The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with Positive Vibes Trust1 and the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) hoisted the LGBTQI+2 flag for the first time at the UN House today to demonstrate the UN’s commitment to creating ‘safe spaces’, free of stigmatisation and discrimination.
Pride month is celebrated across the world as a peaceful liberation and self-affirmation movement and recognises the different sexual orientations and gender identities that comprise humanity. Marking the last day of Pride month, the occasion brought to the fore the need to reflect on the importance of promoting diversity and inclusion, celebrating progress made in all spheres for the LGBTQ+ community and demanding action on what is yet to be done.
Delivering the welcome remarks at the event, Alka Bhatia, UNDP Resident Representative highlighted UNDP’s role in developing activities to strengthen and develop the capacity of civil society organisations, with interventions focused on the most vulnerable groups including the LGBTQI+ community.
“The Inclusive Governance Initiative3 (IGI) is one of UNDP’s Africa regional projects that supports countries, including Namibia to include sexual and gender minorities in national efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to promote and protect human rights,” said Bhatia.
UNDP is working closely with Positive Vibes Trust in leading this initiative on the ground.
“Article one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the rights and freedoms of all human beings, it holds the unanimous promise of a world where everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights,” said Sen Pang, Resident Coordinator, UN Namibia.
“In the spirit of ‘Leaving no one behind’, we recognise that LGBTQI+ communities have a vital role to play if we are to deliver on the promise of the SDGs. We cannot build a better world when everyone does not feel a part of it,” Pang added.
During a short ceremony, the LGBTQI+ flag and the UN flag were hoisted together. This gesture demonstrates the UN Family and partners’ unequivocal support and celebration of Pride in
Namibia. It highlights the need to promote inclusion and diversity in the workplace, building more integrated workplace culture where everyone can be proud of who they are.
The ceremony was vibrant with performances from Y-FEM, poetry by Bella and stories on the realities of the community by Desiree Haman and Jonathan Solomons. Namibian music icon and activist Lize Ehlers added her voice calling for more people to create ‘safe spaces.’ The message of solidarity and allyship was also echoed by the master of ceremonies, renowned Activist and actor, Adriano Visagie.
Jonathan Solomons, LGBTQ+ and sex worker activist, Design, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Officer for the Free to be movement and representative of Positive Vibes Namibia reflected the stories and voices of some community members during his address;
“Growing up gay is the most difficult thing anyone can go through. I don’t understand why people think this life is my choice.” Gay man, Walvis Bay, Namibia.
“All I ever wanted was love, to feel that I belonged.” Gay man, Windhoek, Namibia.
“Every day when I wake up, when I wash, I leave the house, when I take a taxi, I am trans.” Transgender women, Windhoek Namibia
“I went to the police station to lay charges. They just made a fool of me and said that they would not make a case. ‘How can a man be raped by another man? And you want to be female, so the guy was good to rape you.’ They just start laughing at me: ‘You know that sodomy is not allowed in this country, we cannot take your case.
You’re also a sex worker, so just go out, go out.’ And I was just walking out, what can I do? I was powerless.” Transgender sex worker, Windhoek, Namibia.
Solomons called for Namibian policies and laws to focus on equity and justice, “Let us cast neutrality aside and ensure our policies, laws, our practice address the inequities faced by our community and facilitate the justice of all Namibian people, “he said.
“In our culture, we raise flags to mark important events, like raising a white flag when you get married. Today’s flag raising at the UN house is significant, it makes a profound statement, the meaning relays to us, ‘you are welcome in my presence’ this is a ‘safe space,’ and we are grateful to the UN for this. Thank you, UNDP, for the partnership, the work we do together has great value and immense impact,” said Nortin, Brendall, Programme Manager at Positive Vibes Trust.
The LGBTQI+ flag will continue to hang in the UN House Reception area as a visual reminder to all who enter and exit, that the UN house in Namibia is a ‘safe space’ promoting inclusion and diversity.