THE first anniversary of the Harare Queers collective — a cumulative of queer bodies seeking to redefine the socio-political climate for queers in Zimbabwe, through events and discussions that unapologetically celebrate queerness — took place last Saturday in the Harare avenues to soaring success.
Attended by dozens of strictly RSVP’d people because of the prevailing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions that ban larger groups meeting anywhere socially indoors or outdoors, the commemoration was fun-filled with activities that included panel discussions on gender, GBV, queer experiences in Zimbabwe, runways and cake cutting and eating sessions.
Reflecting on their one-year journey on the sidelines of the anniversary, the collective’s convenor Penny said HQ, as it is affectionately called, received a lot of support despite 2020 being a tough year for everyone.
“It has been pretty good. On our first event, we had about sixty people and from there we then grew. I think we are offering something that’s very different. A lot of other queer organisations are mostly about programming, HIV/AIDS, and educating, etc. We are more of social and collective. This year I think we gained a lot of support because of what we are doing. We organised a fund that raised over USD$15 000.00 from around the world and we distributed it into the community. It helped about three hundred individuals who we gave USD$50.00 each during the COVID-19 lockdown period,” said Penny.
While other queer groups in Zimbabwe — who at the moment count up to eighteen — are grappling to attract new members or at least retain those they have engaged, HQ’s numbers, reach and communal impact is snowballing. The convenors said this owed to the fact that they have created a non-such home for individuals that society has “othered” and the reality that they were for “queer liberation, not rainbow capitalism”.
“It’s all about us being a collective. We are not for profit or a non-governmental organisation. We are a collective that’s run from within the community by volunteers. So it really feels like a family the way we treat everyone and we try to make it a safer place for everyone like we respect people’s privacy and that’s what most people do really appreciate. They come to meet other people at our events without fear of being ousted,” Penny said.
Many mainstream queer rights movements which celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance and fight sexual orientation-based discrimination in Africa have however been sternly criticised for being urbane and elitist and grilled for their own often not-so-subtle discrimination based on caste, class, region and language. Critics say such disillusionment points to the reality that many people are still marginalised, even in progressive circles.
Responding to the question whether they were cosmopolitan who disregards the rural queers, Penny said while their movement started in Harare, the plan was to take it across the country. She said they started in the urban areas “because that’s where most of our inaugural players were but the movement is definitely something that wants to go around the country”.
She further underscored that with the fund they raised during the COVID-19 lockdown period, they also helped people in Hwange, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Chinhoyi and Kadoma, adding that Harare Queers was “far-reaching”.
Despite an active queer scene across the country, the Zimbabwean Constitution and other sundry laws enforce the common-law provisions that sanction against sodomy and limit the types of legal relationships LGBTQIA+ people can enter into.
In 2006, the government passed a “sexual deviancy” law that criminalised any actions “perceived as homosexual” – in theory making it a criminal offence for two people of the same sex to hold hands or kiss. Penalties included fines and up to ten years in prison.
Although the Southern African country can seem like a wintry country for queer people, Tinoashira Peter Govinda, another HQ convenor, told this writer that there has been a shift regarding such “moral policing”, for a lack of a better phrase. He said while other people were still living in pellucid denial, more people were aware of the presence of queer individuals in both urban and rural Zimbabwe.
“From the work that we’ve been doing, there has been a big change because people are now more conscious of the LGBTQIA+ people. Being conscious comes with visibility. We now have chiefs in the rural Zimbabwe who now know of the LGBTQIA+ people. Compare that to 20 years from now or 30 years ago when Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) started. There has been some positive change, but it’s been really around and through the health sector. The broader social change we need to see is there as well. The younger generation we have, the generation Z is very open and embracing but the older generation is still the decision-makers and I think that’s where we need to see more of our working effort, even in putting policies in place. There is progress, but there is so much we can do,” said Govinda.
Recent explorations posit that with Gen Z just beginning to enter the labour pool, they bring with them a vastly different world view and experience to previous generations. They are digital natives; the first generation to be fully surrounded by digital technology. Most grew up with unfettered access to the internet and mobile phones and are highly tech-savvy and comfortable expressing themselves online, as well as evaluating information from several sources across the world simultaneously. As well, they have instant access to a like-minded community across the globe and can therefore justify their experiences and feelings on a much wider scale than those who came before.
From a positive perspective, this can ease the fear and isolation that a young LGBTQIA+ individual may experience, allowing them to harness a global experience to raise the bar in expectations in their personal and working lives (if you know that currently, something good is happening abroad, why wouldn’t you demand it at home?)
Creative, funky, cautious and poised to reshape the queer experience beyond the prevailing “Sex, Drugs, and Disco” homosexual narrative that suggest that homoeroticism is all about “chem/slam sex” parties, where people get high on drugs and having sex with scores of partners, and ending up re-fuelling epidemics of HIV & AIDS, Harare Queers collective was launched in December 2019.
At its core, it strives toward a safe community where the full circle of human qualities is regarded with respect and where the particular gifts of every community member are dignified by conscious recognition.
Unlike the quotidian self-pitying and desert scenes most people probably associate being queer in Zimbabwe with, here humanity relates to each other, smiles and showers each other with positive compliments for whom they are, and the convenors are so poised to continue with that.
“We will definitely want to continue facilitating events like this, do more incapacitating events where we focus more on building skills and making a professional chain of people within the queer community so that we support each other without necessarily have to hide. There are a lot of businesses owned by queer people, but because you are queer, you might not get much money off it or clientele,” Penny said.
Picture Source: Queer &Proud: Pride parade by Delia Giandeini on Unsplash