2 June 2012
Homophobia in Africa is ”escalating”
“The abuse is escalating. Recent cases of criminalization of same-sex relationships have worsened a situation already characterized by harassment, humiliation, extortion, arbitrary arrests, judicial violence, imprisonment, torture, hate crimes and honour killings on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity all over Africa,” says a new report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).
“Over the past ten years, the focus on equal rights, law reforms, community cohesion, diversity, families and migrations for lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) Africans has gone from bad to worse.”
The ILGA report gives several recommendations on how to improve the situation for African LGBTI people, including legal and policy reform to “reinforce same-sex relationships,” education programmes to “address underlying prejudices,” and promoting media training to “discourage attitudes of discrimination and stigmatisation.”
These points are particularly pressing in many African countries where homosexuality is illegal and where LGTBI people are attacked or ridiculed in the press and by politicians.
Uganda is a case in point here, due amongst other things to the internationally publicised case of David Kato, a Ugandan LGBTI-rights activist who was brutally beaten to death in 2011 after local newspaper Rolling Stone had called for him and 100 other named and depicted Ugandan gays and lesbians to be executed. “Hang them” was the title of the article.
In Swaziland, a columnist in the country’s only independent national newspaper, the Times of Swaziland, was recently allowed to write hate speech against LGBTI people.
“Homosexuality or trans-sexuality is an abomination … an evil act that must be stopped,” he wrote. “Swaziland frowns on such satanic deeds … I hate homosexuality with every fibre of hair or flesh in my body.” Fortunately there was enough outrage towards the author and the newspaper that printed his remarks from right-minded individuals and organisations to make the editor suspend the columnist.
Homosexuality is illegal in both Uganda and Swaziland, as it is in many other African countries, and carries a penalty of several years’ imprisonment.
Even South Africa has its fair share of homophobic outbursts and incidences, despite the fact that LGBTI people are protected by §9 of the South African constitution that proclaims, “the state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including … sexual orientation;” that same-sex marriages have been legal since 2006; and that “homosexual people in major urban areas are fairly accepted” according to Queerlife South Africa.
President Jacob Zuma called same-sex marriages ”a disgrace to the nation and to God” in 2006 and appointed a homophobic ambassador found guilty of hate speech to Uganda in 2010. “Corrective rapes” and murder of lesbians is on the rise in the townships. And homosexuals are discriminated against employment-wise, even though the 1995 Labour Relations Act and the 1998 Employment Equity Act nominally protect homosexuals against unfair labour discrimination.
So even though being gay in a country like South Africa is preferable to being gay in Swaziland or Uganda, it is apparent that legislation is not enough to ensure equal rights in practice for LGBTI people.