Gays and lesbians meet Zimbabwe’s MPs

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

ZIMBABWE’S gays and lesbians continued to make inroads in their campaign for acceptance when they hosted parliament’s health portfolio committee Saturday where they took time to highlight facing difficulties in accessing health services from the country’s public institutions.

Described as the first of its kind in a country that has largely frowned upon homosexuals, the meeting, according to the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz), was aimed at sensitising lawmakers on existing structural barriers for lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) groups in accessing health services.

“Mainly issues to do with health service provision, looking at the idea that the HIV burden is high among men having sex with other men and women having sex with other women and basically the LGBTI community,” said Galz services and policy advocacy officer Sylvester Nyamatendedza after the Saturday meeting.

“And since it’s a new parliamentary portfolio committee on health, we thought it was a good idea for them to know about certain sections of the society which are being left out on HIV programming; who are high burden on HIV and other diseases.

“And the parliamentarians highlighted not having in-depth information on the LGBTI community.”

Commenting on the engagement, Health Portfolio Committee chair, Ruth Labode described the meeting as engaging, adding that it was proposed by the LGBTI community to “tell us who they are”.

It was also to allow MPs to understand “what is a gay, what is a lesbian and making them (MPs) understand what is LGBTI”.

“This is also part of our programmes in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS as the country goes towards having a new zero infections,” Labode said.

The National Aids Council recently also announced it was going to establish five drop-in centres around the country for men having sex with men (MSM).

This was in response to the challenges they continued to face in accessing medical services, coupled with the high HIV prevalence rate among members of the community.

The meetings by Galz and the country’s lawmakers is a departure from the past hostile reception given to the LGBTI community by the country’s political leadership, top among them, the now former state leader Robert Mugabe who once described them as “worse than pigs and dogs”.

Just before the July 30 elections, the group was granted audience by some Zanu PF top officials with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s apparent seal of approval.