Why is LGBTQ Un-African?
“When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode,” explained Barack Obama during his visit to Kenya in 2015. These words were spoken with the purpose to fight LGBTQ discrimination. The LGBTQ community has been the subject of oppression for years and years. However, the presence of LGBTQ rights has been increasing especially in the Western world. Sadly, many countries including those in the African continent refused to apply those rights within their communities. Lesbians, gays, transgender or other members of the LGBTQ are not perceived from a good angle through the African society. The main reasons why Africa has such a restricted vision of the LGBTQ community are because of its colonial history, homophobic political systems, and the influence of religion.
Firstly, Africa is often portrayed as a close-minded continent. On the other hand, western society is presented as a place where anyone can be whoever they want to be. The general population in Africa is considered an oppressor towards the LGBTQ community who are clearly a minority. It is funny that the average person probably doesn’t know that Africa used to be more open-minded than Europe. Archeologists found tombs dating from as far as 2400 BC in Egypt containing two men, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, embracing each other like lovers (Buckle, 2020). Another concrete example could be the fact that Africans did not consider gender as binary. Often, they did not even attribute gender to their kids. The energy of the person determined their gender as opposed to their body (Buckle, 2020). Gender fluidity and homosexuality were never considered a problem. Gay people were even put in a leading position for their countries. For example, in the 19th century, King Mwanga II was an openly gay ruler in the Buganda kingdom, presently known as Uganda (Alimi, 2015). This king never faced any discrimination from his subjects; whilst, at the same time, men in England were hanged for engaging in homosexual activities. It is ironic how in this modern time Africa joined Europe as the oppressor. How did it begin? When European colonizers traveled to the African land, they brought along their culture to impose on African citizens. Part of their cultural ideologies was anti-gay. These ideologies were forced onto the communities and Africans had no choice but to abide by them since they could not resist the European armies; moreover, those cruel rules were added into constitutions (Buckle, 2020). Some of them are still being applied today or were kept for a very long time. In South Africa, being homosexual was illegal until 1994 (Wells & Polders, 2006). This law was abandoned only 27 years ago. In short, the colonizing countries of Africa snatched their original culture to replace it with a homophobic one that stayed for generations and made the LGBTQ a gravely oppressed group in Africa.
Secondly, political choices, homophobic presidents, anti-gay laws, and many more politically related subjects are the reason the LGBTQ community is still struggling. African governments make it their goal to dehumanize this community. As Paulo Freire said, dehumanizing someone means oppressing them and it is easy to oppress someone when you have more power (1968). As previously stated in this text, Obama, the 44th president of the United States, visited Kenya to defend LGBTQ rights (Alimi, 2015). Unfortunately, the response from the president of Kenya, Kenyetta was disappointing: “there are some things that we must admit we don’t share [with the US]. Our culture, our societies don’t accept.” (Alimi, 2015, paras.2), he said. Then, they proceeded to turn a blind eye to the persecution of the LGBTQ community. However, the situation is even worse in Uganda. LGBTQ people face major discrimination (Mhaka, 2021). There was even a passing of an anti-gay bill in 2014 by president Yoweri Museveni (Alimi, 2015). That bill declared that any member of the LGBTQ group could be sentenced to life in prison for any public display of sexual affection towards the same sex, similar laws also exist in Tanzania and Zambia (Hussain, 2020). Unfortunately, life imprisonment is not the worse punishment gay people face. In countries like Mauritania, some states of Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan, the death sentence is the maximum penalty for being gay. This is clearly an extreme punishment for people who simply want to be themselves freely, which does not hurt anyone (Hussain, 2020). In brief, the political area in African countries has been particularly horrible to the LGBTQ community, punishing them in an extreme, and others would say exaggerated way. They dehumanize those people because, in their eyes, which are the eyes of the oppressor, the LGBTQ community does not deserve to have the same basic human rights of freedom as others.
