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African voices celebrate LGBT equality

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has spoken out against the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act in Nigeria.
Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has spoken out against the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act in Nigeria.

Julia Reinhart/Demotix

Africans who in recent years have stood up for human rights and spoken out against homophobia deserve greater recognition, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program is marking the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17, 2014, with a compilation of affirmative statements from prominent African politicians, academics, authors, religious leaders, and activists.

“Amid homophobic rhetoric, voices of moderation, understanding, and empathy are not being heard,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “This year we are commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia by amplifying some of these affirming voices from Africa.”

The annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) celebration began in 2004 to mark the 1990 decision by the World Health Organization to remove homosexuality from its rosters of disorders.

Since IDAHOT 2013, Nigeria and Uganda have introduced harsh and sweeping anti-LGBT legislation.

The acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie rebutted the claim that homosexuality is “un-African.” Commenting on the passage of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act in Nigeria in January 2014, she said: “If anything, it is the passage of the law itself that is 'un-African.' It goes against the values of tolerance and 'live and let live' that are part of many African cultures.”

Speaking about Africa's LGBT community, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said: “People may come and say this is un-African, and I'm saying love cuts across culture.” Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, responded succinctly to the Ugandan legislation that was pending at the time: “What two consenting adults do is really not a matter for the law.”

"People may come and say this is un-African, and I’m saying love cuts across culture." -Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town

Sue Kramer/Demotix

The international economist, Dambisa Moyo, points to the use of said homophobia as a tactic to distract attention from other pressing social issues: “At a time of precarious economic growth, stubborn [youth] unemployment, war, disease, poverty, and rampant corruption, is anti-LGBT legislation what we choose to spend our precious time on?”

The former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, pointed to the social cost of homophobia: “We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.”

The Ghanaian gender minister, Nana Oye Lithur, said: “You cannot, on the basis of someone's sexual orientation, say the person has not got human rights.”

“The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia is a good day to recognize the many voices in Africa who stand against bigotry and speak out in favor of human rights for all,” Reid said.

Full Compilation of Quotes

Hon. Jeff Radebe, minister of justice and constitutional development, South Africa, May 2014:

"No one has the right to assault you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Everyone is equal before the law, and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law."

James Tengatenga, former Anglican Bishop of Southern Malawi, March 2014:

The common energy [for politicians] is the gay people. Nobody cares for the LGBT. They are considered weak and a small minority.

You flex your muscle by fighting equals. That's the Jesus story.… Why is the attention there? Why trample on the weak? But when you run out of ideas, you have to find a common enemy.

As a result, desperate despots demonize LGBT people. They call gays “dogs” and “criminals.” They dehumanize the gays. They know they can say such horrible things with impunity.

They brainwash the population. “He's a dog … he's a criminal.” So who controls the language? … We are talking about human beings after all.


Dambisa Moyo, international economist, March 2014:

At a time of precarious economic growth, stubborn [youth] unemployment, war, disease, poverty, and rampant corruption, is anti-LGBT legislation what we choose to spend our precious time on?

In addition to being morally repugnant, whatever gains to be had are certainly short term, as the oppression of any and all groups – whether based on age, race, gender, sexuality - is not only not economically viable, it is inimical to development.

"At a time of precarious economic growth, stubborn [youth] unemployment, war, disease, poverty, and rampant corruption, is anti-LGBT legislation what we choose to spend our precious time on?" -Dambisa Moyo, international economist

Dambisa Moyo/Twitter

Reine Alapini-Gansou, special rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa, African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), March 2014:

Such a law [the Anti-Homosexuality Act of Uganda] is likely to endanger the life and safety of persons alleged to belong to sexual minorities, as well as human rights defenders working on this issue, since it undermines their activities and freedom of expression, association and assembly, all of which are rights guaranteed by the Ugandan Constitution, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, in particular Articles 2, 9, 10 and 11.

The special rapporteur is deeply concerned by the cases of intimidation and threats against some persons considered as Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered (LGBT) following the promulgation of the law. She further notes that some newspapers are already publishing the names and photographs of individuals considered as homosexuals, a situation which further increases the feeling of insecurity among the persons concerned.


Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, former vice-president of Uganda, March 2014:

I am in full solidarity with the LGBT community and I will continue to defend their rights in Uganda and across Africa. … Rest assured of my unwavering support and action for the realization of the rights for every human being, which has been my struggle since childhood. I will not reverse my path. … I will continue to engage with the Government of Uganda and civil society organizations on this important matter.

Ambassador Mothusi Bruce Rabasha Palai, permanent representative of Botswana to the United Nations in Geneva, March 2014:

There are still those emerging issues that remain a challenge, such as sexual orientation and gender identity. We continue public consultations on these contentious areas. We, however, do not condone acts of violence against anybody.

Bernardine Evaristo, author, British-Nigerian, February 2014:

As someone with a Nigerian father I am particularly incensed by Nigeria's recent anti-gay legislation, but also the terrible increase in persecution of homosexuals across the African continent. The way in which both church and state are now inciting homophobic hatred to curry favor with their constituencies is abhorrent to me. It's just plain backward when in some parts of the world many nations are moving forward in their acceptance of homosexuality.

Jackie Kay, poet and writer, Scottish-Nigerian, February 2014:

It is dangerous for any country to legalize a witch-hunt of an already oppressed minority; it will lead to an unprecedented hysterical homophobia that will set the clock back in the fearful past. It is reminiscent of Nazi Germany. It will lead to people fleeing for safety, to informers, to pitting one African citizen against another.

