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Africa's Gay Activists Use Internet to Advance Homosexual Rights

  • Nico Colombant

Gay Uganda is one of the most popular blogs advocating gay rights in Africa

Gay Uganda is one of the most popular blogs advocating gay rights in Africa

African gay activists in Africa and in the diaspora are increasingly using the Internet to have their voices heard, while still trying to figure out how to advance homosexual rights on the continent.

One of the most popular blogs advocating gay rights in Africa is called Gay Uganda. Its author chooses to remain anonymous.

"I am somebody in the heart of Africa who has been lonely without the rest of the Internet, without the rest of the global sphere, talking about what I would like to talk about, with that kind of freedom," he said from Kampala."I cannot do it elsewhere."

While harsher laws are being proposed against homosexuality across the continent, including in Uganda, the author of Gay Uganda says what he is doing helps Africa's homosexual community.

"It started off as a way of venting, but then later I realized that it was a way of putting across to the rest of the world what our lives were more or less," he said. "The things that have been happening around Kampala, in Uganda, and all over the continent – it is strengthening to me personally, that is why I do it."

He says that in Kampala, very few people know he is gay. But online, he has a community of followers who support him. He adds that the types of articles he writes would never be allowed in traditional media.

"Society is more or less homophobic and the reporters come from the society. But also you have to consider that in a place like Uganda, you cannot write a positive story about gay people. That is a matter of fact," he added.

Uganda's Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo said recently that the government is concerned about what he called the "mushrooming" number of gays and lesbians in the country. He said he wants a law enacted that would criminalize confessing to being a homosexual.

Even in African countries like Ghana, which are seen as being relatively tolerant, anti-homosexual activities, such as marches denouncing gays, are becoming more frequent.

Media and influential politicians and religious leaders often denounce homosexuality as Western contamination. And they say homosexuality is contrary to traditional family values.

More than three dozen countries in Africa, including Senegal, have laws criminalizing homosexuality. Selly Thiam, who lives in the United States, is a native of Senegal. She is the founder of the None on Record website, which records testimonies of gays, lesbians and transgender people from Africa, most of them anonymously.

Thiam says she hopes the website will be used to help change policies toward homosexuals.

"None on the Record is just at the beginning of understanding or even becoming conscious of how we fit into the larger movement," said Thiam. "I think we will have more opportunities in the future to see how we can really impact and support the organizing that is going on in the continent and around the world in other LGBT communities as well."

LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Thiam says that although it is important for her to build contacts through the Internet, face-to-face interaction is also important, even if most pro-gay groups in Africa work underground.

"That is why I have to keep going back to work in concert with people who are organizing. It is an issue of safety, and something that I have to think about all the time. But I have to also continue to do my work," Thiam added.

A columnist from the United States, Reverend Irene Monroe, says her own work and Internet outreach have put her in contact with many gays and lesbians in Africa like a woman from Kenya who recently wrote her an email.

"She says here, 'I need encouragement. Here homosexuality is punishable by 14 years imprisonment and 28 strokes of the cane. "The church is also extremely hostile. Some suspected lesbians from my church were once beaten and burnt,'" Monroe said.

Gay activists in Africa say it is a very difficult process to advance homosexual rights, especially in difficult economic times, when scapegoats are used by politicians and religious leaders to divert attention.

Irene Monroe links discrimination to a lack of democracy and government policies toward HIV and AIDS.

"Countries that tend to be more open around addressing the issue of HIV/AIDS and have a lot more financial solvency and really do run more in terms of employing a democratic model, you will find in those small pockets throughout Africa and other parts of the world people are more tolerant in the different ways in which people express love," she said. "And we see it here when we see rabid forms of conservatism here we find in most groups of people who are less tolerant of LGBT folks, it operates similarly believe it or not in Africa too. Culturally, it looks different. But the seed around what gives rise to the kind of homophobia that blossoms in the way it does, it is planted in the same soil."

Gay activists say they hope those advocating homosexual rights eventually will succeed – one blog entry and appeal for understanding at a time.