All eyes were on Uganda in 2009, when the Parliament tried to pass a bill making homosexuality punishable by death in certain cases. Since then, however, it has become increasingly evident that discrimination against LGBTQ people in Africa is far more widespread than an isolated legislative battle.
This week, Amnesty International released a new report, Making Love a Crime: Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa, which details the human rights violations against LGBTI (the report’s chosen term) individuals and how these abuses breach international and regional law.
Though many opponents of LGBTQ rights argue that homosexuality is “un-African,” same-sex conduct and relationships are not a western import. On the other hand, the Amnesty report and PRA’s own research have shown how colonial administrations often enacted laws barring same-sex conduct—laws that remained even after their departure. While some countries have made positive developments in reforming their legal system to be more inclusive and accepting, many others have sought to criminalize same-sex conduct further or increase already harsh punishments.
The challenges and discriminatory treatment faced by LGBTQ people stem from laws that criminalize same-sex conduct as well the manner in which such laws (and other legislation) are enforced. Individuals may face arbitrary arrest or detainment, police abuse, and restrictions on their freedom of speech or assembly because of their actual or perceived sexuality or gender identity. Other citizens, local religious leaders, and media staff are often responsible for human rights violations—as are U.S. religious conservatives active abroad.
Drawing heavily on Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia, a 2009 PRA report written by religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, Amnesty describes how Western actors exploit African churches to advance their own anti-LGBTQ agendas. Such activities include advocating directly against homosexuality, spreading harmful myths, and financially supporting and cultivating anti-LGBTQ leaders in Africa. The U.S government also has a history of interference, such as when the Bush administration gave funds to homophobic pastor Martin Ssempa as part of a program to combat HIV/AIDS.
The discrimination against LGBTQ individuals has had particularly devastating consequences in regards to sexual health and HIV treatment and prevention. The stigma of being an LGBTQ individual with HIV, compounded by the homophobia fostered by anti-homosexuality legislation, makes these individuals less likely to seek treatment and limits their access to healthcare more generally. U.S.-backed abstinence programs and the lack of availability of condoms in prisons have further contributed to the spread of the virus among LGBTQ people.
Amnesty International’s recommendations focus on the right to non-discrimination, a foundation of all major human rights treaties, calling on African states and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to decriminalize same-sex conduct and protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination and abuse. PRA’s reports, Globalizing the Culture Wars and Colonizing African Values, provide additional recommendations for how people in the United States can confront the damage wrought by the U.S. Christian Right abroad.