Not yet out in Africa
Many consensual same-sex couples in Africa still face victimisation. ( From the Mail and Guardian Online)
The International Lesbian and Gay Association (Ilga) reports that 38 African countries still criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults and there have been many cases of victimisation across the continent, with new laws passed to limit gay and lesbian activity.
In line with its Constitution South Africa passed the Civil Union Act in 2006, making it possible for gay and lesbian couples to marry. In 2007 gay and lesbian activists met in Johannesburg, under the aegis of Ilga and local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexed (LGBTI) organisations, to discuss lesbian and gay rights and activism in Africa. The editors of a new book, To Have and to Hold: The Making of Same-Sex Marriage in South Africa, interviewed several activists about rights in their countries. These are excerpts from their responses.
What is the situation for lesbian and gay people in your country?
David Kato, Uganda (organisation: Integrity, a faith-based member of Sexual Minorities Uganda): The authorities are still harassing us and arresting us. But we are encouraging and sensitising the LGBTI people in our country not to give in to blackmail from the police, but rather to take the case to court so that we can ask the government why Uganda is not acting in accordance with the international covenants it signed. Uganda is one of the signatories of many international covenants that talk about non-discrimination.
But when they come back from signing, the Constitution is not changed. One of the objectives of Integrity [and Sexual Minorities Uganda] is to fight the legal system and the discriminatory laws. We try to advocate and lobby organisations and decision-makers to fight these laws. We need to remove the idea our leaders have that this is a white thing.
Linda Baumann, Namibia (The Rainbow Project): Namibia’s population is 1,8-million, which is about the same size as that of Soweto. But the level of homophobia is high. I live in a township where I still face homophobia. I am told to be careful — “Jy moet oppas, ons gaan jou kry [You must watch out, we’re going to get you]”. The hate crimes are also high. Last year The Rainbow Project started documenting some of the hate crimes, including two gay men who were killed. We also have a lot of lesbians and gay men who experience “correctional rape”. But people do not speak about it.
There is no law in Namibia that explicitly says homosexuality is illegal. Chapter 3 of the Namibian Constitution speaks about fundamental human rights and that gives LGBTI people some room to manoeuvre … Most of our politicians do not really want to sit down with the LGBTI community and talk about their issues. It is often said that homosexuality is unAfrican.
Lourence Misedah, Kenya (Ishtar MSM): Currently it is illegal to be gay or lesbian in Kenya. There are some gays and lesbians who are publicly out in Kenya.
But this involves risks … We [are] tired of politicians in Kenya saying that we do not exist and that homosexuality is unAfrican.
Naome Ruzindana, Rwanda (Horizon Community Association): It says in the penal code of Rwanda that whoever is found guilty of homosexuality is to be put in prison. A while back they announced they are going to change the penal code. We are waiting for that to be finalised.
Reverend Rowland Jide Macauley, Nigeria (House of Rainbow Metropolitan Community Church): Same-sex relationships are prohibited [in Nigeria] … This law was inherited from the colonial era and it has remained on Nigeria’s statute books up to today. In 2006 the Nigerian government introduced the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill. The Bill is an attempt to ban homosexuality and gay marriage and it seeks to push away the issue of homosexuality or any association with it — including gathering literature, attending lectures or anything to do with same-sex relationships. There is homophobia on every street in Nigeria.
If you are gay and it becomes public knowledge, people taunt you, they verbally abuse you … people have suffered homophobic attacks and violence.
What are the possibilities for law reform in your country?
Kato: If we begin asking for marriage now our mission will backfire. They will think we’re just looking for sex. What we need is to be tolerated and to have the same rights as other people … to break down discriminatory laws.
Baumann: One of the challenges that we face is that people are afraid to be seen. You can count on your hands the strong gay activists in Namibia who are out and proud and able to speak.
Ruzindana: Rwanda is a sensitive country. This is true even of the human rights defenders who are there. They fear the government and they have not helped us at all. Is there potential for these kinds of changes in Rwanda? Maybe in 10 years!
How do you feel about the fact that same-sex couples can now get married in South Africa?
Kato: Since Integrity is a Christian organisation, love has no barriers for us. Some people think marriage is just about getting children out of it.
But not all heterosexual couples produce children. They forget that marriage is also about companionship and love for each other.
Baumann: I am proud that at least one African country has achieved this. South Africa is setting an example for the whole African continent.
Misedah: The situation we have right now in Kenya is that we first still need to be recognised before we can reach that point.
For example, I can be chased out of school because of my sexual orientation, or thrown out by landlords. This is what we want to address first before we start talking about marriage.
Ruzindana: I was listening to the radio when I heard about the same-sex marriage law being passed in South Africa. The listeners said that this news should not even be announced on the radio in Rwanda! I know that same-sex marriage is difficult for some to understand, but there are people who got the message.
what can those of us in the states do to help out our lgbt brothers and sisters in Africa?
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