Marc and Ricardo didn’t choose to be LGBT advocates, “I just chose happiness over another individual’s idea of what I need to be, or what normality is” says Ricardo.
Love or ‘coming out’ can come at a high cost for many gay people. In at least 76 countries, same-sex activity is illegal, leaving people open to arbitrary arrests and attacks. “Especially here in Africa, we are the ones who are suffering the worst here…people are getting killed” says Marc. Almost half of the countries which criminalise gay people are in Africa.
Despite both coming from countries with homophobic laws (Marc is from Botswana, and they live in Ricardo’s home country, Namibia) the couple married, in neighbouring South Africa, in 2013. “I hope acceptance of homosexuality transcends to other countries” Marc adds. Marc and Ricardo see themselves as the lucky ones. Not only have they found in each a partner that they want to commit to, but they also have the full support of family and friends.
“I was very happy to be embraced at our first meeting by Ricardo’s mother” says Marc. “She didn’t even hesitate. She’s a very open-minded woman, not a lot of African parents think like that.” “I felt really honoured because I come from a small family; I lost my parents and my grandparents when I was still young, so to get that embrace really meant a lot to me.” “It feels like my family loves Marc more than they love me!” laughs Ricardo.
“I have a family that is very spiritual. They are Christians, and it tends to be a very contradictory subject, Christianity and homosexuality. My family chose loving me for who I am, because I grew up in front of them, so there was no outside influences as the public would want to make it seem. It was just me growing up as a gay kid, finding my own way.” “I’m not going to dissect the Bible because many people have done that, you know, for their own personal benefit. If we go back, people in the pre-Apartheid era used the Bible as a segregation tool, I’m not going to go there. I’m blessed. I love Jesus. I go to church and that’s where I stop” he adds.
Marc and Ricardo were reportedly the first gay partners in Namibia to marry. Coupled with Ricardo’s title of Mr Gay Namibia 2013, this has made the pair a high profile couple as well as role models for other young gay men. They’ve decided to use the fact that their relationship is in the spotlight to advocate on LGBTI issues and help others.
“Right now, I use social media as an activist tool,” says Ricardo. Every day he responds to countless messages from other members of the LGBT community asking for advice. “Most of the time they ask how did I come out of the closet? How was I able to get married in a society that doesn’t accept gay people? What can they do in coming out to their families?” Ricardo went to a support group back when he felt he needed moral support. It was run by Out-Right Namibia which is the country’s LGBTI network, and an implementing partner of Positive Vibes (the International HIV/AIDS Alliance’s partner organisation in Namibia). He is planning to facilitate a group in 2014. “I feel so blessed to be able to assist people through that transition of finding themselves, of being comfortable with who they are in a society that doesn’t accept them.”
Supportive environments = a decline in HIV
Namibia has an HIV prevalence rate of 13.3%. There is no recent country data for prevalence among gay men or other most affected populations, but worldwide the pattern is that HIV rates are much higher among marginalised populations. A key reason for this is because stigma and discrimination hinder people’s access to information and services.
In Namibia the high rate of infection has started to decline. Initiatives supported by Positive Vibes and Out-Right Namibia can be credited for a part in this. However HIV continues to pose serious developmental challenges. To build on current progress Namibia must scale up its HIV response with targeted interventions for marginalised populations because the evidence shows that these will work, while homophobic laws and discrimination simply fuel new infections.
About the International HIV/AIDS Alliance
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance is a unique global alliance of national civil society organisations dedicated to ending AIDS through community action. The organization concentrates its efforts on those most affected by HIV, including men who have sex with men and transgender people, and its partner organisation in Namibia, Positive Vibes, supports the LGBTI network Out-Right with funding and skills building.
To mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (May 17th) the Alliance has written to the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening asking them to allocate more of the UK’s aid budget to LGBT groups like Out-Right and to increase the UK’s political leadership on global LGBT equality.
What can you do to help?
Please show your support for Marc and Ricardo, and for LGBT people around the world by tweeting the Prime Minister David Cameron and the UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening to ask for their support.
You can also follow our campaign via the hashtags #aboutlove #IDAHOT and and watch our video ‘It’s All About Love’ at www.aidsalliance.com/itsallaboutlove. To keep up to date with the work being carried out by the Alliance please follow us on Twitter @theaidsalliance and like us on Facebook to see how we are making a difference.