Growing up, Nyasha knew she was different from her peers.
By the time she was just eight or nine years old, she knew with certainty that she was a lesbian. The problem was that she was living in Zimbabwe, where homosexuality is not accepted.
Once her family found out about her sexuality, she started suffering the consequences. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Nyasha was subjected to the abusive practice known as “corrective rape” by her uncle.
Corrective rape is essentially a form of conversion therapy – the idea is that a person’s sexuality can be changed through sexual assault.
She got away from her family when she married a man in her early 20s, but the marriage failed when he found out she was a lesbian too. She was sent back to live with her family once more, and an already bad situation immediately became even worse.
“At the age of 23, I had my daughter on my hand back home, and my uncle – who was used to raping me – tried to do it again.
“I hit him back so thoroughly, then I got hit by my cousins that were staying at home. That’s when my mother came, she didn’t take any action or do anything.
“I decided it was high time for me to leave.”
Nyasha’s story is just one that PinkNews is sharing this holiday season as part of the LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign. The series will put a spotlight on the painful realities LGBTQ+ people across the world face that force them to leave their homes, from familial violence to anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
Lesbian refugee had to leave her daughter in Zimbabwe
Leaving Zimbabwe was a painful and terrifying decision for Nyasha, but she knew she had no other choice. By the time she fled, she had endured years of sexual violence. Even worse, her entire family knew of the abuse she was being subjected to – and nobody stopped it.
“My mom knew, my family knew, and they were OK with it because it was perceived to try to make me straight,” she says.
What made the decision to flee even more painful for Nyasha was that she couldn’t take her three-year-old daughter with her. She left her child in Zimbabwe and made the journey to South Africa. There, she got a job working for a fast food company, and her bosses helped her with her asylum papers.
She had dreams of bringing her daughter to South Africa so they could live their lives together, but her hopes were dashed when she found out that doing so could result in her asylum application being terminated. She was told that officials wouldn’t believe she was a lesbian if they found out she had a daughter.
For years, Nyasha lived out her life in South Africa. She was safe, but the distance from her daughter – and the impact that had on their relationship – was a constant thorn in her side.
Finally, a year ago, Nyasha wrote a letter to her daughter in which she laid out the truth for her in crystal clear detail. She explained why she was no longer able to be at home, and she told her daughter why she had no choice but to flee.
Before long, Nyasha’s daughter – now grown up – made the journey to South Africa so they could be together. They’re now living together in Cape Town, and they’re building the relationship that was robbed from them so many years before.
“It’s been a rollercoaster, I won’t lie,” Nyasha says. “I’m now getting to make up for 15 years. It’s a long time. I’m getting to know her, what she likes, what she doesn’t like.”
Nyasha is more than her trauma
In the background, Nyasha has become involved with an organisation called the Dream Academy, an initiative that offers classes to those who need them.
“I was broken – very, very broken,” Nyasha says as she reflects on her life before she came into contact with the Dream Academy.
A lot of things have been taken away from me.
“I had never been loved before, but when I came into the family of the Dream Academy, I felt embraced. It made me want to do more. It gives you the passion to say, ‘Who’s the next person who needs me to carry them, to listen to them and tell them everything’s going to be OK?’”
“A lot of things have been taken away from me. Love, material things, my whole being was taken away from me. But when I was able to be in the Dream Academy, reclaim myself and be myself, I now know that no one can really take anything away from me and I can be the person that I want.
“Now I wake up every morning and tell myself, you’re beautiful. I tell myself, today you’re going to reach your highest peak. Before, I never loved myself that much – I just saw my scars. I thought when people looked at me all they saw was the rape, what I’ve been through.
“But now I’m stronger, and I’m ready to give love to the world.”
It’s because of people like Nyasha that PinkNews launched the LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign. The initiative is raising funds for Micro Rainbow, a charity that provides safe housing for LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum, and for OutRight Action International’s LGBTIQ Ukraine Emergency Fund, which distributes money to activists on the ground in Ukraine.
But that’s not all – the series will also show how a person’s life can change radically when they’re granted asylum. When they can get to safety, LGBTQ+ people have the chance to thrive.
PinkNews wants to show how living without the threat of violence or persecution can help queer people build beautiful, kaleidoscopic lives – but they can only do so if they’re given the proper support.