Why Africa’s Turning Anti-Gay
Western activism is causing more harm than good to a continent making LGBT people into scapegoats for colonialism.
As an LGBT activist, I was always happy to see my picture in the paper. It showed that I was doing my job, getting attention for the cause I believed in—and, of course, getting some attention myself.
But after a story about George Freeman, director of the Sierra Leone LGBT organization Pride Equality, was published in a local newspaper last year—with photos accompanying it—he was dragged from his car and beaten by two men on motorcycles.
Freeman never consented to the story; the newspaper culled its content from an MTV interview. His assailants were never caught.
There are many stories like Freeman’s, of course, and the situation is steadily getting worse, even as LGBTs have made remarkable progress here—or perhaps because of it. In fact, the rising tide of anti-gay sentiment in sub-Saharan Africa, as elsewhere, is an ironic brew of anti-Westernism and Western influence. And well-meaning American activists may be making it worse.
Homosexual acts are illegal in 78 countries. Of these, 21 are small island nations, 20 are in the Islamic world, and 33 are in sub-Saharan Africa. In all three categories, almost all anti-gay laws are a vestige of European colonialism, and date back approximately 150 years. In several countries, the prohibition against “sodomy” is still known as Section 377, the old British code provision.
Ironically, anti-gay leaders—politicians, clergy, journalists—in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone have all, within the last month, called gay rights, and homosexuality itself, a “Western” innovation that must be resisted in order to preserve “traditional African values.”
Last month, for example, Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Koroma, said that “we have to take into consideration our culture, tradition, religious beliefs and all that… I think the country should be led by what it believes is right for the country and not what is necessarily right for the international community because of the variations in our traditions.’’
In fact, pre-colonial African traditions varied widely. Over 20 cultural varieties of indigenous African same-sex intimacy have been recorded by anthropologists. There are Bushmen paintings of men having sex with one another. There are countless examples of cross-dressing and cross-gender behavior. There are instances of female warriors marrying other female warriors, such as in the kingdom of Dahomey, in present-day Benin—unsurprisingly, the Europeans called them ‘Amazons.’ There are even cases of male homosexuality being seen as possessing magical properties, such as the transmission of wealth from one person to another. Read More