No Hope For Gays In Africa

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If I’m gay in Nigeria and want to go to a gay night club, join a gay organization, or (God forbid) just meet another gay man or woman, I’m now “liable [for] conviction to a term of 10 years” in jail.

Um, why?

Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a highly discriminatory bill into law in January called the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. The law bans same-sex marriage, gay societies, and any homosexual associations. If convicted of entering into anything close to a civil union, gays may be dealt a 14-year prison sentence.

Think that’s bad?

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill into law that hands down a sentence of lifelong imprisonment for certain acts of what it calls “aggravated homosexuality” – and that was the toned-down version of the bill. The original bill, first introduced in 2009, proposed the death penalty for engaging in some homosexual acts and required anyone who knew a homosexual to report that person to the authorities.

The President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, has even gone so far as to say that gays are “vermin” and should be decapitated. He later retracted his statement but only after facing intense international criticism.

In fact, it appears the only reason the most extreme legislation did not eventually become law is because of intense international pressure and condemnation from human rights advocacy groups, the European Union, and the United States. And while in Uganda and Gambia the death penalty will not legally be imposed on its gay citizens for the crime of being gay, in areas of northern Nigeria where Islamic Shariah law is still enforced, gays can legally be put to death by stoning, assuming they have not already been killed by other means.

To most Americans, this all sounds shocking, but in Africa it is commonplace. In fact, these types of anti-gay bills are widely popular in many sub-Saharan countries. While the horrific actions legalized by these countries are considered to be hate crimes in many parts of the world, most Africans polled on the issue of homosexuality consider it to be sinful and to warrant the need for rehabilitation. Many Africans even condone violence against gays to cleanse society of the influence of homosexuality.

Nigeria may be the least tolerant nation in the world when it comes to gays. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, a stunning 98 percent of Nigerians believe society should not accept homosexuality. Moreover, there is belief amongst some Ugandans that the LGBT community is trying to recruit young boys into practicing homosexuality. This belief has bred even more animosity and hatred towards gays in Africa.

Although religious beliefs play a huge role in hatred towards gays, there are also political undertones to these bills, especially in Uganda.

Uganda is an extremely socially conservative state and its Prime Minister Museveni – a devout Christian who has been in power for upwards of 28 years – is up for election in 2016. He may truly believe that homosexuals should be cleansed and discriminated against, but he is also obviously pandering to his base. Keep in mind that there are strong beliefs held by many Ugandans that their recently passed anti-gay law represents a positive step not just towards promoting religion, but towards preserving African culture as well.

Up to now, I’ve placed all the blame on these African governments being intolerant and acting completely independently, which is what they want you to believe – but there is more to the story.

In 2009, three American evangelical Christians, named Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brindidge and Don Schmierer, stoked the fire that heated up the debate about homosexuals’ role in Ugandan society. These evangelicals spoke at a conference in Uganda where, posing as experts on homosexuality, they touted the benefits of conversion therapy and espoused the dangers of homosexuality, including sodomization of teenage boys and sexual promiscuity.

Soon after that, an obscure Ugandan politician and self-proclaimed evangelical introduced the Anti-Homosexual Bill of 2009 that nearly resulted in the legalized murder of gays in Uganda.

So what did world leaders think of this development? Well, overall they reacted with righteous anger to the law.

Many western countries, such as the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark, withdrew millions of dollars in aid, and the World Bank postponed loans north of $90 million dollars to the Ugandan government that were aimed at bolstering health services.

That will seriously hurt Uganda’s pocket books, since 20 percent of Uganda’s economy is heavily reliant on the receipt of foreign aid.

President Obama said on Feb. 16 that he was “deeply disappointed” by the move, and warned that the law could “complicate” our relationship with Uganda. The EU even ruled that there are grounds for political asylum for gays in countries with these discriminatory laws, and Scotland is ready to offer sanctuary as well.

But Ugandan society doesn’t yet understand the true concept of tolerance and inclusion, or else it just refuses to.

“Our doors are open for those facing sexual disorientation to be counseled, healed and prayed for. The church is a safe place for those who are confused about their sexuality or struggling with sexual brokenness. We shall provide help to them,” said Archbishop Ntagali.

Oh, how altruistic.

 

About Eric Bates

Eric received his B.S. in political science with an emphasis in international relations from Santa Clara University in 2012. Upon graduating, he traveled and worked for a non-profit in Central America. He is a religious viewer of Conan O’Brien and also loves traveling. Eric is attending San Jose State University's graduate school program to receive a M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications. He can be reached at ebates0@gmail.com.
Posted in: Civil Rights, International, Law, Religion, Society