Draped in a snow-white wedding dress, roses in her hands- her father by her side clutching her arm, they slowly walk down the church’s aisle with each of their steps seemingly in sync with the background slow-tempo music.
The nearly hundred guests – with admiration all over their faces – turn their heads to get a better view of the procession.
As soon as they reach the altar, the pastor goes through the formalities of handing over the bride and when the groom unveils her, she smiles, her eyes sparkling.
After exchanging vows, they kiss and everyone in the church claps and cheers. Wine glasses are toasted and champagne is popped as the new bride and groom takes to the dance floor.
She looks so happy that even the glitter of her jewellery cannot beat the shine in her eyes.
But inside, she is crying, mourning the death of her planned future.
Her name is Tatenda Musona, 25, media practitioner who is getting married on the insistence of her family members who believe she is getting too old for marriage and this wedding is a result of an arranged marriage.
But that is not her main worry- she is lesbian and has a partner, Sarah.
As she dances on, the lyrics of the happy wedding song sound like death knells, the cheers from the crowd like a collective buzz of vultures waiting to devour her.
Tatenda and Sarah had been seeing each- albeit secretly- for over two years when Tatenda’s parents started cajoling her into the marriage.
Since Zimbabwe’s laws do not allow same-sex marriages, the two could not come out in the open about their relationship but somehow they held some hope of things working out and this marriage seemed to end it all.
“At that time, I felt suppressed; I knew I could not tell my family that I was lesbian as that would mean I was going to be banished from the family. I felt helpless, like a leashed goat on its way to the slaughterhouse.”
Living with a stranger
“After the marriage processes, I found myself living with a man I did not have any feelings for; someone I hardly knew about.”
“I cannot explain in detail our sex life, but it was like I was trapped and unable to express myself and moreso I did not have information to help me understand who really I was. It was torture.”
With same-sex relationships being illegal, there is a dearth of information about the subject and often homosexuals find it difficult to understand the dynamics.
“I could not keep at home any material or documentation about homosexuality that I could get my hands on for fear that my husband would find out.”
Secrecy and health risks
Meanwhile Tatenda continued to secretly see Sarah,putting herself and her partner at the risk of unsafe sex practise as they did not have to come out in the open and get the required health and medication support.
According to a Gays and Lesbians Zimbabwe (GALZ) Report on Discrimination against Women in Zimbabwe based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, “healthcare providers do not have adequate understanding of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. As a result, Lesbians, gays, Bi-sexual, Trans-sex and Intersex (LGBTI) people are unwilling to seek healthcare.”
Zimbabwean hospitals and healthcare systems are not LGBTI-friendly as the country’s laws do not recognise intersex marriages.
“I felt terrible about the health risk that I was putting my lesbian partner in. We both felt trapped as she also could not tell her family about our relationship”
Eviction and rejection
After living for a year, Tatenda finally came out in the open to her husband.
“He could not understand it, he said I had betrayed him and despite my pleas for him not to tell my parents, he went ahead and told them, asking for a divorce and reimbursement of his marriage token money (lobola).
“My parents were equally perplexed; my mother cried and said I had shamed her and the family. My father was beyond angry, he beat me up and chased me away from home and told every relative never to entertain me until I came back and ‘repented”
No police help
With a bruised body, a tormented mind Tatenda was forced to seek refuge at her partner’s house.
She could not go to the police for fear of further victimisation.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is a fervent critic of homosexuality and has made a number of homophobic statements over the years and likewise, state security agents have continually exhibited hostility towards homosexuals.
In 2010, two GALZ employees, including a lesbian woman were arrested and for 6 days, they were subjected to verbalabuse, harassment and torture at the hands of the police officers.
As a result of this fear, for two weeks Tatenda was holed up at her partner’s flat, nursing the wounds from the assault and relying only on pharmacy supplies.
Although she was convinced she was following her heart, her mind was confused as she agonized about her and her partner’s fate.
Dilemma and help
“I almost bulked and was about to make a decision to go back home when I heard of the work of GALZ and it was only when me and my partner became members that we went through counselling and I was able to move on with my life”
Founded in 1990, GALZ is a membership-based organisation that serves the needs and interests of LGBTI people in Zimbabwe and pushes for social tolerance of sexual minorities and the repeal of homophobic legislation.
“At first I had regrets, but now I have none. I am glad about the decision that I made although my pain is in that I hope that eventually my family will understand me and realise that this is a choice that I have made and I require their support.”
Tatenda still keeps in touch with her family, but according to her, they all exhibit some hostility.
“I rely so much on my workmates as they have accepted who I am.”
But as she walks out of the newsroom, Tatenda knows the world- state and society – is cruel for people like her and her hopes are that someday, she will be accorded the dignity she deserves as a human being.
“It is worrying that some authorities in Zimbabwe are being increasingly homophobic towards people who are identified or perceived as being LGBTI. Any harassment and persecution based on sexual orientation is a monumental tragedy and also a violation of international human rights law,” he said a human rights lawyer.
The African perspective
Zimbabwe is not alone in the harassment of LGBTI as South Africa, despite being one of the leading African countries to enact laws that legalise and uphold the rights of gays and lesbians, statistics show there are still high levels of discrimination and hate crimes perpetrated against homosexuals.
According to a report titled Pride and Prejudice: Public attitudes toward homosexuality produced by the South Africa Human Sciences Research Council, homosexuality is still considered to be “unAfrican”.
The reports, which concludes that “perhaps the acceptance of homosexuality has less to do with the legal frame work, and more to do with consciousness raising and openness to differences in the South African society” states that these “systematic accusations by several African leaders have fuelled these perceptions and South Africans are likewise divided in their tolerance of same sex issues”
The report, which carries statistics of attitudes towards homosexuality states that the perception of homosexuality in South Africa is largely influenced factors that include, gender, age, level of education, religion and the geographical divide.
On gender, the report states that while internationally, men have shown more intolerance to homosexuality, in South Africa, there is little variance and older South Africans are more intolerant to homosexuality than younger people.
“Prejudiced views on same sex relations appear closely related to education, with more highly educated people being more tolerant,” reads the report.
On other factors like religion, the report states that international research shows religiousness often promotes intolerance towards homosexuality.
For Tatenda and other LGBTI people, another day remains another struggle for recognition and as the report recommends, perhaps the future is in stronger advocacy for both the laws and the societies to accept homosexuality as a human rights
*not her real name