Leading the Queer liberation struggle

Omar van Reenen has made it his goal to uplift marginalised communities and to free those that are discriminated against and oppressed.

11 January 2022 | Politics

“My dream is to live in a Namibia where I can truly call myself Born-Free and where I can love freely,” Omar van Reenen.

Rivaldo Kavanga

Raised in the conservative coloured community of Narraville in Walvis Bay, where opportunities were limited and dreaming big was a luxury for many young people, Omar van Reenen knew that his dreams could only be realised if he worked hard, believed in the beauty of dreaming big and built his own doors that he could break down for many other Baainaars to follow suit.

At the age of 10, Van Reenen envisioned himself becoming a scientist and finding a cure for the HIV/Aids pandemic. “But deep down, what ten-year-old Omar really wanted to do was make a difference for those who don’t have a voice to be heard,” he adds.

Educational background

Van Reenen completed his primary and secondary education at Duinesig High School in Walvis Bay and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Gender and Sexuality Studies at the State University of New York in the United States of America. Van Reenen has been selected as part of 25 Africans to pursue a LLM/MPhil master’s degree in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights.

Freeing Namibia’s marginalised community

Van Reenen says what he does today was inspired by his grandfather, Harry van Reenen, who during the 1960s built the first hotel for the coloured community in Namibia, then known as South West Africa. The hotel was a safe space for the coloured community and also hosted the liberation fighters of the South West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo) who used the space to host underground meetings in Walvis Bay.

“My grandfather’s work building a community left a legacy rooted in racial justice. His story inspired me to dedicate my life to the work of social justice, to uplift a community of LGBTQ+ Namibians and emancipate them from the chains and shackles of state-sanctioned homophobia,” Van Reenen says.

Van Reenen is committed to freeing the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination in an independent Namibia. “My dream is to live in a Namibia where I can truly call myself ‘Born-Free’ and where I can love freely,” he adds.

Together, we can

Van Reenen, along with other youth activists, lawyers dedicated to justice and the Equal Namibia movement, successfully fought for the return of Paula and Maya, children separated by state-sanctioned homophobic policies. They have managed to elevated LGBTQ+ court cases and won two, setting a High Court precedence for the recognition of sexual orientation and gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination under Article 10. They have also unveiled Namibia’s first LGBTQ+ historic landmark, a Rainbow Sidewalk which sent a message of solidarity to the community and promoted the need for safe spaces.

Van Reenen is the co-founder of Equal Namibia, the nation’s leading social movement fighting for LGBTQ+ civil rights. Founded on Independence Day in 2021, and in the pursuit of #BringPaulaAndMayaHome, Equal Namibia has helped create visibility, community and a space for LGBTQ+ persons to believe that they belong in our Born-Free republic, that we are stronger together, and that together, we can build an equal Namibia for us all.

The community’s collective work has pushed the minister of justice to answer to Namibians’ call for equality, and for the first time a bill on the abolishment of the Sodomy Act, a law criminalising gay men’s right to love, has been accepted and will be tabled in Parliament. “Together, we fought for an equal Namibia. Together, we can,” he states.

“My message to any Queer person reading this is that you are valuable, you are powerful and you are deserving of every chance and opportunity in this country, to pursue you dreams. Come out, take up space and love yourself unconditionally, because together, we will build an equal Namibia for us all,” van Reenen concludes.

10 Fun Facts about Omar

1 I am half Egyptian… but not a Pharaoh;

2 I was junior mayor of Walvis Bay in 2015;

3 My favourite chill spot in Windhoek is Café Prestige;

4 I worked at Starbucks and love ice chai lattes;

5 My “Shero” is Uno Katjipuka Sibolile, the people’s lawyer at the helm of the LGBTQ+ court cases;

6 I am learning Khoekhoegowab;

7 My favourite shows are: ‘Euphoria’, ‘Pose’ and ‘Desperate Housewives’;

8 I despise pickles;

9 I have travelled to 10 countries, my favourite being Puerto Rico (even though it’s still a US colony);

10 My favourite artist is SZA.

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