Sunday, 1 May 2011

Out in Africa, in Church.

For a man to be both both married, and an active churchgoer, should be unremarkable.   That Mooketsi Sedimo's marital status and church participation is different, is because his spouse is a man, and he and his husband live in Africa - in Botswana.  We are all familiar with depressing headlines about the homophobic hysteria in some African countries, but too easily overlook the more encouraging stories that also come out of the continent.

Botswana does not have the constitutional protections available to the LGBT community in neighbouring South Africa, and there is substantial popular suspicion directed against gay men and lesbians, just as there is in many other countries. However, as has been amply demonstrated for prejudice of all kinds, in all places, familiarity does not breed contempt, but understanding and acceptance. Instead of trying to escape prejudice by hiding in a closet, Sedimo adopted the unusual tactic (for Botswana) of simply coming out openly, even to his pastor. This he did in completely unambiguous terms, by explaining that he had married a man, in South Africa.
Sedimo is in a same sex marriage, having wedded his partner in South Africa early this year. "I let my pastor know, as well as my family members. My pastor explained the matter to the church later. What is pleasing is that the church decided to accept me and not to judge me, because judgement is for the Lord," says the soft spoken and cigarette liking man.

Sedimo is an active and talented member of the church band, which probably has a lot to do with the acceptance he has received.
The bandmaster, Cavere Moahi, describes Sedimo as "one hell of a dedicated member" who is also talented in playing various musical instruments of worship like the drums, euphonium (phala), trumpet, and the alto horn.
The bandmaster even has high hopes for Sedimo that at the rate he is excelling in the band, it "won't be long before he starts playing the tuba baritone"
"He is not just a dedicated member, Sedimo is also full of love, which radiates throughout the church. We learnt about his sexual orientation recently, but decided to leave everything in the hands of the Lord who created our church mate. We believe God loves him as much as He loves us and only God is able to judge us. So we love him (Sedimo) and he loves the church so much. He is so free in the church that he can even stand before everyone and preach. That's how free we are with him."
The value to the wider community when individuals come out in church, is that it is difficult to maintain hostility in principle that is directed against an abstract group, when the target of that hostility becomes a flesh and blood person, seated in the pew or playing in the band or singing in the choir behind you. Growing acceptance of the individuals in the congregation then leads to reduced prejudice against the group as a whole.
In Sedimo's case, there is another important lesson in his story: his strong endorsement of marriage, as contributing to family and social stability:
However, Sedimo has never been blind to Botswana society's negative perception of people in same sex relationships.
This negative perception would play a part when Sedimo wanted to make a choice about his long-term plans.Sedimo says he knew he needed to be in a stable relationship as opposed to what he says is a highly promiscuous and carefree lifestyles common among the gay community in Botswana.
It is this need for stability that convinced Sedimo to look beyond Botswana's borders for a suitable partner. "I also wanted to protect the gay people of Botswana from the negative perceptions that they would be subjected to if their relatives came to know about our relationship," says Sedimo, as he puffs his cigarette as if his courage depended on it.
Those who believe that they can "protect" marriage and family by maintaining legal restrictions on it have it completely wrong: the experience of Sedimo, and countless other same sex couples, is that marriage contributes to stable families and societies - irrespective of the gender or orientation involved.

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