Eight years after its inception the Mozambican Association for the Defence of Sexual Minorities (Lambda) — the only organisation in the country fighting for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people — is still battling to obtain official status.
Having successfully lobbied to have the country’s colonial-era antihomosexuality laws repealed, Lambda wants to be declared a registered LGBTI organisation.
Established in 2008 by Danilo da Silva, the organisation’s work is conducted by 164 full-time staff and volunteers across the country. The Mail & Guardian spoke to Da Silva on the eve of the organisation being awarded this year’s African of the Year Feather Award.
Do you foresee the justice ministry approving Lambda as a registered LGBTI organisation any time soon?
I do see it happening soon but I don’t see it happening easily. It’s quite absurd that the same government that recognises that same-sex activity shouldn’t be criminalised is the same government that does not recognise our fundamental and constitutional right to peacefully assemble and advocate for our rights under the law.
As Lambda, we have been quite open to engaging with the Mozambican government and have had many discussions … but have not been very successful. They essentially don’t see us as worthy of their time.
This is the same government that has invited you to participate in events, particularly health-focused events?
The Mozambican government is not very consistent when it comes to us. There is, for example, one branch of government that doesn’t recognise us an organisation, then there is another branch collecting taxes from us, and yet another branch of government that invites us to discussions, that [acknowledges] we play a key role in the lives of its citizens.
And that is crazy because a state should be consistent in fighting stigma and discrimination, which is a huge issue in our country. They should also recognise that they are fostering stigma and discrimination towards a minority by [failing to recognise] that these citizens have the right to participate in the building of our society.
If government does not recognise a certain group, it is effectively encouraging other groups to discriminate against that group.
How else does the government’s refusal to have you registered as an organisation affect your work?
To operate effectively, you have to be registered. That is a huge impediment when, for example, seeking support from partner organisations. So access to funding is affected and the ability to hire people is affected — even the ability to access places where we know that Lambda’s presence is [needed].
Speaking as a registered entity affords you a political strength to not only access [places like Parliament] but to speak with the legitimacy [derived from] representing a certain group.
Despite this, you have done a lot of work in helping to shift attitudes towards LGBTI people. According to the recently released report, Canaries in the Coal Mines, next to South Africa Mozambique is the country most accepting of homosexuality in Southern Africa.
Yes, but the effort we had to put in was huge. We are swimming against the current; swimming in a flood of hate and prejudice that you sometimes don’t see but you know is there.
It would have been much easier for us if we were recognised in 2008; we would have achieved much more. As an organisation that doesn’t have the support of the majority of the population, you have to be very careful. And that drains us of resources and energy in trying to strategise ways of addressing our issues without going head-to-head with the government.
What are some of the things you would have liked to achieve?
If we were registered we could have been working with the education minister. The doors would have open to us to start working at secondary schools, where we know people are being bullied and subjected to all forms of violence because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
We would also have liked to have brought about a more progressive penal code, one which criminalises discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
So what is the next step for Lambda?
To make sure we are registered because this is not a healthy situation for us as an organisation. I think it will come to a point where we might take the government to court and let the courts decide because we can’t wait another eight years until a decision is reached.
In all this time the government hasn’t come up with any reason why we should not be registered. It is not good for any democracy run by the “rule of law” if the law can be bent just based on someone’s prejudices.
How do you feel bout the organisation being awarded the African of the Year Award at this year’s Feather Awards?
It is recognition of our work — not just for Lambda, but also for the LGBTI community and our country because there is not much positive news around LGBTI activists in the region.
It really is good to see that there are people who are paying attention to what we are doing — and respecting it.
Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian