In an unprecedented challenge, Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities, a dedicated advocate for LGBTQ and intersex rights, is awaiting a crucial ruling from the country’s Supreme Court that could allow it to register as an official organization. The group first petitioned the Registrar of Companies in 2019, only to be denied on the grounds that the rights they were championing were deemed illegal.
Navigating the Legal Landscape
Eswatini, the last absolute monarchy in Africa, currently prohibits consensual same-sex activity under common law, classifying it as sodomy. The law has not been actively enforced, yet individuals identifying as LGBTQ or intersex continue to face rampant discrimination. The group appealed to the Supreme Court following their initial rejection, only to have the case dismissed in 2022. Undeterred, they launched an appeal.
Shifting Perceptions Amid Prejudice
Despite legal opposition, Eswatini’s government has not outright banned Pride events, suggesting a degree of tolerance. In fact, Rock of Hope, another LGBTQ and intersex rights group, hosted the nation’s first Pride event in 2018. This seemingly contrasts with Eswatini’s deep-rooted patriarchal customs, which traditionally exclude the LGBTQ and intersex community.
An African Perspective on LGBTQ Rights
African researcher Gerbrandt van Heerden challenges the notion that non-traditional gender expressions and identities are foreign to African culture. He argues that positioning same-sex attraction as a foreign concept serves as a significant roadblock to LGBTQ rights across the continent. Moreover, van Heerden suggests education as a powerful tool to debunk the idea that being LGBTQ is ‘un-African’ and to promote tolerance.
Beyond advocacy, organizations like Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities and Rock of Hope play a crucial role in providing healthcare services to the LGBTQ and intersex community. On Rainbow Health Day, Rock of Hope offered a range of free medical services, including COVID-19 vaccinations and HIV testing, demonstrating the vital support these groups offer.
As the Supreme Court deliberates, the nation and the world wait to see if Eswatini will take a step towards a more inclusive future.