First-ever Malawi Pride sees brave activists deliver demands to the president

Holding a banner that says "Liberty, Justice Four All", Malawi Pride-goers walk along a street

Braving the threat of persecution, dozens of queer people packed the streets of the capital of Malawi for the country’s first-ever Pride parade Saturday (26 June).

Organised by the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance, some 50 LGBT+ people marched through the streets of Lilongwe in a show of defiance.

After an hour-long march through winding but silent thoroughfares as masked attendees sang and danced, the protesters handed a petition over to city officials demanding marriage equality and better access to healthcare, Malawi 24 reported.

Principal administrative officer for Lilongwe City Council, Hudson Kuphanga, told the outlet he has received the petition and pledged to send it to the president and cabinet office on Monday (28 June).

“We are always ignored, we are always excluded in most things that happen in our country,” said Eric Sambisa, who leads the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance, in a Facebook video.

“We want a sense of belonging to this nation since we are also part of Malawi,” he added, “we are fighting for togetherness, oneness.”

Queer folk shout ‘Viva LGBTI!’ at first Malawi Pride parade

Footage from the fledgling advocacy group showed the Pride-goers walk along the thoroughfare from Area 18 Glass House to the Civic Offices in the city’s centre.

Marching under the theme “Liberty, Justice Four All”, participants faced being arrested and imprisoned by simply marching in public. But, for one afternoon at least, they couldn’t care less.

The march was showy and splashy. Music blared from a pickup truck that fronted the march. People wore painted eye masks and face coverings to protect their identities Many swayed and laughed while holding placards up high.

Rainbow flags fluttered as some wore them as capes, while even more rainbows could be seen on banners, t-shirts, hats and signs.

“Viva LGBTI!”, they shouted, filling the silence of the streets they walked through. No crowds of people gathered to watch the 50 LGBT+ attendees walk by – only the occasional car honked in support.

Indeed, in Malawi, homosexuality remains illegal and convictions run up to 14 years for men and five for women.

But in 2012, president Joyce Banda suspended such laws and two years later the country’s justice minister Janet Chikaya-Band said the country will no longer arrest people for queer sex.

According to the Human Rights Watch, LGBT+ people in Malawi routinely face violence from family members and police. The moratorium, they say, has offered them little solace – stigma remains rife, as does blackmail, arbitrary arrests, brutal beatings and worse.

Many living with HIV say that the discrimination has even led to them being unable to access life-saving treatments. Trans people, in particular, the group highlighted, face extreme levels of violence.

Malawi Pride demonstrators told The Guardian how, for many, to be LGBT+ in the southeastern African nation is still one where resilience is the only known means of survival. But there is hope.

“I feel so happy to be part of this,” 29-year-old Andreas told the newspaper.

“To be a gay in Malawi is tough and it takes a lot of guts to be open like I am. I have been through a lot, including insults and discrimination.

“I’m lucky that I have a loving family which accepted me the way I am.”