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

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey 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.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid