Photo © Meri Hyöky / Text by Leila Hall
At the age of 13, Naleli realised that she was different from many of her age mates. She found that she was sexually and romantically attracted to other girls, not to boys. She dated girls in high school, but was unable to reveal her lesbian identity to her family. Her mother is a devout Catholic, and she increasingly pressured Naleli to date boys. In 2011, Naleli gave into family pressure and married a man. She quickly understood that she had made a major mistake, and in 2012 she broke the marriage off and returned home.
“Everything changed after that,” she says. “I made the decision to no longer date boys, not for my Mum, not for God, not for anyone. I told my Mum firmly that this is it: I’m a lesbian. This is not going to change.”
“The reaction from my family was very bad. My Mum took me to priests so that they could pray for me. When she finally took a stand and defended me, the rest of the family pushed us away.”
“For a long time, I was worried about God and the Bible and whether I was going to go to hell. A friend of mine helped me to overcome these fears, and now I no longer worry about such things. I go to Church whenever I like.”
Now, at the age of 26, Naleli is entirely comfortable with her sexuality. She lives with her girlfriend, and is on good terms with her mother. She volunteers for a local Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) organisation, and through them works on a number of advocacy and educational projects that raise awareness about LGBTI rights in Lesotho.
“We go out to different districts and hold pitsos where we engage people in dialogue. We encourage people to share their views and opinions on LGBTI issues. Sometimes we encounter negative reactions, but on the whole we have positive experiences. In rural areas especially, we find that there is close to no homophobia. People in the villages accept how others live, they see it as none of their business. In town, it’s different. Sometimes gay people are harassed on the streets, and from time to time we hear of violent incidents.”
“I think the major challenge that LGBTI people in Lesotho face is homophobic families. When young LGBTI people come out to their families they are often kicked out of their homes, or have to drop out of school because their families refuse to pay their school fees.”
“In the future, I would like to see a support group for the parents and friends of LGBTI people. The laws that govern this country can’t change until those who are closest to us have a better understanding of LGBTI issues.”
“My advice to young LGBTI people is that the most important thing is to come out to yourself. Know who you are and what you want, and then take your time before you come out to the people around you. Before anything, respect and love yourself. You are not a mistake. You are perfect just the way you are.”