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.
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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid