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 men. 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.
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.
The Alliance has launched Marc and Ricardo's film for the 2014 International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on 17 May.
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.”
“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.”
In the spotlight
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. He responds to countless messages – a number each day for over a year now.
“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, the current rate continues to fuel new infections and to pose serious developmental challenges.
To build on current progress Namibia must scale up its response through evidence-informed and cost-effective HIV interventions – evidence and effectiveness both point to targeted services for marginalised populations, contrary to homophobic laws that engender discrimination.
So what does the future hold?
“I wish to grow old in Namibia that would one day celebrate me as a gay person as much as the government loves deducting taxes from our salary on a monthly basis,” says Ricardo.
“We need to start thinking differently as Africans, then we will see all of this [homophobia] going away,” says Marc. “It’s already happening in the west and in the north and in the States… I hope all of that transcends to other countries, but acceptance begins at home… People need to advocate for that to happen in other countries also, especially here in Africa… We still have policy makers with outdated mindsets.”
And as for each other: “Every time I look at [Ricardo] I fall more and more in love with him. [Our future] is one of the things that I think about on a daily basis. Growing together, investing together, enriching ourselves with life’s little pleasures, making ourselves happy,” Marc says.
“There is more love in this house than most of the relationships that I’ve ever seen… It’s a relationship and whether other people want to accept it or not, that’s not my problem,” states Ricardo.