Africa- Rich with history, spirited traditions, and family values, all of which have accumulated and bloomed overtime. After decades of colonialization, Africans have managed to triumph from the hardships of Western oppression, however remnants of their culture remain, specifically homophobic beliefs. Same-sex relations are punishable by death in Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, not including the 58 other African countries who persecute those who engage in homosexual behaviors.
Historians have found that prior to European colonization, African countries were welcoming of same-sex relations and non-binary gender roles. Many gods and goddesses worshipped in ancient Egypt, a country that now criminalizes homosexuality, were portrayed as androgynous, such as the goddess Mut. Africans were once accepting of, what we call now, the LGBTQ+ community, but adopted homophobic ideals from British and French Christian evangelists, who enforced legal punishments upon homosexual males in their own countries, and later brought these laws to Africa.
As colonists occupied Africa, Christianity flourished throughout African countries in the early 1900’s, along with their anti-LGTBQ+ laws. They introduced the first anti-sodomy laws and teachings that homosexuality is a sin, which have harnessed and developed into the modern-day draconian legislation that exists in almost all of Africa.
One of the most outspoken leaders against gay rights has been Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda, who has fervently supported imprisonment and harsh penalties for homosexuals. In late March, Museveni passed a bill to impose extreme punishments and enforce rehabilitation upon members of the LGBTQ+ community, as he believes their lifestyle is a "deviation from normal". His decisions have gained support from numerous African leaders, such as Kenya’s parliamentarian George Kaluma, who said “Kenya is following you in this endeavor to save humanity”, in an effort to uphold their strong Christian and Islamic beliefs.
The President’s anti-LGBTQ+ attitude has been cultivated by decades of ruthless discrimination and pressures from neighboring leaders who have been quick to criminalize homosexuality. On May 26th, he signed the Anti-homosexuality Act, imposing the death penalty on individuals, including minors, with HIV who partake in same-sex relations, and a life sentence for those who attempt or encourage these actions. Uganda’s parliament classifies this offence as “aggravated homosexuality”, and wasted no time endorsing this new legislation, normalizing a highly volatile and perilous intolerance against the already-marginalized community.
Further north in the country of Morocco, the anti-gay sentiment remains widely held and encouraged by their Constitutional Monarchy. The country also criminalizes same-sex relations. Since the 1962 Penal Code was passed, members of their LBGTQ+ community have been at risk of being fined and imprisoned for up to three years, along with constant harassment and banishment from their families.
Mob violence is also extremely common, where families are incentivized to alert authorities and oust an openly-gay family member, as they too can be jailed. The powerful Islamic influences across the country have caused many to remain hidden about their sexual preferences, as to avoid abuse or punishment. Matters of gender and sexual orientation are not typically discussed, since being straight is the assumed lifestyle choice as a Muslim, according to Ihab Clarke Sourour, who was born in Morocco and resided there for most of his adolescence.
Sourour explained that unlike Western cultures, one’s sexual preference, especially as a member of the LGTBQ+ community, is often kept private. Before arriving in the United States, he was never exposed to any lifestyle other than heterosexual, due to the prevalence of Islam in his community. Conservatism and a strict adherence to traditional norms are customary amongst Muslims, however, he explained that “being told that homosexuality was wrong was never directly implied…people just never really thought about it”.
Religion is easily the most dominant driving forces of Africa’s government operations, particularly when dictating marriage and adoption rights for citizens. The day before Uganda’s Museveni passed one of their most strict anti-gay bills, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo announced modifications to their currently rigid bill. Their parliament is addressing issues of marriage and adoption by members of the LGTBQ+ community, which were distinguished as measures of “family values”, but remain adamant about imprisoning and rehabilitating outwardly gay, lesbian or transgender Ghanaians.
Caleb Puplampu, a 21-year-old college student from Ghana, believes that although Ghana is attempting to become more progressive, its strong religious values will ultimately prevent them from completely accepting the LGBTQ+ community. Religion and politics are tightly intertwined in Africa, and Puplampu asserted that in order for the LGTBQ+ community in Africa to be given equal rights, they and their country’s legislators must work with the fundamentals of religion.
“There are other things going on in this world that require lawmakers to pay attention to, yet they’re more worried about who someone loves”, Puplampu said.
The LGBTQ+ community in Africa is assiduously fighting against the recent bills, and has even removed certain colonial-age laws in countries that were previously under European rule. Homophobia, although a western import, must be battled uniquely in this continent, and advocates recognize this, as well as the dangers of speaking out and persuading powerful leaders.
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