How has the Out-Right Namibia community been impacted by COVID-19?
The community has been greatly impacted by the pandemic. We are inundated with requests for assistance on a daily basis. The majority of them have lost work; a significant number of them working in the tourism sector. Due to the lockdown, most of these establishments are not functioning and there are companies, due to debts, who were forced to lay off some of their employees. A significant amount of the LGBTI community is losing their jobs, unable to pay rent, and forced to go back to family homes where they face rejection.
Do you think that there will be a big return when people’s jobs are restored? Will they move back to being on their own?
The hotel industry is not sure how long this will take. Cases are still picking up in Europe and there’s a lot of worry around that because our tourism sector is dependent on European tourists. With a lockdown in Europe, they’re unable to travel and come here. Until the tourist sector opens up and these establishments start up operating, the situation will continue as such. Many LGBTI people who lost work in the tourism sector have no option but to look at alternative sources of income, which might be difficult for them due to stigma and discrimination.
Is there an issue regarding workplace and employment discrimination for LGBTI people?
Yes, you have to be in the closet to get employed, especially in the public sector. Very few companies are keen to take on people that are openly LGBTI. They want you to be as discreet as possible, and this is actually a suppression of someone’s individual rights and identity. The majority of people do not want to suppress themselves, but they have to get jobs. At the moment, many have to look for work within the public sector or with bigger private companies, where there is an element of discrimination, especially for trans women and feminine gay men.
Are there ways in which Out-Right Namibia works with LGBTI people who have faced that kind of workplace discrimination?
Yes, we have some cases that are actually pending with people who got dismissed from work based on their sexual orientation. Their employers will not say it was such: they will try to disguise it in some other way but we understand that they’re targeting specific individuals. But if only three people in the company were laid off and you look at their demographics, you may see that it’s a discriminatory practice based on sexual orientation. There are certain such cases that we are dealing with trying to deal with that have not yet concluded; they are still pending.
Out of all the different services that you offer at Out-Right Namibia, what are some of the most heavily utilized services?
We work with other organizations because of funding issues. We make sure that our community members are referred to established entities that we have working relationships with that provide specific services. Other organizations provide specific social services and we have memoranda of understanding with these different entities that operate within different sectors.
The biggest challenge that we face in the LGBTI community in Namibia is that most of the funding that we had was from either the UNAID related projects, the Global Fund, and PEPFAR. However, funding meant for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention programs make it difficult for us to get funding for projects focused on other issues.
Also, Namibia is classified as a middle-upper income country. As an organization, when we look for funding we must find funding classified for middle-upper income countries, which prevents us from participating in certain applications which would enable us to create opportunities for the community. The fact that the country is classified as an upper-middle-income country doesn’t mean the business community and the community in general totally support our activities. They will not necessarily sponsor events that are LGBTI-related. So you’re put into quite a difficult position. As a result, the LGBTI community suffers.
We wanted to work with UNAIDS on the establishment of a drop-in center. Initially, we were going to have a drop-in center with the Namibia Planned Parenthood Association, but they are also struggling to get funding. The LGBTI community is mostly referred to public clinics and hospitals. We want to have an in-house nurse who could attend to the community and only refer them to specific medical practitioners if they had major issues. Right now the community is forced to go to public institutions to access such services, where there is a level of discrimination and stigma that they face.
What is your personal background in this world of activism? How did you come to be so involved with Out-Right Namibia?
Activism, both in youth politics and in the LGBTI world, has been something that I’ve been doing for a while now. I was involved in youth politics from a very young age, I studied international leadership, and I’m still aspiring to work in politics. About ten years back, there was an organization called The Rainbow Project in Namibia that had to close. We wanted to establish something new and different. Myself and a number of community members convened and decided to form an organization that would continue to advocate for the rights of the LGBTI community and I was elected to be chairperson of the steering committee. The steering committee established Out-Right Namibia and they elected the first board, where I became the board chairperson.
Next year, we hope to work on a decriminalization agenda where we engage policymakers, as well as the general public, in helping to repeal the sodomy law in order to create equality for everybody. If you look at Namibia in the context of the southern Africa community region, our neighbors have all repealed this sodomy law. In South Africa, homosexuality is legal; Botswana, they went to court; Angola, they repealed it through parliament; and Mozambique, repealed it through parliament as well. So you’re sitting in Namibia like an island where all countries around us have repealed anti-LGBTI laws. It’s a shame that Namibia still sits with this colonial-era discrimination law against a segment of the population when the rest of the countries around us have done away with it.
Homosexuality in Namibia is not technically a crime, but same-sex sexual activity is. When we have meetings with other stakeholders like the police or the Ministry of Health to discuss issues of access to services, they always reference the law that speaks about same-sex acts as an inhibition from them executing their mandate without discrimination. We have tried deepening stakeholder engagement, but we still don’t have enough funds for that. We postponed it this year due to COVID-19 and due to all these changes; the funds we had were exhausted.
Do you think the general public in Namibia will be influenced or impacted by realizing that other countries in the region have shown some progress?
Not necessarily. Our laws are very close to South African laws, but on the issue of homosexuality, the majority of Namibians are Christian, conservative, and rural-based. A few young people in urban areas have more liberal views and approaches. There’s a level of tolerance but there’s discrimination still in terms of access to services and opportunities. You rarely hear cases of violent attacks or discrimination. They certainly occur, but they are sparsely spread across the country. Being gay in Namibia means you’re still regarded as an outcast by most families and it’s only now that we’re trying to instill a positive image around the LGBTI community and they can contribute to society. There are changes coming, but it’s very slow. Hence, our approach being that we need to take a litigative approach rather than an approach through policy reform through parliament. We want to take the legal route because there are a lot of our statutes in the constitution that guarantee freedom equality for all Namibians.
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