Matthew’s Place
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Matthew’s Place

For young, LGBTQ+ people in this country, renting a place and finding roommates is a minefield

By Ray Mwareya

IMAGE CREDIT: Marco Verch Professional Photographer / CC BY 2.0)

For LGBTQ+ Zimbabweans (one of Africa’s harshest countries for LGTBT rights), navigating housing market rentals, apps or apartment sharing is a minefield littered with hostility from both landlords and co-tenants.

“I got a good job, can pay a premium rent of $300 a month but as soon as a prospective landlord sees I’m a transwoman, they frown and declare a vacant room on their property — booked,” says *Lindani Mkhize, 39, an accountant in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, where frightening anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric included the country’s rulers describing gay and lesbian citizens in unprintable words.

In Zimbabwe’s cities, the rental and real estate market is powered largely by WhatsApp rather than websites like Zillow as one would expect in New York. To find housing, one must become a member of social media discussion groups where vacant rooms are advertised by agents acting on behalf of landlords.

For middle-class LGBTQ+ renters, the pain starts with being thrown off WhatsApp groups of prospective tenants, hateful tenants who refuse to co-share apartments with gay or lesbian renters, and landlords who write discriminating clauses on their adverts like: ‘I don’t rent to queer tenants’ or being outrightly told to quit rooms after coming out.

“In this era of inflation, being discriminated from the housing market on account of one’s gender identity is similar to being condemned to homelessness,” Lindani says.

Zimbabwe is known for hostility to lesbian, gay, or transgender rights. In 2017, the country’s former president, Mr. Robert Mugabe, gained global notoriety for issuing a string of very homophobic statements essentially equating members of the LGBTQ+ community with animals. Casual activities like holding an LGBTQ+ beer party or beauty contest in Zimbabwe can earn violent police reprisals. An example was December 2014, when unknown assailants stormed an LGBTQ+ Christmas party, leaving scores injured.

“Now you can imagine wanting to rent or sublet a room as a lesbian who wishes to invite her friends for sleepovers,” says Janet Moyo,* describing the cues she gets whenever she wants to sublet the two rooms she rents. “As soon as prospective tenants figure out I’m a lesbian– they retreat and say ‘sorry your rooms are unsuitable.’ You can see they’re uneasy about co-renting with a lesbian.”

Zimbabwe’s constitution bans discrimination based on gender, sex, nationality or disability says Melvin Sakadzo, a public interest activist in the capital Harare. “But that’s simply a guarantee of rights on paper,” he says.

In practice, the law doesn’t help members of the LGBTQ+ community much because police have little sensitivity training to handle housing discrimination cases reported by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“In some cases, some police officers can be complicity in rights abuses,” he says. In November 2019, a transwoman won a landmark case against Zimbabwe police whom she accused of arresting and torturing her for using a restroom.

Fierce social norms against members of the LGBTQ+ community in Zimbabwe also put landlords in a bind. “It’s not my fault that I refuse to rent a room to a gay man at my house,” says Beatrice, a 55-year-old granny and homeowner in the capital Harare who hides her surname out of sensitivity to the topic.

“I’m a devout member of my local Adventist Church for the last 30 years. If I’m known to be renting lesbian or gay person rooms at my house — my church can accuse me of all sorts of things. I can lose my social standing with my neighbors. I don’t hate transgender people but trust me as a landlord, I’m in a bind too,” she says.

Lindani says she has stayed at her rundown place of lodging for the last 2 years because she doesn’t have much choice but to move around.

“The kitchen sink is rotten; the overhead showers don’t work, but if I try to exit and find another room, I could be homeless in-between due to a high rate of discrimination in housing for people like me,” she says.

When technology and social media arrived in Zimbabwe it was thought that gender discrimination and biases in housing would vanish as people would just swipe their smartphones to find a vacant home.

“The opposite happened,” says Melvin the activist.

Asterisk indicates person has asked to change their name out of fear for their safety and families.

About the Author

Ray Mwareya is an independent writer reporting on public health focusing on sexually transmitted diseases, refugee rights, and anti-racism. His work appears in The Body, Al Jazeera, The San Francisco Aids Foundation and others.



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Matthew's Place

Matthew's Place

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