Zim gay man fears for safety after winning pageant
24 October 2013, 19:07
Harare - And the winner is ... Ezmerald Kim Kardashian.
That was the stage name for a young man who won the title of
Miss Jacaranda at a drag queen pageant in Zimbabwe. He refused to give his real
name because he feared for his safety in a country whose president has
described homosexuals as "worse than pigs and dogs".
The pageant, one of the biggest gay and lesbian events in
Zimbabwe, was held discreetly last weekend in an isolated farmhouse on a
forest-shrouded hilltop on the outskirts of Harare, the capital.
It was the finale of the annual ZimPride week, in which
homosexuals held low-key events, including a film-screening and a launch of
"Out in Zimbabwe: Narratives of Zimbabwean LGBTI Youth", a book on
experiences of young people coming out about their sexuality to families and
society. The events were publicised by word of mouth and messaging on social
Sodomy is a crime in Zimbabwe, punishable by at least seven
years in prison. President Robert Mugabe has said gays should be castrated.
However, there were no police raids on any of this year's gay pride events; gay
activists say it is not an offense to dress in drag, a common feature in the
nation's amateur theatre productions. Despite anti-gay policy, attacks on
people in same-sex relationships are few and isolated to occasional pub brawls.
Some gays speculate that Mugabe, in power for decades, has
harshly criticised gays to win popular support and is not intent on enforcing
the sodomy law rigorously even though his government exercises tight control over
The beauty show on the weekend was named after the
purple-flowered jacaranda tree that blossoms at this time of year in Zimbabwe
and some other countries in southern Africa. The 17-year-old winner, borrowing
the name of the American reality TV star, wore a long, shimmering, purple dress
and beat eight other contestants, many wearing makeup, high heels, skimpy beach
wear and sequined dresses. Dozens of spectators cheered and whistled at the
"I want you all to be proud of who you are, regardless
of what anyone thinks about us," pageant organiser Sam Matsipure told
Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, or GALZ, the group that
organised the event said it wanted to celebrate its pride week with a street
parade, as in other countries, but feared prosecution or even violence.
The farmhouse provided a safe haven for the young men who
vied for the pageant crown, chatting in the dressing room while stuffing rolled
socks in each other's bras.
They said the pageant was a way of expressing a femininity
that they keep in check while in public.
"Events like these raise my sense of self-worth in a
country that hates us," said one participant who goes by the name Coco
In 1996, the GALZ group's first exhibit of literature about
homosexuality, safe sex and human rights at the annual Harare International
Book Fair was trashed by members of Mugabe's political party, forcing the group
to abandon public displays.
It was at the book fair that Mugabe denounced gays as
"worse than pigs and dogs" and declared that homosexuals "don't
have any rights at all".
Neighbouring South Africa gives full rights to homosexuals,
including same-sex marriage, while many other African countries continue to
prosecute homosexuals for criminal offenses.