Monthly Archives: January 2014
Posted by Mercy
Some think the apparent rise in state-sponsored homophobia could be a response to increased demands for human rights from the gay community.
By: Jennifer Quinn
On Wednesday, Bernard Randall was told he had 12 hours to get out of Uganda. The expulsion was likely preferable to what he was facing after being charged with trafficking in obscene material: serious jail time.
The twist, though, is this. The obscene material — a video that showed Randall having sex with a man — was only discovered after someone broke into his home in Entebbe and stole his laptop computer. The video was given to a Ugandan newspaper.
Yet it was the 65-year-old retired Briton who found himself in the dock.
On the surface, it appears as if Randall was lucky: he only had to leave his adopted country. But a man charged alongside Randall must stay in Uganda to face the courts alone. If convicted, he could face a seven-year prison sentence.
“I’m scared,” Albert Cheptoyek told The Guardian’s Africa correspondent. “I don’t know if they will put me in prison. Because they said that we are like husband and wife in the house.”
Homosexuality is criminalized in 38 African countries, but places like Uganda and Nigeria carry what may be among the most draconian — and internationally condemned — laws targeting gay people.
Randall’s case is the latest illustration of the intolerance faced by gay people in some African countries; in Uganda it is undeniably hostile.
In 2010, a newspaper published the names and addresses of suspected gay activists, with a headline urging they be hanged. A British producer was expelled from the country after staging a play that had a homosexual character.
Ugandan lawmakers have been trying to pass an anti-gay bill, a piece of legislation that U.S. President Barack Obama declared “odious,” since 2009.
In its original form — called colloquially the “Kill the Gays” bill — it sought to impose the death penalty for “aggravated” homosexuality. The legislation has since been changed and now apparently carries a sentence of life imprisonment; the text of the bill has not been made public.
Last week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni refused to sign the bill, saying parliamentary procedure had not been followed. Bloomberg and the BBC said it was more likely Museveni was concerned the act would lead to the withholding of aid by western countries.
In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a bill that criminalizes not just the act of gay sex, but same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in LGBT rights groups. Sentences of up to 14 years in prison could be imposed.
Though it is described as popular in Nigeria, the bill was condemned by foreign governments, including Canada, the U.S. and Britain, as well human rights groups.
“It used to be that homosexuality was criminalized based on your acts — so basically, they had to catch you in the act of having homosexual sex,” says Bruce Knotts, a former U.S. diplomat who served in Africa and has worked extensively on issues involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“Now you’ve got laws . . . you can’t even discuss LGBT rights. You can’t have a meeting. You can’t have a workshop because that is considered promotion of homosexuality, with very long prison sentences,” says Knotts, now the director of the Unitarian Universalist’s office at the United Nations.
“So the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and leaders around the world — including your own foreign minister — have said this is an attack on the basic human right of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from arbitrary arrest.”
Foreign Minister John Baird urged Nigeria to repeal the laws, saying Canada was “deeply concerned.” He called on the country to “promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Nigerians regardless of their sexual orientation.”
But what is to blame for the apparent increase in state-sponsored homophobia? Some think it could be a response to increased demands for human rights from the gay community.
“I do think it is kind of a backlash, and I think it’s a backlash against an increased visibility and activism throughout sub-Saharan Africa that we have seen over the last 20 years,” says Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT group for Human Rights Watch.
“There’s been an emergence of an African LGBT movement and it’s much more visible and much more vocal. So I think . . . there’s a link between the two.”
Knotts agrees, recalling an interview with a Ugandan minister who repeated an often-heard opinion on homosexuality in Africa: that it is an import from Europe and the West.
The interviewer didn’t accept that position, Knotts says, and forced the issue. Finally, the man acquiesced.
“And what this particular minister said was, ‘Yes. OK, fine. We know they’ve always existed but they’ve never asked for their rights before.’ And I think that’s what the African leaders are seeing,” Knotts says.
The influence of evangelical religious movements is also a consideration, as is the political climate: the issue of gay rights provides an easy distraction for leaders facing difficult questions from their voters.
“It’s also become an expedient political tool,” Reid says from Johannesburg. “So when you have Goodluck Jonathan with his aspirations for 2015, a divided party, corruption scandals, insecurity in the country — a visible minority that’s seen to be a threat is a good scapegoat or a good way to foster a moral panic to draw attention from those issues.”
Only this week, a prominent African writer declared publicly that he is gay: Binyavanga Wainaina, who founded a prestigious literary journal in Nairobi and authored How to Write About Africa said the timing of his declaration was not coincidental.
“I just kind of felt at this point, especially with the Nigerian law — which is just anti-human — that law was just made for using a really extreme kind of hate . . . in order to create political traction for a party that has been floundering,” Wainaina, who lives in Kenya, told the BBC.
Most anti-gay laws were put in place by the colonial powers that once governed them and many remain on the books today. (Some countries, such as Mali, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Rwanda have never made same-sex relationships between adults a crime.)
An Amnesty International report on the criminalization of same-sex relationships in sub-Saharan Africa says the very existence of the laws allows for a climate of discrimination against gay people.
“Sometimes states that maintain these laws justify their continued existence by saying the laws are not implemented,” the 2013 report, “Making Love a Crime,” says. “Such an excuse is an acknowledgement that the laws are bad in the first place.”
Tags: Africa, asylum seekers, Binyavanga Wainaina, Gay Rights, Goodluck Jonathan, HIV, homophobia, homosexuality, human rights, Kenya, LGBT social movements, Nigeria, transgender, Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill, United States, Yoweri Museveni