By Raymond Kolanyane
One of the most prominent conversations by queer millennials is that, by virtue of being queer, they never got to experience dating as teenagers and to fully express themselves. They had to hide their sexuality and wait until they were financially independent to fully step into their true selves. While there is a noticeable difference with gen z being more expressive and getting into dating earlier on than their predecessors, it is still crucial that queer children in Africa grow up in spaces that are nurturing, especially for their sexual identity. This safe space should be created by their family, friends and schools. The process of nurturing queer children entails recognizing and respecting their sexual orientation by aforementioned stakeholders and making available information that would help them navigate being queer. For most queer millennials and other generations before them, being queer in Africa meant having little to no representation in media when growing up. The advance of the internet in Africa came later than it did in other continents therefore the voices of the queer rights movement did not reach Africa as fast, and when they finally did, it was ages later. Not to forget that media could be censored back then and there was no instantaneous reception of information that social media today offers. The older queer and African generations did not have instant access to their idols as gen z now has to the Lil Nas Xs’, and therefore did not have the privilege of having their existence readily validated, making it easier to accept and express who you are. Having this access now has done wonders for the newer generations and the fight against toxic masculinity, where we now see heterosexual men partake in acts that would be deemed feminine and not for ‘real men’. While the advancement of the digital era has helped with making the LGBTIQ+ community more expressive and stronger, it is still essential to discuss how parents and schools can augment these change of times. Not every queer child in Botswana has access to internet and it is still necessary to create safe spaces for queer children that have benefited from having the internet. One way in which family and social institutions like schools could help nurture and protect queer children is by providing them with the relevant information necessary for them to understand being queer and how to navigate it or navigate life. It is also key to note that, queer children may benefit from the digital era but that does not protect them from the dangers of the internet or technology. Queer children are also deserving of a comprehensive “birds and the bees” talk that is specific for their sexual identity. Parents need to sensitize themselves on queer issues and be cognisant of the fact that children can be queer and queer people often know from a very young age where their attraction lays. It is a dream that we live in a world where children can come out to their parents and it be an accepting and respectful space. This would prevent situations whereby queer children have to wait until they are financially independent or older to start expressing their true selves and get acquainted with themselves. Having queer children know and understand themselves from a young age also helps prevent some of the issues children generally face. It is important to remove stigma around being gay so children can speak up when they have been sexually abused by someone of the same sex. It is also important to note that as a parent, you do not wish for your child to find a safe haven outside of your home because they can be exposed to predators and danger. Homophobia infringes on the ability to talk about some of the abuse queer children may go through as a result of being born queer, for example, just like young girls can be molested by men, queer kids too can endure sexual abuse from someone in the LGBTIQ+ community. Other than the need to create safe spaces to protect queer children, it is also essential for their mental health and self-acceptance. It may reduce a great deal the cases we see of queer persons getting into heterosexual unions to hide their sexuality. It is therefore important for the LGBTIQ+ community to also create initiatives that reach queer children, to guide them and protect them from predators.