LGBTQ+ Africans are being silenced and oppressed

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Taken from Mikael Owunna’s Photo Campaign to show that queer Africans exist and are proud.

It is known that the LGBTQ+ community in Africa faces many forms of persecution, discrimination, inhumane violations and acts of disempowerment. These decisions and acts committed primarily by homophobic, queerphobic and transphobic leaders, governments and religious groups continue to make many countries, areas and spaces oppressive and inhumane for queer bodies to live in. These continuous immoral, dehumanising acts clearly exclude queer bodies from the African identity in many countries. Despite this, there is an ongoing call for Africa to become more united and empowered and essentially be a body that strives for greatness for the people and countries on our continent. However, can this act of uniting Africa as one be truly achieved when so many queer Africans are being excluded, oppressed and discriminated against in many African countries?

A growing movement and debate among many young Africans and leaders are the pan-Africanist ideals of uniting Africa as one. The discussion has mainly entailed empowering young Africans and finding ways to become an African collective whereby ideas, economic empowerment, social empowerment and political stability would include and benefit Africans from all states and spheres of African society. Whilst this discussion was a positive one, many questions remained such as: How are we supposed to work with states that are so problematic to the extent where sexism, misogyny, homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia and xenophobia are still dominating their societies and the laws do not make them illegal either. The situation we are currently in is that the call for Africa to be united and to empower one another is a crucial one; however, we still have to deal with many social injustices that are currently taking place in African countries in order to take the next step in achieving social and economic cohesion as a united Africa.

When it comes to queerphobia, homophobia and transphobia in Africa, a lot still continues to this very day. In many African countries, the legal position is that homosexuality is illegal. 36 African countries have laws which stipulate that an individual will be imprisoned if they are caught practising, promoting or endorsing homosexuality. In some countries, the punishment can be as extreme as the death penalty. Recently, 12 human rights activists, including South Africans, were imprisoned in Tanzania for allegedly “promoting homosexuality” even though they were simply advocating against Tanzania’s plans to close HIV centres. This resulted in an outcry from various activists and Africans demanding the 12 activists to be released from prison. According to The Advocate, only 12 African countries have no laws against homosexuality, South Africa being one of them.

In addition to the legal positions regarding the LGBTQ+ community, there have also been moral, social decisions recently which also disempower queer Africans. Queer bodies already feel less empowered, confident and comfortable in most spaces since they are dominated by heterosexuals and heteronormativity. In addition to this, there is extreme pressure from family, friends, religious groups and influential individuals to be heterosexual and cisgendered. These pressures and potions in society can affect queer individuals mentally and emotionally. Thus, it was outrageous and upsetting that a decision made by Kenya’s censors to ban cartoons on DSTV that have LGBTQ+ content. This decision forced DSTV, Multichoice, to ban these shows in other African countries too. As a result, many LGBTQ+ individuals lost more access to content that they can enjoy, connect with and relate to. Although many of these cartoons and shows were Westernised ones, which is problematic as we should have African based queer content too, it was some form of content that gave LGBTQ+ individuals a space on television.

Overall, it is clear that queer Africans suffer extreme discrimination and disempowerment in many countries. The truth of the matter is that this needs to be solved in order to be able to empower many more Africans and achieve an effective, united Africa that includes all bodies, identities and groups. The best solution is for African countries, leaders and activists who support or are LGBTQ+ individuals themselves to become the allies and agents of change by engaging with problematic states and using the values of unity, equality and ubuntu to change their hateful ways of dehumanising and criminalising the LGBTQ+ community. By doing this, Africa can take a step towards becoming the prosperous, inclusive continent that its people always wanted it to be.

Luke Waltham is a BA Law Graduate. He is a BA Honours student and has been an activist for transformation, social justice and human rights. #BTSARMY

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