newly politicized Tiripano did, however, want to join
activist organizations beyond GALZ, but she encountered
homophobia there, too. "Other NGOs said we [GALZ members]
should go to the psychiatric unit to be cured," she
says. Even Amnesty had trouble finding backing in the
region. Tor Olsen, Amnesty's London-based researcher
for southern Africa, explains, "Political partners were
saying, 'We support the issues, but not publicly. It'll
damage our image.'" Tiripano has since joined Women
in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), a pan-African
women's rights network. But here, too, her sexuality
has become an issue. GALZ Program Manager Keith Goddard
says, "Tsitsi participates every year as a black lesbian
in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign.
But when she tries to sell GALZ T-shirts and put up
a stand with GALZ literature, she's told she can't because
it will fall foul with the government."
the obvious hardships, many positive things emerged
from the 1996 book fair. Amnesty International named
Tiripano one of 50 Human Rights Defenders in 1998. International
accounts of the book fair helped Tiripano's first girlfriend,
now living in Australia, contact her for the first time
since they were separated almost 20 years ago. And Tiripano's
sons, now 16 and 18, are beginning to understand their
mother. Even though Tiripano was able to reconnect with
her sons (and her father) in 1988, it was only after
the 1996 book fair that she and her children could honestly
discuss her sexual identity. "They asked so many questions,"
Tiripano says. "'Mom, what's a lesbian?' 'Why do the
police want to put you in jail?' 'Did you steal something?'
It took me time to explain. One day, they finally asked,
'Is Auntie Zandele [Tiripano's girlfriend of four years]
has received thousands of letters of support from all
around the world. GALZ has also benefited from her exposure.
An Internet fund-raising campaign allowed the group
to open a center in Harare that offers counseling, legal
services, an HIV/AIDS support group, and a hot line.
The weekly Friday night parties, which began as a social
refuge, are now fund-raisers for political programs.
Membership, currently 320 strong, is mushrooming, and
its impact is rippling into Zimbabwe's heterosexual
community. "Last week, a couple came to support their
son because he was gay," Tiripano says, amazed. Even
more stunning, Tiripano's husband joined GALZ in January.
"He told me he is joining GALZ because he supported
our tremendous work and appreciated the support we have
given his wife," recalls Goddard. Tiripano was flabbergasted.
She has remained married to her husband for the sake
of the boys, because he pays their tuition. But she
can't say when, or why, he had a change of heart.
does know, however, that things are getting better for
gays in Zimbabwe. Last year GALZ became a member of
the National Constitutional Assembly, which was formed
by NGOs that lobbied successfully for a new constitution
to be voted on by the people, not only parliament. GALZ
later submitted a request to the Constitutional Commission--400
Mugabe appointees--to include a sexual orientation clause.
Though its request was rejected, GALZ's campaign was
covered on state television and radio for the first
time. The increased awareness can be felt on the streets.
"If Zandele and I are walking," Tiripano says, "people
used to whisper 'lesbians,' 'ngochani.'" She hisses
the words as if they burn her lips. "But now, they aren't
the progress, lesbians and gays are certainly not home
free. In 1998, as Mugabe's popularity hit rock bottom,
he launched a new witch-hunt. The state-run papers published
stories about homosexuals raping men at gunpoint and
claimed GALZ was a front for a brothel, which incited
public rage. Several GALZ members were harassed, blackmailed,
and arrested. Tiripano is unfazed. "If Mugabe shouts,
it doesn't change me to become straight," she says.
"I've been through too much."
not traveling, she's at the new GALZ center in Harare
at least twice a week, counseling people who are coming
to terms with their sexuality, as well as those living
with HIV/AIDS. But most important, Tiripano is an inspiration.
Goddard explains, "She stood up and said, 'I'm a black
lesbian, and I'm not ashamed. I have children, and I'm
married, but this is my identity.'"
Welch is a freelance writer living in New York City.