“We’ve got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve.”

-Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 1st Female President of Africa, Liberia,  2012

Homosexuality is currently illegal in 76 countries around the world. A majority of those countries, 34 to be exact, are in Africa.

How is it that in 2016 we are faced with institutionalized xenophobia of all shapes and kinds, yet it doesn’t seem the international community weighs them as equally egregious?

Jamaica, for instance, was one of the first countries to propose a sanction against apartheid South Africa yet has infamously remained unconcerned about the issues of their marginalized LGBT community.

Why are we so concerned with whom and how people choose to love?

The elephant in the room when one talks about LGBT rights and those that are vehemently or even peripherally opposed is: Why do we care so much? I’ve been privy to discourse that speaks of traditional values and a breaking of certain moral and ethical codes, as if love is something that can exist within a pre-defined box of rules and regulations. There are some that cite the machismo culture that exists in many societies and note that there is of course a double standard where lesbians are seen as more acceptable than gay men. The definition of manhood to which these societies ascribe seems both outdated grossly misogynistic.

Homophobia itself, I’d argue, may fall within the realm of a mental health prescriptive. Indifference at best and hate, at worst, of an entire marginalized population of fellow humans is not becoming of a civil society. To have such strong sentiments based upon an odd obsession with whom and how someone chooses to love is something many in my generation and across the diaspora struggle to understand.

I’d say it’s even more disturbing in societies where women continue to wrestle for respect as human beings, against domestic violence, abuse, and other injustices that lawmakers have taken the time to legislate against someone’s sexual preferences. No one cares, that men are taking many wives and often times justifying their greed in the name of religion and financial security. Yet, we know and have heard of several instances where women are still fighting for basic human rights in these same countries; lest we also talk about polygamy?


LGBT rights to equal healthcare access

“Veil of Silence, a film produced by Nigerian transgender director Habeeb (Noni) Lawal, was the first time I heard the voice of the LGBT community in an African nation. The documentary style film, released in 2014,  not only gave a voice to the often invisible (for fear of persecution), but it highlighted the plethora of healthcare access challenges the LGBT community faces in Nigeria.   Amongst the basic human rights that are denied: the right to life, education, and employment, etc; many  in the LGBT community are being denied the right to healthcare. Amidst an effort against HIV/AIDS, it is essentially a public health emergency when men in Africa’s most populous country feel intimidated to seek care  for fear of being discriminated against or worse, imprisoned.

Often the argument is that amongst all the other social ills these countries are faced with lawmakers find it difficult to support something as contentious as decriminalizing and protecting the rights of the LGBT.  The difference however is that those social ills and services that aren’t far reaching in the general population aren’t deliberately being withheld because of a judgement against sexual preference.  I’m not sure if it is a question of resource distribution or just plain old bigotry.

Many can empathize with the need for focused and specialized healthcare needs for women, children, and minority populations.  Often it seems as if those in sexual minority groups however are overlooked. The LGBT are people too. We should work as a society to not be myopic when we define global health security and global human rights.


10 Facts Related to the LGBT Community in Africa

  • LGBT communities in places such as Cameroon are subject to forced anal exams.
  • Uganda went as far as considering the death penalty for it’s LGBT community; in 2014 President Museveni signed this bill, see section 145: into law  that not only threatens life imprisonment but also criminalizes allies of the LGBT as well. In August of that same year, courts found the bill was invalid because it was signed into law without a quorum.  Fastforward to 2016 and there’s been a spike in arbitrary arrests and harassment of the LGBT community as a result.
  • Elton John has pledged this summer $10 million to support LGBT rights in Africa. He’s quoted here, with hopeful and telling words,

“In the 60s in England you were prosecuted for being homosexual. Most people who could afford it went to north Africa to have sex or were arrested in public toilets. Now I can be married to my partner. Things can change.”

  • In Tanzania, you can get anywhere from 10 years to life for the offense of loving someone of the same-sex.
  • Despite America’s close ties with Liberia(sodomy is still illegal in a handful of US states) , Liberians remain staunch supporters of their own anti gay bill, see article 14.74, with calls to strengthen it’s enforcement. In fact LGBT there are asking Americans to stop making their lives worse by talking about their rights.

“We don’t think Barack Obama will be doing Africa good if he should be imposing immoral behavior on the people of Liberia,” said Elijah Greene, who works as a driver in Monrovia.

Dekontee Sharty, who sells vegetables on the street, said America is “our big brother. We felt very bad, because we expect them to bring good things to Liberia, not to encourage wickedness.”

  • Apparently homosexuality isn’t as un-African or Western as people say it is. You know what is though? I’ll leave that thought for another article.
  • There is hope after all for 3 out of the 56 countries in Africa

References/ Additional Reading

Freda Koomson
Freda Koomson is a Healthcare Management Professional of Liberian & Ghanaian descent, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She enjoys writing, West African dance, food, cooking, travel, learning new languages, and engaging in civic activism.
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