A transgender man in Botswana must be legally recognized as male in his official government documents, the country’s highest court ruled in a groundbreaking decision.
Justice Godfrey Nthomiwa said the Botswana National Registry was violating the plaintiff’s constitutional rights by refusing to recognize his gender identity.
In a statement to African News Network, the plaintiff called the court ruling — which was issued on Sept. 29 — “an immense relief.” He has not been named in news reports for legal reasons.
“I am overjoyed and humbled at the same time to have finally found the legal relief I have sought for the past seven years of my life,” he told Human Rights Watch in a separate interview.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organizations in Southern Africa hailed the court ruling as a victory for trans people in the region.
“The judge’s finding … goes a long way in improving the lives of transgender persons,” said Tashwill Esterhuizen, an LGBTQ-rights lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
While homosexuality itself is not illegal in Botswana, some homosexual acts are prohibited and can be punished by up to seven years of jail time.
“The impact of this case should not be underestimated,” Ian Southey-Swartz, manager of the LGBTQ program at the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa, said in a statement. “If properly implemented, it has the potential to positively change the lives of transgender persons.”
Following this ruling, a trans woman named Tshepo Ricki Kgositau is expected to win a similar case in December.
Kgositau is petitioning to change her identity documents from saying male to female, according to Reuters, as she said her current documents have led to emotional distress and have made her more vulnerable to abuse and violence.
“I am hopeful that other persons who find themselves in a similar situation will be dealt with in a more respectful manner when they apply for new identity cards,” the trans man plaintiff said.