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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Junction News Anniversary : Homosexuality in Africa

This article was one of the blog's most popular over the course of the past year. LGBT issues in Africa are still largely overlooked and LGBT Africans still face a huge amount of persecution.

Last week saw the passing of Ireland's civil partnership bill in the two houses of the Irish Parliament which will enact some of the same freedoms enjoyed by heterosexual couples to gay people in Irish law qhen it is enacted later this year or early 2011. Considering "buggery" was only decriminalised in this country in 1993 it is fair to say that this is a milestone for the country, still impacted heavily by the Catholic Church. However, on an EU basis Ireland ranks poorly when stood next to its Western European brethren and its clear that there is a long way to go.

As a gay man I am genuinely interested in gay rights worldwide and so last night's channel 4 documentary in its populr Dispatches series was a must for me. If you live in the UK or Ireland you may watch it on 4OD here, Africa's Last Taboo. The show follows an African journalist as he travels around what he refers to as his continent visiting Kenya, Uganda and Malawi. The programme states that over two thirds of African nations have laws condemning acts of homosexuality. 17 of these countries maintain laws passed down by the British in colonial times. The programme all in all was fascinating and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in LGBT rights. It spurred me into taking a closer look into the issue on the world's most conservative continent.

One of my most startling findings was the number of countries that have legalised lesbian sex but have maintained a ban on male consensual sex. Such countries include Kenya, Malawi, the Seychelles and Sierra Leone. I can only hypothesize as to the reasons for this. The lawmakers and figures in power in most African countries are heterosexual men. Perhaps they would be more sympathetic to the cause of lesbians. Ill let you hypothesize as to why. I have explained before about sexual myths in Africa to do with AIDS perhaps some of these same myths govern attitudes towards female sexuality.

Another personally shocking finding is that attitudes to homosexuality on an Africa wide basis are if anything becoming more and more conservative. For example, last year around the same time that is outlawed the death penalty the Government of Burundi re-criminalized homosexuality. Uganda has also had a furious debate in recent times about tightening its laws against people in consenting same-sex relationships and Swaziland is considering repealing the law legalizing lesbian relationships.

But while we may call these laws draconian and offensive to some Western sensibilities it cannot be said to fly in the face in the will of the African people. For example, here in Ireland there is a sizable majority in favour of homosexual marriage however, in 2010 a poll in Uganda sowed that just 11% found homosexuality morally acceptable. Even more staunch criticism was felt in Cameroon, Kenya and Zambian with just 2% of respondents believing homosexuality to be a morally acceptable practice. A similar figure (95%) was found in Tanzania. Even in Africa's most liberal nation when it comes to homosexual practice, South Africa, attacks against homosexual's are rampant especially so called "corrective rapes" on lesbians

What is the reason for these attitudes? Well some countries enforce stringent Shariah law, others are subject to major influence from American evangelical preachers who profess the benefits of old colonial laws. It is interesting so that many anti-gay rights groups then profess the evils of Western culture as influencing  and infecting the minds of young Africans.

Whatever your own personal attitude to homosexuality is it cannot be ignored that the almost blanket silence of gay rights groups is deeply damaging to the continent. Ravaged by Aids the gay community largely remains uneducated about the dangers of unprotected sex. In the documentary we meet a young sex worker in Kenya who was outcasted from his family for being  gay. His sister was also banished because her parents feared she may turn out the same way. The young man is forced into prostitution to support his sister as no-one else will have him because of his sexuality. However, many of his clients are supposed heterosexual men who lead double lives and have unprotected sex with him and then carry the infection back to their wives.

It has to be said that as the title of the programme suggests homosexuality really is Africa's last taboo. The lives of millions of gay African's are being thrown into turmoil by the conservative attitudes of people on the continent. Attacks on ordinary African citizens are absolutely common.  In my opinion all life is precious. If two people find love whether gay or straight it should be celebrated. Africa needs education to overcome the AIDS epidemic. perhaps gay rights should be on the curriculum.

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