News / Africa

Gay Rights in Africa Move Slowly, Cautiously Forward

Malawian Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R) shares some of her experiences with Charlie Takati, outreach officer at the local charity Gender Dynamix, a gay rights organization, at their offices in Athlone, 15 kilometers from Cape Town, South Africa.Malawian Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R) shares some of her experiences with Charlie Takati, outreach officer at the local charity Gender Dynamix, a gay rights organization, at their offices in Athlone, 15 kilometers from Cape Town, South Africa.
x
Malawian Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R) shares some of her experiences with Charlie Takati, outreach officer at the local charity Gender Dynamix, a gay rights organization, at their offices in Athlone, 15 kilometers from Cape Town, South Africa.
Malawian Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R) shares some of her experiences with Charlie Takati, outreach officer at the local charity Gender Dynamix, a gay rights organization, at their offices in Athlone, 15 kilometers from Cape Town, South Africa.
Gabe Joselow
— Gay rights activists in Africa are watching the proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court as it considers measures that could ensure marriage rights for same-sex couples in the United States. The activists acknowledge gay marriage is not a possibility at this time in most African countries - but say a heated conversation on gay rights is well underway.  
 
In Washington, the High Court is hearing two landmark cases that could protect rights for gays and lesbians to get married and to be treated equally in the eyes of the federal government.
 
In Nairobi, meanwhile, gay rights activists are still fighting against laws that make their sexual activity criminal. Under Kenyan law, homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
 
Rigid views persist

Staunch opposition to the gay rights movement remains strong across much of Africa.
 
In Uganda, a bill proposing the death penalty for homosexuals once again has resurfaced.
 
In Cameroon, two men were sentenced to prison by a judge who said the suspects appeared gay, in part because they ordered Bailey’s Irish Cream at a bar. The sentence was later overturned.
 
This resistance to gay rights across the continent, though, actually may be a sign the movement is starting to gain some momentum, according to Neela Ghoshal, an LGBT Researcher for Human Rights Watch, based in Kenya.
 
“We know that this backlash demonstrates that we’re making progress. If the governments weren’t getting a little bit nervous, if religious leaders weren’t finding it necessary for them to speak out and say homophobic things, it might be because the movement hadn’t advanced enough,” he said.

Gains for gay rights

Ghoshal said civil society groups in Africa are getting stronger, and becoming more open and less afraid to promote gay rights.
 
South Africa was one of the first nations to approve gay marriage, which it did in 2006. It is the only country in Africa to have done so, though being openly gay can be challenging in more traditional communities.
 
Mbuyiselo Botha, a spokesman for the Sonke Gender Justice Network, said his experience with apartheid in South Africa has influenced his view of the issue.
 
"Well, we think that it is indeed a civil rights issue, as it is human rights issue. And separating the two would, in fact, conflate, confuse issues. Our view is that gay marriage should, in fact, be elected, should be a constitutional matter, and be approved and protected," said Botha.
 
The argument about same-sex marriage is a non-starter in many African countries where the concept faces massive popular resistance. Even activists say the marriage issue is not on their agenda.
 
Incremental steps

Stephen McGill is the executive director of Stop AIDS in Liberia, a group that works primarily with gay men. He said most gay Liberians are more concerned with ensuring they have fair access to housing, employment and health care, and that the gay marriage debate is only brought up by lawmakers looking to score political points.
 
"I think it's just individuals and politicians wanting their will to be done, and having people who are uneducated about these things use an issue that is of universal discourse in the world," he said. "Because every country in the world, around the globe, is talking about issues like this, but what is the significance to our own reconstruction and development in Liberia at this time?"
 
The opponents of gay rights in Africa often accuse western nations of trying to impose their pro-gay values on Africans.
 
Ghana’s Chief Psychiatrist Akwasi Osei argued in a newspaper column last month that homosexuality goes against nature, but should not be criminalized.
 
He said “avoiding persecution is not the same as legalizing or recognizing homosexuality, which is what the West wants.”
 
While the gay rights movement is becoming more vocal in Africa, so are its critics. Crackdowns on activist meetings continue across the continent, and politicians are quick to denounce homosexuality in almost any context.
 
But the conversation is well underway, and those on both sides of the argument are more charged than ever.

Robbie Corey-Boulet and Anita Powell contributed to this report.

You May Like

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid