Homosexuality: Is Africa Making Progress?

politics ngos LGBTI Homosexuality gender-based violence
Monday, 18 October, 2010 - 10:42

Africa and its leaders have a long way to go in understanding homosexuality and also in accepting homosexuals. Despite ratifying many international human rights treaties, African countries are continually denouncing homosexuality and also violating the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex. Even in countries were homosexuality is allowed, like in South Africa, there is a need to educate the masses to accept and tolerate homosexuals

The changing global environment has presented unforeseen consequences; the legalisation and widespread acceptance of homosexuality by certain countries in the world. This, however, has not eased the controversy surrounding homosexuality. So what causes homosexuality; is it innate or something learnt? This is a question that hovers in the minds of millions of people around the world. While homosexuality has gained acceptance in some parts of the world; it remains a problem to many, especially in Africa.

Heterosexuality in the predominant sexuality, therefore it remains a problem for most Africans to embrace this new ‘sexuality’. There have been cases in which homosexuals have been attacked in their communities. The attacks are informed by the perception that they are casting out the so-called ‘demons’ that manifest themselves in homosexual conduct.

Many homosexuals in Africa continue to live in denial of their sexual orientation in fear of being victimised by their families, friends and communities. The million-dollar question however still remains; is homosexuality a choice or is it something inborn?

Perhaps its best then to de define it. Homosexuality, according to A. Dean Byrd and Stony Olsen, in a report entitled ‘Homosexuality: Innate and Immutable?’ define it as a sexual activity between two partners of the same sex? “Homosexual orientation refers to overall responsiveness of someone to members of his or her sex. Male homosexuals are called ‘gays’ and the females, ‘lesbians’,” they explain.

So, what then can we say to staunch homophobians like Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, who has been cited in the media and under scrutiny for hurling a whole lot of insults against homosexuals? In August 1995, the media quoted him as saying homosexuality:

“...degrades human dignity. It's unnatural, and there is no question ever of allowing these people to behave worse than dogs and pigs. If dogs and pigs do not do it, why must human beings? We have our own culture, and we must re-dedicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings. … What we are being persuaded to accept is sub-animal behaviour and we will never allow it here. If you see people parading themselves as lesbians and gays, arrest them and hand them over to the police!”

And in accordance with his words, so many homosexuals have been incarcerated for their homosexuality in Zimbabwe. They include the former Zimbabwean President, Canaan Banana, members of Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ), an association founded for the purposes of serving the needs and interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and pushing for social tolerance of sexual minorities) and most recently, pupils from Evelyn Girls High School in Bulawayo.

In the current constitution making process in Zimbabwe, the government of national unity continues to intensify campaigns against the inclusion of the rights of homosexuals. One of President Mugabe’s followers, Didymus Mutasa, a powerful figure in the ruling ZANU-PF, said his party will see to it that homosexuality is outlawed in the new constitution and that stiff penalties will be put in place for those who engage in the practice. “Practices such as homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia which offend human and public morality should be outlawed,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, agrees with the Mugabe's stance. Tsvangirai was quoted in the Mail & Guardian as saying that, “Why should a man seek to have a relationship with another man when women make up 52 percent of the population? In fact, men are fewer than women.”

In Zambia, social attitudes towards homosexuals are marred with mostly negative and coloured by perceptions that homosexuality is immoral and a form of insanity. In 1999, Zambia Against People with Abnormal Sexual Acts (ZAPASA), a NGO combating homosexuality and homosexuals in that country, was formed. This was in addition to Zambia’s constitutional prohibition of same sex relationships in the penal code.

A study by S. LeVay, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, found that there are differences between homosexual and heterosexual men, suggesting that homosexuality is genetical. In homosexual men, the cluster of cells in the hypothalamus was seen to be smaller than in heterosexual men. LeVay’s finding proved controversial because it represented a small sample and he himself acknowledged the inconclusiveness of his findings. However, this remains the shield that gays and lesbians use to protect themselves against those who criticise their sexual orientation.

There is also a belief that the use of contraceptives can result in high hormonal imbalances in the uterus. One expert, interviewed in one of the editions of the Oprah Show, stated that if a woman falls pregnant suddenly after being on contraception, the hormonal imbalance causes a male foetus’ brain failure to adopt male characteristics such that in the end, the baby is born with a female brain, causing homosexuality to occur. This explanation, however, fails to explain female homosexuality.

There is also a widely held belief that homosexuality is sparked by cultural forces rampantly promoted by popular media. Some are of the view that it is a lifestyle one adopts because of their preference. To discriminate individuals by virtue of their sexual orientation violates their right to be free from discrimination. Any form of discrimination against homosexuals will also violates their right to privacy, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought and conscience.

By the same virtue, torture, detention and inhuman treatment of homosexuals is tantamount to the violation of their right to liberty and security. Most of these rights are enshrined in the treaties that most countries signed and ratified. However, the same countries continue to take away these rights in the guise of protecting morality.

But who said homosexuality is immoral? Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, is of the view that the stronger objection to the prohibition of homosexuality is to deny the claim that lies at its core - that sexual acts between consenting people of the same sex are immoral. Singer disputes the claim that homosexuality is wrong, unnatural and even a “Perversion of our sexual capacity,” which supposedly exists for the purpose of reproduction.

Does the fact that homosexual acts cannot lead to reproduction make them immoral? According to Singer, this would be a particularly bizarre ground for prohibiting sodomy. “If a form of sexual activity brings satisfaction to those who take part in it, and harms no one, what can be immoral about it?,” he argues.

In South Africa, the Constitution, does not give the State the right to unfairly discriminate anyone on one or more grounds, including gender, sex and sexual orientation. It is not surprising that South Africa became the first African country to endorse same-sex marriages, following in the footsteps of Canada, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Sweden.

However, the much-reported murder of the two Soweto lesbians, Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Massoa, in July 2007, was a reminder that despite their acceptance, homosexuals are still not tolerated by the majority. Their killing also reminded us that the country has a long way to go in educating its citizens on homosexuality.

In conclusion, it is not only Zimbabwe, Zambia and many other African countries that continue to discriminate against homosexuals. Other developing and least-developing countries that are also notorious for discriminating against homosexuals include India, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Yemen. The time is now for Africa to push for constitutions that are progressive.

- Lorraine Moyo (not her real name) is a Zimbabwean Human Rights activist

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