News / Africa

Report: Homophobia Rising in Sub-Saharan Africa

Bathini Dambuza, left, and Lindiwe Radebe at engagement ceremony, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, undated file photo.Bathini Dambuza, left, and Lindiwe Radebe at engagement ceremony, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, undated file photo.
x
Bathini Dambuza, left, and Lindiwe Radebe at engagement ceremony, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, undated file photo.
Bathini Dambuza, left, and Lindiwe Radebe at engagement ceremony, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, undated file photo.
TEXT SIZE - +
Anita Powell
— When Nthabiseng Mokoena announced she was getting married to another woman, her small South African community was scandalized.

“Pastors came together and started preaching to their own congregations that it’s the end of the world," recalls the advocacy coordinator for Pretoria-based Transgender and Intersex Africa. "'As you can see, one of our own is now going to marry a woman; it’s the end of the world!'"

According to Amnesty International, Mokoena's is but a milder version of a story told repeatedly by Sub-Saharan Africas who don’t conform to traditional gender roles, including those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

For Mokoena, who identifies as intersex — meaning she was born with ambiguous genitalia — it is a rare privilege to openly call upon the key politicians and religious figures who often fuel the homophobia, and demand that they speak out for equality.

Documenting gays and lesbians in Cameroon who were imprisoned for years without trial or charge, and Kenyans who said police threatened them over their sexuality, the new report finds that members of Mokoena's wide demographic are facing an increasingly bold threat of attacks and harassment across much of the continent.

A crime in many nations

On a continent where many religious figures preach that homosexuality is a sin, the attacks, Amnesty says, are also fueled by an increase in anti-gay laws and prominent politicians who promote them.

Largely a reflection of public attitudes, homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 fully recognized sovereign African nations, where such laws appear set to remain on the books or get stronger. Uganda, for example, is set to again debate a law that in its original form mandated the death penalty for gays, while late last year government officials in Malawi backtracked on a plan to scrap anti-gay laws in response to pressure from religious groups.

According to Amnesty, in the last five years alone, South Sudan, Burundi, Liberia and Nigeria have made attempts to further criminalize homosexuality.

Jackson Otieno, spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, says if governments pave the path toward acceptance, people will follow.
 
“I’d like to use this analogy: Picture a handicapped person on a wheelchair trying to get on a bus. ... You cannot make it the obligation of every passerby to put this person onto the bus if there’s no ramp," he says. "You cannot force them unless they want to do it. You’ll get people who want to do it and others will just ignore it because they have no time to do it. But it’s the obligation of the bus company to ensure the bus has a ramp to get this person on the bus."

For some activists, however, even new tolerance laws aren't enough. According to Mokoena’s organization, at least seven people were killed in what appeared to be attacks targeting sexual and gender orientation over a five-month period last year in South Africa — the continent's only nation to permit homosexuality and gay marriage.

Mokoena, who says more education is helping to change attitudes, chose to speak directly to the very pastors and congregants who condemned her sexuality and gender.

"How can it be the end of the world just because I’m getting married?" she recalls asking them. "Does my marriage have so much power that if I say ‘I do,’ apocalypse is going to come down on us?

"People will really start to really analyze that it’s all propaganda, and it’s all things they’ve been taught," she adds. "And so once we begin to be more visible, once we begin to voice our opinions ... somebody, somewhere, will listen. They always say reach out to ten thousand and touch one."

That’s the basic message activists say they now hope to spread across Africa. Being different, they say, is not the end of the world. Maybe it’s the start of a world fuller of love and acceptance for everyone.

You May Like

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

Why Europe and the US may be "whistling past the graveyard?" More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Xenephon from: Australia
June 26, 2013 6:29 AM
When will the "west" cease in imposing its' libertarian values on the third world countries who still regard homosexuality, as do many in the U.S.A., as a mortal sin and an affront to the institution of marriage. There are many in Australia who regard the appointment of an openly homosexual male as ambassador, an open contepteous affront to the dignity of this country. Enforced lagalistic penalties will only go far in inciting an open backlash against that which it hopes to impose tolerance by penalties against those who still regard hetrosexuality as the normal and only valid course for the continuation of the human race.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid