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

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More