Shelter City guest Tino on LGBTIQ rights in Zambia

Tino’s Story

Tino is a Zambian Human Rights Defender that focuses on gay rights as well as the human rights of LGBTQI sex workers in Zambia. He is currently the Executive director of the Key Populations Alliance of Zambia.

Growing up he was beaten, marginalized and shamed for his sexuality. After he finished high school Tino and his friend Iris would often end up sleeping in bars or the street because they were not accepted at their homes, and they would buy food with the money Iris earned from sex work.

When his other best friend, Oliver came back from the city, ill from an STI, he was refused medical attendance for being one of the “three gay persons”. After two months he got worse and so they protested at the public health care centre, but they lacked the money to hospitalize him, four months later he passed away.

As a young boy, he and his friends would go to a nearby mountain to escape the shaming and bullying. Now after the death of their friend, he and Iris decided to create their own safe space for other LGBTQI to talk and combat the rejection and discrimination that they endured.

The movement gained notoriety, also for their protection of sex workers, henceforth the police started to follow them around making arrests that lasted a few hours at a time. Most of the girls from the group reported that they had been raped at the police station.

One day his friend was arrested and singled out by the police for being a lesbian sex worker, she was taken to a different location, raped and murdered by police officers. When Tino incessantly asked for the case files and the reason for her shooting, the officers involved in her murder, told him that he could easily share his friend’s fate.

After that, he started receiving threats and hateful letters, so his parents sent him away to college. There he joined an LGBTQI support group, which he would later reconnect with to start distributing lubricants and condoms in his town. Through this distribution, he was also able to share ideas about coming together and helping out the community.

The constitution of Zambia does not specify homosexuality as an illegal act but it does mention “same-sex unnatural acts” as forbidden. In recent years there was a clause accepted in the constitution that stated that Zambia is a Christian nation and thus must abide by the Christian values. This created discrimination at a national level against anyone who wanted to steer away from Christian religious values.

His organization has managed to work with other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) who have come on board with combating discrimination and stigma, based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Together with these CSOs, they have opened a forum that focuses on combating this discrimination.

They have so far managed (in 2017) to have the Key Populations nationally recognized in the national strategic framework, as an entry point, as MSM and transgender people. This opens a pathway to the recognition and respect for the LGBTQI community within Zambia, providing them for example with access to health care and treatment of diseases such as HIV.

With an increased change in the discourse, Tino hopes that there can be a Pride parade in Zambia this year celebrating human rights for everyone and including all groups within the LGBTQI community. This Pride event could help to defend themselves against the campaigns that try to discriminate against them, by demonstrating their large presence and support within the country.

Experience in Shelter City (Amsterdam)

Coming to the Netherlands has helped him have a more clear vision of his work, accomplishments, goals for the future and the path he must follow to achieve them. This comes as a result of the empowering conversations he has had with change-makers that have helped him become more realistic about his work and passions. They have also given him the courage to keep going and not give up in the face of adversity because if not him, who is going to do the work.

The Shelter City experience has also given him personal growth ad inspired him to pursue a national law degree in Zambia, which has been of supreme importance since legal aid is highly needed in his organization.

“I think for me that’s been a major milestone in the sense that as I get back to my country I feel like some of the skills that we are lacking in terms of law, vigour form, I’m able to input as an activist”  (34:40)

At a time when corruption and impunity are some of the largest national problems in Zambia, The Ministry of national religious affairs & guidance tries to move the general opinion against LGBTQI people and bashes gay rights. However, there are increasingly more allies to the movement and a change of narrative is starting to happen amongst the Zambian public.

The young people within Tino’s environment seem to be eager to learn about the LGBTQI community and get involved in the dissemination of information. Tino thinks that having more leadership growth in the younger populations is vital because this creates a transitional phase. The younger populations should be capacitated with the information and the knowledge to have the power to advocate for the movement within the country.

He considers Shelter City to be one of his best experiences in terms of capacity building because he was able to grow as a person and as a leader. He urges partners in the Dutch civil society, to look at the intricacies of the LGBTQI movement in Zambia, as well as it’s context and invest in their cause. A step forward would be to support an increment of presence since for now, the closest Dutch embassy is in Mozambique.

Despite the hostile environment in Zambia, Tino is very grateful for all the brave leaders that continue to stand for his cause and push against the repression of LGBTQI rights. He also recognizes that the impulse towards new frontiers can only be achieved with the aid of spaces like the Dutch government, funders and networks. The change that is needed is not just about decriminalization but is also about creating an environment where one can feel safe, free and not be constantly threatened by the police and other citizens.

While Tino enjoyed his stay in the Netherlands very much, he had to constantly remind himself that this was not his reality. He felt guilty of having the privilege of travelling, while there were dozens of people back home who could not share this experience. “People here do not see the privileges” (53:15) he says referring to the life in a country with such a degree of acceptance, things that seem common here such as a gay bar, would be unthinkable in Tino’s home country, where a gay person is very likely to be beaten by passer-by’s or demanded to get off public transport.

This is why Tino’s work is so important and should be known, recognized and supported by as many people as possible so that change can be created and people like the LGBTQI community in Zambia have the opportunity of a higher level of acceptance and freedom.