Thirdly, the most common reason for homophobia is religion. Multiple African church members view homosexuals as people who pollute their planet with their lifestyles and do not claim them as being part of their community (Bongmba, 2016). This kind of mentality is unethical but, sadly, real. Some religious leaders even declared that diseases such as Ebola were a punishment sent by God for sins like homosexuality (Bongmba, 2016). Those leaders indoctrinate their followers with these poisonous, ignorant ideologies and one reason why people believe these ideologies may be a lack of critical thinking. To have critical skills, critical pedagogy must be learned. Critical pedagogy is the teaching of questioning the authority by students so that they can better fight the power imbalance which causes the oppression of groups (Giroux, 2013) such as the LGBTQ. Since religion takes up a lot of space in African education, they are obviously not going to teach their students how to question and stand up against the church’s power. Furthermore, the church is not only intertwined with education but also with the healthcare system (Hellweg, 2015). In 2010, there were rumors of a gay wedding in Kenya. Five men were arrested at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), where they treat patients with HIV and AIDS. Two of them got beaten up by a mob after this rumor got spread. Even the religious authorities were accomplices of this act of violence (Hellweg, 2015). In fact, HIV treatments are hardly accessible to homosexuals, especially HIV-positive men because it implies that they had participated in same-sex sexual activity (Mhaka, 2021). When an HIV epidemic hit Kenya, a law criminalizing same-gender sex was adopted because it was considered an effective method to slow down the epidemy (Hussain, 2020). Naturally, the church was behind this law which suggested that sexual relations with the same gender are un-Christian (Hellweg, 2015). Sadly, with people following these homophobic religious leaders, the LGBTQ is still and will continue to be persecuted by religion.
In summary, the western world influenced African culture to become homophobic (Buckle, 2020) which led to the installation of a homophobic government for many African countries (Mhaka, 2021). Since a new religion that wasn’t accepting of LGBTQ had taken over the continent, homophobia, in turn, took over (Bongmba,2016). Making Africa, for the most part, homophobic. Even if it is not every country, the majority have anti-gay laws and homosexual persecution still in place to this day. Other countries around the world such as the United States (Alimi, 2015) have tried to militate against this oppression in Africa but have not been very successful. The reason for this failure is that it is not up to strangers to lead this fight. As Paulo Freire said, both the oppressed and the oppressor need liberation, however that liberation can only be achieved by the oppressed (1968). So, it is up to the local African LGBTQ community to take a stand against the oppressors and pave the way to a homophobic free African society to show them that gay is not “un-African” (McKaiser, 2012).
Alimi, B. (2015). If you say being gay is not African, you don’t know your history. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/09/being-gay-african-history-homosexuality-christianity
Bongmba, E. K. (2016). HOMOSEXUALITY, UBUNTU, AND OTHERNESS IN THE AFRICAN CHURCH. Retrieved from https://dc153.dawsoncollege.qc.ca:2182/stable/pdf/26671485.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Addd02dc1b1851a029e75b2ca9ca8cbb9
Buckle, L. (2020). African Sexuality and the Legacy of Imported Homophobia. Retrieved from https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/african-sexuality-and-legacy-imported-homophobia
Freire, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Global Education Magazine. (2013). A Critical Interview with Henry Giroux. Retrieved from http://www.globaleducationmagazine.com/critical-interview-henry-giroux/
Hellweg, J. (2015). Same-Gender Desire, Religion, and Homophobia: Challenges, Complexities, and Progress for LGBTIQ Liberation in Africa. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 83(4), 887–896.
Hussain, N. Z. (2020). Legal hurdles faced by LGBT+ people in Africa. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nigeria-lgbt-lawmaking-idUSKBN27C2XQ
McKaiser, E. (2012). Homosexuality un-African? The claim is an historical embarrassment. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/02/homosexuality-unafrican-claim-historical-embarrassment
Mhaka, T. (2021). Africa’s LGBTQ communities need more protection and support. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/4/30/africas-lgbtq-communities-need-more-protection-and-support
Wells, H., & Polders, L. (2006). Anti-Gay Hate Crimes in South Africa: Prevalence, Reporting Practices, and Experiences of the Police.