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LGBTQI rights remain sensitive issue

The topic of sexual rights of minority groups remains controversial in many parts of the world. In Zambia, a fashion event has caused uproar as religious purists and moralists accuse organisers of promoting homosexuality in the country.
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Zambia is still stuck with an archaic law that criminalises homosexuality and what is broadly termed as “related unnatural acts.” The law has been in existence since 1911 when the country was still under colonial rule and persons accused of homosexuality can serve a life sentence in prison.

In the past, the topic of homosexuality has been discussed in the country, often sparked by events or remarks made in support of rights of sexual minorities (LGBTQI – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex). The country’s leadership maintains a tough stance against those it considers promoters of minority rights. In 2019, US diplomat Daniel Foote was expelled from the country after making critical comments about a judgement that sentenced two men to 15 years in prison after they were caught having sex in 2017.

The 2022 “Lusaka July” fashion event has stirred uproar on social media in Zambia as many people accuse its organisers of violating national values. Critics say that the fashion exhibition event was organised as a platform to cleverly bring attention to the plight of sexual minorities. People are mainly bothered by the fact that men appeared in women’s dresses and fanciful gowns.

Religious leaders also expressed their disapproval. Father Emmanuel Chikoya, the general secretary of the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), said: “We wish to condemn in the strongest terms activities that violate our values as a nation. This comes in view of the recent events in the country, in particular the Lusaka July festival that has attracted social-media attention and cross examinations from different stakeholders in the country because of the un-Zambian acts that were portrayed at the event.”

The comments from the Pentecostal Assemblies of God-Zambia (PAOGZ)’s council of bishops was furious about the festival. They said that “as a church community, we are alive to the fact that attempts are being made to establish and support LGBTQI activities and events to promote their detestable lifestyles. We wish to put it on record that such behaviour, even under the guise of fashion, will not be tolerated in the Zambian community.”

However, organisers of the Lusaka July festival, who are rightly afraid of being on the wrong side of the law, have defended their event saying that their records indicate no photo of a homosexual nature as purported by critics following exaggerated pictures circulating on social media. The show has been taking place since 2016 as a fashion event aiming to bring together lifestyle enthusiasts and business leaders.

Derrick Silimina is a freelance journalist based in Lusaka.

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