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Monday, November 29, 2010

Lesbian Couple Comes Out in Botswana

Onkemetse Pule & Lawrence Kwatata
First lesbian couple to publicly declare their love
A brave couple who met through the pages of their favourite newspaper, will today carve their names in the history of civil rights in this country.
Onkemetse Pule, 26, from Mahalapye and Lawrence Kwataka, 24, of Serowe met through the popular ‘Lets Get Personal’ dating service in The Voice.
They are soul mates, head over heels in love and courageous enough to have agreed to this interview and become the first lesbian couple in Botswana to publicly declare their love.
They have been in the relationship for ten months and as they both say: “Have never been happier.” Now they want the world to know that they are two women who have found the ideal partner in one another.

Happily in love
Lawrence has been aware of her sexuality for close to 10 years and first had a relationship with her literature teacher in high school. She said of her partner Onkemetse: “She is my world, and everything that I could ever want in a relationship.  I have never felt so emotionally, physically and spiritually fulfilled in my life. I am so stress free, I feel like I am floating on air. It is such a beautiful and liberating experience that I wish every woman could share this depth of feeling and have such a wonderful love life.”
Soft spoken Onkemetse reiterated her lover’s sentiments. “I feel safe in this relationship. I am so content and fulfilled. It is incomparable with being in love with a man.”
Despite the disapproval their open relationship might raise amongst the more conservative and traditional elements of society, the two say they are ready to face the world as long as they have each other.
The couple, who are both loyal Voice readers, have the paper to thank for getting them in touch with each other.
“I placed an advert in the ‘Let’s Get Personal’ column last January, and I specified that I was looking for a lesbian mate, and that age did not matter as it was just a number,” said Lawrence. As fate would have it, Pule saw the advert and immediately got in touch. “I sent an SMS and my details to the given code and after a while got her cell number. We then spoke for two days before deciding to meet in Gaborone,” she said.
Taking up the story, Lawrence adds with a chuckle: “When we meet on the appointed day, it was love at first sight. There was an instant attraction, an unbelievably strong chemistry between us. We experienced a strength of feeling that neither of us could understand, but just knew that God had made us for each other.”

Breaking the news
After six months of dating, Lawrence broke the news to her mother.
“It was time to take my relationship with my lady to another level as l was tired of hiding. I told my mother that I did not have any feelings for men, but had long dated women though I kept the relations secret.
“She listened in silence to my ‘confession,’ and then asked about my weekends out and whether the lady I had introduced as a friend was my lover. I simply nodded my head, and looked my mother in the eye, praying that she would understand.
“In truth I think she already had an idea that there was something more to my friendship with Onkemetse, so she wasn’t completely shocked. She told me that she would talk to other family members, and when she did they too said that they had suspected something was ‘going on,’ but did not know what to say about it.
“They were clearly worried about how we were going to conduct the relationship since it is illegal in Botswana, but in the end they said it was my choice and I should do what suits me and makes me happy,” said  Lawrence, who is ‘the man’ in the relationship.

For her part, Onkemetse said that she had been in love relationships with men before, until the father of her son broke her heart back in 2008.
“I caught him red handed with another woman. It was a shattering experience and I completely lost trust in men. From then on my feelings for the opposite sex just switched off. Later that year I began to develop feelings towards other women because I felt that they were more sensitive and understanding.
“Then in 2009 I had my first love affair with another woman. It was in Mahalapye, and lasted for a while, but later we parted because of irreconcilable differences,” she said.
Relating how her relationship had impacted on her family she said her mother got to know by chance after answering her cell phone. “She picked up my phone and Lawrence was on the other end. She had been having a hard time that day and was ranting on about it without stopping, thinking that she was talking to me. Each time my mother tried to butt in Lawrence would not listen or give her a chance. When she eventually had said out what was on her mind, Lawrence asked why I was quiet, and mum then handed me the cell phone. After that everything was out in the open.
“I did a lot of explaining to the old lady, she was very jumpy and just could not understand at all. She was angry and upset, and even said ke selthodi. After a week tempers began to cool and she slowly gave in. I guess she realized that she was fighting a losing battle.
“Other relatives were informed, and after the initial shock, they to have come round to understanding that being a lesbian does not make me some sort of monster. I think that through the depth of feeling they have seen in my relationship with Lawrence, they realize that it is a genuine love and do not judge or shun me in any way,” Onkemetse said.
Now the lovers are openly together as a couple, and with Onkemetse’s little boy form a loving family.
“We have nothing too hide. People should know that lesbian relationships exist.  It’s only that we are not being given a chance to express it in the same way as those in a heterosexual relationship. We want the same rights and freedom of expression. If we kiss and hug, hold hands in public, we don’t want to face the prospect of arrest for what society regards as a crime.
“Until gay and lesbians are given the same rights, people will continue to stare and snigger at us with a nudge that says, ‘look at them.’
“We are not the only ones – there are many other couples out there. We have friends who feel the same way and just want to spend their time together without making a big deal out of it. Our society needs to remove the labels that say ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ or ‘bi-sexual’ or whatever, and accept people as people,” say the couple who are active in the gay and lesbian rights movement.

Marriage is the next social hurdle the two have plans to take on in the near future. “It’s simply a matter of going to Jozi and signing the document. Early next year we intend to move in and live together, and later in the year get legally married.
“It will be a marriage made in heaven,” they say with a giggle and cuddle of contentment.


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