The notion that it is “un-African” to be gay puts gay Africans in an impossible position. First you have to argue that you are as African as the next African, then you're flogged, sentenced to life imprisonment, ostracized and while all that's happening to you, you're stripped of your racial identity too. You're told you are not African for choosing to love who you love.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author, Nigeria, February 2014:

If anything, it is the passage of the law itself that is “un-African.” It goes against the values of tolerance and “live and let live” that are part of many African cultures. (In 1970s Igboland, Area Scatter was a popular musician, a man who dressed like a woman, wore makeup, plaited his hair. We don't know if he was gay – I think he was – but if he performed today, he could conceivably be sentenced to 14 years in prison. For being who he is.) And it is informed not by a home-grown debate but by a cynically borrowed one: we turned on CNN and heard Western countries debating “same-sex marriage” and we decided that we, too, would pass a law banning same-sex marriage. Where, in Nigeria, whose constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, has any homosexual asked for same-sex marriage?

Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town, February 2014:

We must be entirely clear about this: the history of people is littered with attempts to legislate against love or marriage across class, caste, and race. But there is no scientific basis or genetic rationale for love. There is only the grace of God. There is no scientific justification for prejudice and discrimination, ever. And nor is there any moral justification. Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, among others, attest to these facts.

"There is no scientific justification for prejudice and discrimination, ever." - Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town

REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Reine Alapini-Gansou, special rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa, ACHPR, February 2014:

The special rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa, Mrs. Reine Alapini-Gansou, has taken note of the promulgation on 13 January 2014 in Nigeria of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, and is deeply concerned about the consequences this law may have on sexual minorities who are already vulnerable as a result of social prejudice.

The Special Rapporteur is concerned by some provisions of the act, in particular Sections 4(1) and 5(2) which prohibit and provide for penalties against defenders of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. These provisions undermine the work of human rights defenders and are against any public debate on this crucial issue.


Binyavanga Wainaina, author, Kenya, January 2014:

I'm a pan-Africanist; I belong to this continent.… I am a homosexual, mum.

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, January 2014:

The victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered toward people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by Him and deserving the best we can give - pastoral care and friendship.

Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique, January 2014:

We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.

Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, October 2013

You've been given this task of helping the rest of humanity to realize that we are called to respect and we are called to honor each other.

People may come and say this is un-African, and I'm saying love cuts across culture. … When you violate somebody on the basis of difference you're not only violating them but you are demeaning yourself.


Michel Sibidé, Malian, executive director, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, May 2012:

In spite of the proud history of LGBT activism and leadership, LGBT people continue to face harassment, discrimination, violence and even murder for being who they are and who they love. It is a travesty that 78 countries still criminalize homosexuality. When governments fail to acknowledge their existence and refuse to provide them with essential HIV services, they face state-sponsored discrimination. Ironically, some of the very countries whose populations have benefited the most from bold LGBT leadership on HIV are the ones who still engage in denial, discrimination and criminalization.

Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana, July 2012:

Laws across the continent also criminalize homosexuality, yet punishing men who have sex with men forces them into secrecy. They are unable to access counseling and testing, making it almost impossible for HIV prevention and treatment interventions to reach them.

The time has come for African leaders to take action against bad laws that stifle our HIV response. We must challenge societal values rooted in fear and prejudice and implement laws based on human rights and sound public health. This starts with recognizing the rights of women and decriminalizing homosexuality and voluntary sex work, which is vital to protecting the health and dignity of these groups.


"We must challenge societal values rooted in fear and prejudice and implement laws based on human rights and sound public health." -Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana

REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

Joyce Banda, president of Malawi, May 2012:

As leaders, especially in this part of the world [Africa], which is the epicenter of the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic, we need to harness our efforts in confronting antiquated beliefs based on fear and misinformation that are codified in our laws and engraved in our cultures.

Some laws which were duly passed by the august house ... will be repealed as a matter of urgency.... [T]hese include the provisions regarding indecent practices and unnatural acts.


[President Banda later imposed a moratorium on the application of the laws and directed Parliament to debate repeal.]

Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, January 2012:

I would say to the MP [David Bahati]: sexual preferences are a private matter. I don't think it is a matter for the state to intervene. I mean what would you want? It doesn't make sense at all. That is what I would say to the MP. What two consenting adults do is really not a matter for the law.

Nana Oye Lithur, minister for gender, children, and social protection, Ghana, August 2011:

Not even the president of Ghana can deny anybody's human rights irrespective of the person's sexual orientation, ethnic group, gender and what have you. … These are guaranteed in our constitution and everybody in Ghana has an obligation to respect that constitution.

July 2012:

You cannot, on the basis of someone's sexual orientation, say the person has not got human rights.… I believe I'm living my Christian principles because if Jesus was around today, he would reach out to homosexuals, prisoners, and persons living with HIV.… I respect culture and tradition, and respect the position of Ghanaians on homosexuality; all I ask is that we accord homosexuals some respect because they are human beings.

Tharcisse Karugarama, former justice minister of Rwanda, December 2009:

The government I serve and speak for on certain issues cannot and will not in any way criminalize homosexuality; sexual orientation is a private matter and each individual has his or her own orientation –this is not a state matter at all.

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