Botswana agrees to recognise transgender man in landmark case

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Botswana has agreed to recognise a transgender man’s identity after a historic court ruling earlier this year, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) confirmed on Tuesday.

The registrar of the southern African nation said it will supply the man – identified only as ND due to a court order – with a new official identity document declaring him as male, later this month.

The High Court of Botswana had ordered the state recognise ND’s gender but it later emerged that the nation’s registrar was planning to appeal, throwing the case off course. But the SALC said the registrar has now reversed its decision to appeal.

The court’s verdict was described as ‘progressive’, especially for Botswana – where for transgender people, the road to obtaining an identity document is near impossible.

“They [national registrar] have subsequently decided they will not appeal,” Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Executive Director of SALC told Mambaonline. “So, the high court decision stands.”

ND spoke of his relief after his ten-year legal battle finally came to an end. “Closure has never felt this sweet,” he said.

“To live years in a mistaken identity is beyond the unthinkable. I am excited to finally move on with my life. I hope that many others in my position would have a similar opportunity to live their life with dignity.”

The SALC which works to advance the rights of marginalised and vulnerable groups and to strengthen the rule of law said the victory was ‘monumental’ for transgender people in the region.

“The judge’s finding that the refusal to change a transgender person’s identity documents violates constitutional rights, goes a long way in improving the lives of transgender persons”, said SALC representative Tashwill Esterhuizen.

President Ian Khama's government has repeatedly stood against LGBT rights (Getty)

President Ian Khama’s government has repeatedly stood against LGBT rights (Getty)

Gaborne based LGBT charity Legabibo has also spoken out about the victory and says it’s a boost for the LGBTI community in Botswana.

“It has given us a lot of hope,” said the group’s Caine Youngman. “There’s room for us to be accommodated in our own country.

“If you have a problem if you’re being appeased because of who you are or what you identify as then there is actually space for to go and report it,” he said.

It is not illegal to be homosexual or transgender in Botswana but both male and female same-sex sexual activity is against the law and those caught taking part in such acts can be arrested.

Prosecutions were scarce up until last year, when someone was arrested, according to Youngman.

“An individual was charged under Section 164 last year and was liable to a term not exceeding seven years in jail,” he said.

In 2016, the City Council of capital Gaborone remarkably called for an end to the country’s criminalisation of homosexuality but the nation is yet to make moves on the matter.

Britain will host the Commonwealth Head of Government meeting in London next year, where leaders from all members including Botswana are expected to gather.

Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to stand up for LGBT rights on the world stage at the PinkNews Awards earlier this year.

“On the world stage, we are standing up for LGBT rights, and challenging,” the Prime Minister said.

“The anti-LGBT laws which remain in some Commonwealth countries are a legacy of Britain’s colonial past, so the UK Government has a special responsibility to help change hearts and minds and we will ensure that these important issues are discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which we will be hosting here in London next April and also during our two years as Commonwealth Chair in Office.”