Zambia: “I Had No Idea Such People Existed”

December 18, 2016

GPJ-ZambiaLUSAKA, ZAMBIA — Homosexuality is a word that does not exist in the Zambian vocabulary.

In my community, gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities are regarded as taboo “animals” who deserve to be killed. Any form of talk about homosexuality elicits insults of all sorts. My community believes being homosexual is a choice that one makes for monetary gains.

Growing up in such an environment, I had no idea such people existed.

When duty called to do stories on this topic, I was numb. I did not know what to tell my editor. What I did not know is that gays and lesbians are human beings, just like any other person.

A search on Google did not help matters. Prominent stories about homosexuals were about them being convicted for the criminal offense of homosexuality. Luckily I came upon a blog belonging to one brave Zambian journalist, Paul Shalala, who has written a number of stories on the LGBT community. That gave me an idea of where to begin.

My first meeting with an organization that deals with LGBT people was unsuccessful. People there had to know if they were dealing with a genuine journalist, lest it was a ploy to have LGBT people arrested. But the reputation of Global Press Journal spoke for me. They later called me setting an appointment for the interview.

I asked my sources to tell me about how it is being gay in such an intolerant community. I could see pain in their faces as they answered.

“It’s a jungle we live in. We are always hunted,” one man, Chanda, told me, noting that he’d attempted suicide three times.

As I did my interviews, my eyes occasionally strayed to a photo on a wall with Chanda in a graduation gown. Next to it was another frame with a certificate of recognition from his workplace.

I wondered aloud whether an educated, hardworking, successful young man would choose homosexuality for monetary gains, as is a common belief in Zambia.

But Mpundu, a young gay man who attempted suicide to escape from a life of exclusion, had an answer for me.

“I asked my sister if she would want to be lesbian and she said, ‘No,’ so I asked her, ‘What makes you think I would want to gay, to be treated like an animal?’ This is a personal struggle. I have struggled, I don’t like who I am. I want to change, but how? I have tried everything I could,” Mpundu said.

Silence punctuated our interview. Chanda eventually broke the silence.

“I wish we could have media like you to tell our stories,” he said. “Maybe someone somewhere would hear our cry and grant us a normal life, just like any other human being.”