Quiet Victories Behind Sensational Headlines About Homophobia
¨Another side of this story, however, does not get as much attention. This is the story of the emergence of a vibrant lgbti (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) network across the continent, of creative and courageous challenges to homophobia, of sensitive and insightful new research into “sexual secrets,” and of political and religious leaders who are resisting the demagogic tide. How many people are aware that six African nations endorsed the recent UN General Assembly resolution to include sexual orientation in the universal declaration of human rights?...
Four factors make me guardedly optimistic about this.
First, notwithstanding the “homosexuality is unAfrican” rhetoric one so often hears, African cultures traditionally recognized and in some cases honoured a wide array of alternative expressions of sexuality and marital arrangements, including female-female marriage, transgender spirit possession, and warrior/”servant” relationships. Knowledge of these traditions, and of new forms of sexual relationships that emerged in industrial centres, prisons, boarding schools, and criminal gangs in the early 20th century, may be attenuated and/or somewhat embarrassing. Most Africans, however, in my view, know in their hearts that the “unAfrican” claim is false and hypocritical.
Second, again from my personal observation, Africans tend to have a very strong sense of pragmatism. Behind the idioms of culture and religion, most people want to keep families together and, indeed, even many of the self-identified gays I have met in Africa want to have their own families for emotional and practical reasons. Most Deputy Ministers of Health, Education, Defence, Prisons and Police, meanwhile, do not want their constituents to die from easily preventable diseases or their officials and the courts to be bogged down with cases of consensual relationships and petty extortion. When the empirical facts are quietly explained, using euphemistic language if appropriate to avoid attracting political attention, families, health officials, police, and concerned bureaucrats tend to respond in pragmatic ways. The key is to get the facts explained.
That is my third point. From the onset of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, it was assumed that male-male transmission of the disease was not a significant factor. “African AIDS” meant heterosexual intercourse and mother-to-child transmission, with some isolated cases of needle stick injuries and intravenous drug use. From the mid-1990s, however, research (and memoirs and fiction) began to cast some doubt on this characterization. Evidence of unsafe male-male sex in prison, among street kids, and among networks of “hidden” bisexuals have now accumulated to the point – 25 years after the first case of HIV among black Africans were reported – that The Lancet finally conceded it may have been mistaken to overlook male-male sexuality (and homophobia) as contributing to the spread of the disease. Large scale studies in places like Nigeria and Kenya have by now established that male-male transmission may be responsible for as much as 15% of all cases of HIV. Males who have sex with males but do not identify as homosexual clearly pose a public health risk.
As this information percolates from academic studies to the mass media, the danger is that lgbti will be further stigmatized in the public eye. My final cause for optimism, however, is the courage and articulateness of so many sexual rights activists in Africa. In the last few years I have had the privilege of participating in a number of workshops where this was on display, including a November 2010 event in Cape Town that brought over 100 delegates from around Africa together to debate political strategies (http://www.boell.org.za/web/112-593.html). One can also see the network and the self-confidence grow on the pan-African sexual rights website, Behind the Mask (www.mask.org.za). The movement is forging closer ties to feminist and other non-gay civil society groups than was conceivable a decade ago, getting the message out that lgbti are equally deserving of human rights, health and dignity as any other citizens.¨ HERE
* Marc Epprecht (Queens University) Marc Epprecht is a Professor in the Department of Global Development Studies at Queen's University, Kingston, where he teaches a graduate course on methodology, epistemology and ethics, and undergraduate courses on HIV/AIDS, Africa, and global food systems. He has published extensively on the history of gender and sexuality in Africa including Hungochani: The history of a dissident sexuality in southern Africa (2004 - winner of the 2006 Joel Gregory Prize from the Canadian Association of African Studies) and Heterosexual Africa?: The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS (Ohio University Press, 2008 - finalist for the 2009 Mel Herskovits prize from the African Studies Association). He recently received the Desmond Tutu Award for "Outstanding Contributions to the Study of Sexuality in Africa" from the International Resource Network-Africa, an arm of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York.
· Thanks to African Activist, sidebar
· Thanks to Marc Epprecht
· Thanks to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Anglican Hero
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