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Judges in Botswana unanimously rule to decriminalize homosexuality

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June is known as LGBTQ+ pride month and LGBTQ+ people and allies are celebrating as Botswana decriminalized homosexuality on Tuesday.

The High Court of Botswana struck down its prior laws criminalizing homosexuality in a historic ruling. Sections 164 and 167 of Botswana’s Penal Code had included punishment of up to 7 years in prison for homosexual behavior. These sections were removed after the High Court ruled that such laws were disrespectful and unconstitutional. Three judges made this ruling unanimously, with Judge Elburu stating, “Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement. It is an important attribute of one’s personality.” The criminalization of homosexuality began in Botswana in 1965 when the laws were created by colonial British influence.

The New York Times reports that 32 of Africa’s 54 countries have laws that criminalize homosexuality, with South Africa becoming the first of these countries to decriminalize homosexuality in 1998. South Africa also became the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2006.

The Lesbians, Gay, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) last year shared this quote from current Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi: “There are also many people of same-sex relationships in this country who have been violated and have also suffered in silence for fear of being discriminated…Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected.”

Beyond ruling that the sections of the penal code criminalizing homosexual conduct were unconstitutional, judges explicitly named them as discriminatory. Botswana’s ruling will not only make LGBTQ+ citizens safer and strengthen their civil rights movement, but will surely have an effect on other countries who have not yet made similar progress.

Other historic wins for the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement worldwide this year include Taiwan legalizing same-sex marriage and the World Health Organization removing ‘transgender’ from its list of mental disorders.

What laws regarding LGBTQ+ rights exist in your area? How might this ruling in Botswana influence other governments?

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Meryl Connelly-Chew

I work as an advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and facilitate a LGBTQ+ survivors support group. I have a B.L.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies, with concentrations in Psychology, Sociology, and English. I grew up in rural Southeast Alaska, and live now in Bellingham, Washington with my dog Fathom. I write for Kindling because I believe in the innate value of each of us and I am inspired by the existence of goodness in our collective humanity.

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