Letter From (a Beautiful) Exile

I started writing this letter in May 2021. I was stuck in South Africa with my newborn twin daughters, and my husband could not leave Namibia with our two-year-old son.

The minister of home affairs effectively kept my family separated for more than two months by not allowing the twins to enter the country. Their crime? Gay dads.

The twins will be three years old by the time you read this. They are growing up in Mexico City, half a planet away from the place where hundreds of people chanted their names in the streets when they were barely two weeks old: Bring Paula and Maya home!

After spending 13 years together in Namibia, my husband and I decided – on a Friday afternoon – to buy one-way tickets to his native Mexico for the following Friday. Years of legal procedures against the government – which effectively utilised our own taxes to curtail our human rights – had brought no relief.

And despite the Supreme Court decision of May 2023, to recognise foreign same-sex spouses for immigration purposes, nobody would guarantee us that my husband and the children would not be deported by the time their temporary residence permits expired six weeks later.

With my husband’s unprocedural expulsion from the country three years earlier fresh in our minds, and amid the intense public homophobia the judgement had sparked, Namibia no longer felt like a safe place for our family.

Adding salt to the wound, a mere day before our departure on 30 June, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security issued a press statement stating that it had “decided” to abide by the Supreme Court judgement, as if it had been a mere recommendation.

At the same time, the parliament, under the leadership of Jerry Ekandjo, imagined it could overturn a constitutional interpretation of the Supreme Court. In doing so, it chose to further the long-standing project of hate and discrimination, rooted in colonialism, this time targeting queer people.

Contrastingly, while the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) community had wished for a more explicit assurance by president Hage Geingob that it forms an equal part of the Namibian House, one thing is now certain: Discriminatory and unconstitutional anti-LGBTQI+ legislation will not bear his signature.

He was too big a person to lower himself to the depths of discriminating against a fellow human. As his wife stated in her powerful tribute, he embodied love, and it is love that propels us forward as people. I thank him and celebrate his legacy.

I am privileged to live in Mexico with the other half of my extended family. This is a magical place, despite an equally painful colonial past and deep-seated social inequality. But in recent years, Mexico has made great advances on equal rights for sexually diverse people and women’s bodily autonomy, the civil rights battle grounds of our generation.

Within a month, I obtained permanent residence status as the father of Mexican children. In the streets and in parks one can witness public displays of affection, including by queer people, and it is beautiful. Here, we are acknowledged simply as a family.

We left the country eight months ago, and only slowly does the magnitude of the rupture in our lives sink in. The mental health consequences, the financial damage, and missing the opportunity to contribute to building Namibia, as we had done all these years, are painful.

Leaving behind a community as beautiful and diverse as the rainbow, who has no choice but to keep risking their personal safety in fighting for our equal rights, feels numbing, and I salute their courage.

Namibia will always be home, and hopefully, one day my children will be able to say the same. Although I am grateful to live in Mexico City, I will call this (a beautiful) exile until the day that full equality for the LGBTQI+ community prevails in Namibia.

Phillip Lühl, Mexico City

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