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Focus on Skye
“Growing up in Zimbabwe as a female I was irrelevant. As a 'lesbian', I was non-existent and my visibility would have costed me jail time, 'corrective' rape, forced marriage, banishment, beatings and or even death.”
|Photo: ©Kay Hayward
Throughout my life in Zimbabwe there was not one single portrayal anywhere of 'gayness' , 'queerness' or 'lesbianism' combined with Africanness. Due to my 'middle class' and strict Christian faith based upbringing in Zimbabwe, life was tough and everyday was a challenge for me. I began to have sexual feelings and fantasies for girls when I was about twelve years of age. I didn't know then exactly what was happening to me or why I had these feelings or what they meant.
Homosexuality was then not a subject discussed in the community, in the media, or within the family in Zimbabwe, unless negatively and so I had no framework in which to place these feelings. For an African girl, I was vocal and opinionated, artistic and eccentric. I found the oppression that I experienced as a young woman stifling. Retaliation and perceived rebelliousness to this would only result in me being punished, as my actions were perceived as bringing “shame” upon my family. Many families are concerned about their positions in the community. It’s not about the individual. Families are modelled around influences of culture, villages, traditions and the unity of these societies and have the biggest impact of the individual' s behaviour (hence the African Proverb: It Takes a Whole Village to Raise a Child). Anyone who is perceived to not follow the 'norm' is viewed as a disgrace or shame.
In Zimbabwe homosexuality is Illegal. It is unimaginable to think of expressing your sexuality as there are no laws to protect you from the violent retributions for being a lesbian woman. So I decided to leave Zimbabwe for UK. However, while sexual relations between men are illegal, Sexual relations between women are not specifically legislated against in Zimbabwe. This has on many an occasion allowed the home office to conclude that many lesbians of Zimbabwean origin have not established a well-founded fear of persecution and that they do not qualify for asylum. After a seven year odyssey of seemingly endless bureaucratic red tape including false imprisonment as an illegal immigrant, I was finally granted asylum in the UK.
Skye Chirape is studying for an MSc in Forensic Psychology and work in the British Justice System. The same system she battled with to claim asylum.
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