Chronicles of LGBTQI+ Struggles & Strength: A Photo Journey with Open Hands
Jun 21, 2021
Content warning: substance abuse, suicide, violence
Friends of Diversity is a user-led organisation that supports and advocates for the rights and wellbeing of LGBTQI+ communities in Botswana. Through their programme, Open Hands, they have created a system of mental health support for LGBTQI+ people and their families; a network of care for their community to feel safe, connected and loved.
When the Botswana High Court legalised homosexuality in 2019, it was a huge victory for the country’s LGBTQI+ community, and a momentous leap forward in enshrining their rights in law. However, the LGBTQI+ community in Botswana continue to face severe discrimination, stigma, and violence and these experiences have a massive impact on mental health. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of these challenges and further revealed the vulnerabilities of LGBTQI+ communities.
Friends of Diversity, and particularly the Open Hands programme, are doing incredible work to provide support in this context, but it often remains invisible, marginalised - just like the community they serve. We teamed them up with photographer Re Mmogo Visuals to provide a creative platform for expressing some of these experiences. During a day-long photoshoot, in which they brought together many of their network to participate, they co-created a series of photos putting both their struggles and strengths centrestage.
The personal experiences reflected in this visual essay are painful, including abuse, rage, substance consumption, violence. But with these stories of struggle, this piece also shares a journey of strength and self-love, a story of collective resistance and care. In the words of the team at Open Hands:
“It’s ok not to feel ok. Struggling with your mental health is not your fault. You do not have to walk alone through it. We understand that there are hardships but there is always a place of refuge in our community.”
Chronicles of LGBTQI+ Struggles & Strength: A Photo Journey
“He has taken off his shoes as if to say I can’t walk anymore.”
Isolated, alone and in pain. This is how it feels if you have not come out - you are clouded in darkness. During the pandemic, even for those of us who had already come out, this was how many of us were made to feel again. Returning to families and places where we were not welcome was like going back into a prison of isolation.
After coming out, mixed emotions rise to the surface - relief and release, but also confusion, loss, anger. Our family environments may not understand what we're going through. Our work environments may not accept our identities.
“Alcohol becomes your best friend.”
We face discrimination and hatred from other people. Sometimes we face it in ourselves, from the stigma we have internalised. Even before Covid-19, many of us would turn to alcohol and drugs to escape. But with Covid-19, this has increased.
Therapy can help us to heal these hurts: there is power in seeking professional help and being vulnerable. But it's not like going to a clinic with an injury that simply needs cleaned and dressed and then you can go on your way. It’s an ongoing process of dealing with something complex. And you need to know you're with a therapist who will provide a safe space.
Despite all the struggles, there is power in community. We will hold one another's hands as we fight for our dignity and rights - and we will never let go.
Open Hands provides a supportive structure, a community of hope and solidarity. We will hold your hand, we will support you, we stand with you always.
Learn more about the incredible work of Open Hands and Friends of Diversity here. Thank you to Re Mmogo Visuals, the Open Hands team and all the participants of the photoshoot for bringing this project to life.