How Mothopeng stood out in being different

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – A personal journey and the feeling of being different from others and the fear of growing up in a heteronormative system together with the discomfort of conforming to gender binaries that prohibit him living openly as the person he is, all saw Tampose Mothopeng becoming one of the most determined human rights defenders, gender, sex and sexuality activists living in Lesotho.

Mothopeng identifies as a transgender man and has noticed that he has been different from others from the onset.

His difference was not something new to him or the community that he grew up in, the only challenge in this journey was the stigma attached to the LGBTIQ+ community.

He grew up lonely, trying to find the comfort being himself without being criticised and directed on how to behave or conduct himself. The journey, he explains, was mainly complicated by stereotypes within his community.

Amidst all the complications and confusion, Mothopeng was blessed to have a healthy support system around him. He was brought up by open minded elders who protected him and allowed him space to live his life the way he saw fit.

Another support system was from the peers he met in the townships who were also struggling with their identity, and they together found a way to support one another until they became change agents and support systems for those who were still struggling.

Mothopeng attended schools that believed in embracing diversity rather than tarnishing human dignity.

Like everyone else, Mothopeng also experiences a share of challenges both on the spiritual and social level along his identification process. The stigma and myths that surround the LGBTIQ+ community did not help his situation at all.

“Being a Christian and Trans* identifying person challenged my spiritual life because of the myths and negative messages I got from the general Christian movement.

“As a vocal activist, I encountered challenges within the public domain, especially while trying to access public services and mostly ‘gender segregated’ services where one has to publicly declare whether they are male or female/man or woman.

“We can talk about services like public bathrooms and the like. I went through trauma where my personal privacy was invaded and personal safety and security compromised,” he said.

“I got threatened at traditional spheres where people felt they needed to ‘make me a real man’,” Mothopeng narrates some of the challenges he met. July is pride month for the LGBTI community.

PRIDE, one will wonder what is means and what it is that the community prides itself in, to your rescue Mothopeng elaborates more on the PRIDE months.

He explains that PRIDE month is a time to celebrate his existence and embrace diversity within the humanity for people are all different and diverse.

Mothopeng wants to contribute in the life changing initiatives, that will tone down anger and bring equality within the community for all to respect human dignity and embrace diversity.

Considering the challenges the LGBTIQ+ community faces daily, he believes there is still a long way to go for communities and government alike to ensure unity and equality for all.

Articulating the challenges the community faces, Mothopeng noted that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTIQ+) people in Lesotho face tremendous difficulties growing up in a society where heterosexuality is often presented as the only acceptable orientation and homosexuality is regarded as deviant.

He said the community continues to face discrimination and exclusion in all spheres of life.

“They suffer from discrimination and disadvantage in access to social protection schemes such as health care and access to justice and their right privacy is seriously infringed because of their sex, sexuality and gender diversity,” the activist says.

In the labour market, a majority of LGBTIQ+ people continue to hide their sexual orientation or to endure harassment out of fear of losing their jobs.

“Particularly vulnerable are young LGBTQ+ people who experience estrangement from family and friendship networks, harassment at school and invisibility, which can lead in some cases to underachievement at school, school drop-out, mental illness and homelessness,” he said.

He notes that the government of Lesotho is still far behind in terms of protecting and ensuring equality to the segregated community if one considers issues like service provision, the legal framework, meaningful engagement and the community and understanding.

As much as there is willingness from government institutions as well as openness for engagement on issues pertaining sex, sexual orientation and gender diversity change seems to be dragging behind.

As a human rights defender and an activist living in Lesotho, Mothopeng has contributed in the initiatives that destabilised heteronormative and challenges how Basotho as a nation perceive sex, sexual orientation and gender diversity and being in the frontline to protect the rights of the marginalised community.

Mothopeng is an exceptional HIV and human rights advocate who volunteered with The People’s Matrix Association since 2009.

He is a human rights defender, gender, sex and sexuality activist living in Lesotho and the Executive Director at The People’s Matrix Association, a young vibrant transgender leader and Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni.

Mothopeng has pioneered research on HIV, Human Rights and legal framework on LGBTIQ+ community, MSM and women who have sex with women (WSW) in sub-Saharan Africa and in Lesotho.

He has a personal commitment to HIV education that illuminated through his work ethic and enrollment of WSW into the study.

In collaboration with the researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School or Public Health, Harvard University and University of Cape Town, Mothopeng has published a number of research documents, and peer-reviewed journal articles that demonstrated the unique vulnerabilities to HIV MSM and WSW face in Lesotho and abstract documents that were presented in different international AIDS Conferences.

In addition, he flagged his organisational profile on the international level through his participation in the development of the first global paper “The Lancet on Trans* health/Principle 17” where he managed to successfully share the experiences of the transgender community in Lesotho for submission at the international AIDS conferences and ICASA meetings.

He was the first transgender identifying person to receive the official recognition and appreciation for his commitment and dedication to the HIV/AIDS response in Lesotho by promoting the rights and interest of the marginalised group by PEPFAR Team Lesotho.

At national level, Mothopeng has received one of the highly recognised awards and appreciation for being the most gender focused leader by Finite (BAM GROUP).

The award came after the outstanding advocacy work at national level, where he broke the silence on visibility and inclusion of gender diversity minorities in national programmes.

This young leader has broken the silence in the hardship of culture and religion, where LGBTIQ+ community was silenced in the name of Christianity. He continues holding the government of Lesotho accountable in its obligations.

He took a lead in presenting the Human Rights Defenders statement in the 53rd Human Rights Council’s session, challenged the national funding mechanism for the benefit of minority groups and influenced change in the legal framework, where he drew attention of law makers and law implementers on the legal gender recognition and protection of the rights of LGBTIQ+ community.

Mothopeng as a one of the LGBTIQ+ community members, overserves the roles of serving the community through the acquired skills on leadership, community organising and movement building, facilitation of dialogue discussions with community leaders, and level 1 counselling and human rights activism.

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