James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Africa and LGBT Citizens: An Uphill Battle

The challenges of LGBT citizens in several African nations have been broadcast all over the news lately. The most prominent story, the Ugandan bill proposing the death penalty for homosexuality has engendered an increasingly chilling atmosphere of hate and fear in that country. (BBC news video part 1, part 2). In Malawi a gay couple was arrested for holding a marriage ceremony and Another Malawi man was arrested for putting up gay rights posters. In both Uganda and Malawi campaigns against LGBTs have escalated and taken to the streets. Some of this activity has spread to Nigeria where a group of gay men face death by stoning for wearing women's clothes. In Kenya as well a protest erupted when a same-sex ceremony was scheduled to take place. In Rwanda the Parliament has put off a scheduled vote to criminalize homosexuality until later this year. All and all, it seems clear that although the African National Congress of South Africa has legalized same-sex marriage and offers full civil rights to LGBT folks, Central Africa is definitely a very difficult place to be queer.

The brighter spot in this struggle is that the reason for the increased mobilization of the forces of hate and fear, is the greater visibility and activism of LGBT's around the globe has spread to Africa. In this technological world, news of other countries cannot be suppressed. Even now in Uganda, lesbians and gays are demonstrating, speaking out and risking their lives for this fight. In Kenya The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, is alive and active although the former web site called "Gay Uganda," that geocities had described as "dedicated to all those in the world who have discovered that to be gay is to be human: and to those in Uganda who walk under the cloud of their society's prejudice" has been replaced with the message: "Sorry, the Geocities site you were trying to reach is no longer available.

In Africa the interrelationship between imperialism, colonialism, religion and homosexuality has been long, complex and fraught with conflict. There are no easy answers but those interested in learning more about this aspect of Africa can peruse books that shed more light on both the conditions of LGBT life in Africa as well as the history from which they arise: "Heterosexual Africa? The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS" by March Epprecht. "African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality and Globalization" by Neville Hoad and for more information on the specific condition of women and lesbians, "Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives: Female same-sex practices in Africa" by Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa.

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