finally start building a more tolerant society. The real work starts now”.
Daniel Olwango, Executive Director of NYARWEK in Kenya, where the High Court recently upheld its law banning gay sex and punishing violators with up to 14 years of jail time, said, “My energy is back. I am seeing hope. Congratulations Botswana. Love wins. We are together in this and we have to celebrate the victory in Africa.” Activists throughout the region shared similar sentiments with their partners in Botswana.
But there remains a tremendous amount of work to be done. Shortly after the positive judgement the Botswana government has issued a statement that they will appeal the High Court ruling. LEGABIBO will continue to do what it does best – raise awareness, fight injustice, share information and resources with fellow advocates, and train human rights defenders on LGBTI rights issues.