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Homosexuality in Africa: Is Being Gay an African Thing?


 


These are some key terms that will become relevant as you read through the page.


Homosexuality in African Culture

Homosexuality has been ingrained in African culture for centuries throughout the entire continent. Because of Africa’s colonial history, many regions where homosexuality was accepted, embraced and even worshiped, had their culture and traditions abolished abruptly. Consequently, these cultures were stripped of any trait related to homosexuality. Conversely, not all traces of existent homosexuality in African culture were lost.

Below are some of the many cases of African cultures that were accepting of homosexuality.

European colonialism completely shifted the doctrines behind many African traditions. More specifically African, philosophy, religious rituals, and standards of community living, were altered to fit Christian models and conducts from European countries. An example of this was the Inzima tribe in Ghana who accommodated the tradition of marriage between men who had a 10 years age difference. There was a symbol of love and mentorship that motivated this particular element of their culture that was later terminated as Christian missionaries completely brainwashed and forced a new order upon such traditions. Like everywhere in the world, Africans showed multiple facets of their sexuality and gender identities that were unfortunately altered mostly by colonial influences.


Effects of Homophobic Models in 21st Century Africa

Religion (Mainly Christianity and Islam) – European expansion in the 15th century was carried out basing on two main principles. The need to discover and acquire resources suitable for the economic, political and social power of European nations and, the proliferation of European way of life, culture and societal models that included propagation of the Christian church. It is evidently described in the bible and Quran, disapproval against committing “homosexual acts”. It was through such standards that many religious and social African systems were indoctrinated to become homophobic. In similarity to Islam, these two religious forces and their advocators completely shifted how homosexuality is perceived in the African context which led to great societal disregard for this identity.

Hegemonic Masculinity – There is a recurrent tendency for associating homosexuality with femininity and therefore, less relation to masculinity (“Being a man”). Men’s masculinity is automatically undermined when they are identified as homosexuals. Being a male homosexual is connected to certain traits which when apparent, affect the male’s ability to attain the societal standard of masculinity. Because being feminine is perceived as being weak, fragile and incapable, which is tremendously misogynistic, homosexuality in males is completely looked down upon as they emulate the weak, feminine character of society. In the case of female homosexuals, the opposite occurs. They are undermined for their assumed incapability to be feminine as by liking other females they assume the role of a man (masculine figure). Such may not only be influenced by religion but also, existing societal norms that cultivate these ideas. 

Reproductive Incompatibility – Mainly influenced by religious beliefs, men and women’s ability to provide offspring is highly valued in many African societies. Also, for social-economic reasons, individuals tend to generate many offspring as a way of maximizing economic welfare which is very common in rural areas. When putting into perspective, 70% of Africans depend on Agriculture for livelihood according to the World Economic Forum 2016. Biologically speaking, people from the same sex are not able to provide offspring through natural processes. In these circumstances, the occurrence of same-sex couples would affect the generation of new offspring which for the reasons above are essential to the stability and progress of these societies. Such concept can be quite absurd when considering that statistically, there is less occurrence of homosexuality in human beings than there is heterosexuality. 

Ignorance – The ultimate factor for the repressive way through which most Africans look at homosexuality is due to ignorance. Such becomes a limiting factor when considering that, many Africans do not understand or, are not fully aware of the political and historical impact of forces like colonialism, that have influenced and shaped their opinions upon the identity of homosexuality. As much as religion can be used as a justification for homophobic attitudes, neither Islam or Christianity were original to the African continent. Africans previously practiced their own traditional religions wich many embraced homosexuality. The fact that they are ignorant of their own history and the impact of these influences in their societies, deprives them of being able to look at homosexuality as an integral component of their societies. A link to the idea behind “Intersectionality“, can be made as many of these social factors are interconnected to justify the current homophobic trend observable in most African countries. 

The video below highlights how homosexuality is perceived in the countries of some of my peers and also their personal take on the theme.

Most of my peers had an accepting approach and view when talking about homosexuality. Some were more aware than others of why it is important to accommodate such identities in our communities. Conversely, that is not to say that everyone at my school shared an empathetic and accepting attitude of homosexuality. Some peers expressed disapproval and even hate for homosexuality but choose to not be featured in the video. For me, it was quite ironic how the idea of “being accepting of all opinions as a symbol of diversity” followed most of the reproval comments. I am sure all of them would find absurd to accommodate in our community racist and misogynistic perspectives in the name of “diversity“.


Case Study: Anti-Homosexual Act in Uganda

On the 24th of February, 2014, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed and approved the Uganda Homosexuality Act whereby being a homosexual or committing homosexual acts would be condemned by the law. Homosexuals were subjected to life imprisonment and even death sentence in cases of “aggravated” homosexuality. Museveni claimed homosexuality was an offense to the family values of the Ugandan people and a threat to the exemplary social structure of the country. Even though the laws were repealed with the help of the international community, they still affect the rights of the LGBT in Uganda. They are exposed to constant harassment, discrimination, and physical aggression. According to Sexual Minorities Uganda, the number of registered homophobic attacks in Uganda increased up to 1,900% since the bill was implemented. Homophobic attacks are a recurrent practice that has left the LGBT community living in fear. All Ugandans should be deserving of the same level of protection and peace. Legislation should account for the well being of every single citizen including the LGBT so that no one lives under injustices.

 


Strive For Change: Gay Rights

     
          
Below you will find an interview with Ms. Kyla Mills who is the head of the Wellness department at my school (African Leadership Academy). She completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Literature at the University of Witwatersrand and did her master’s degree in Human development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 
       


Take Aways

  • Homosexuality has been historically attached to multiple African cultures, religious groups, and traditions.

 

  • The contemporary perception of homosexuality in the African continent has been highly influenced by the colonial models brought to the continent during the great expansion.

 

  • Factors such as religion and social standards of masculinity were determinant to install a homophobic attitude in the people of Africa.

 

  • Being homosexual in the African context is no easy situation. Many homosexuals are verbally and physically attacked by their own communities while their rights are completely undermined by the law.

 

  • The homosexual act approved in Uganda caused great unsettlement and rage against assumed homosexuals who could only migrate to neighboring countries so that they would not have to face social raid. 

 

  • This figure as shown over the years to gradually change to a more inclusive and accepting environment.

 

  • Countries like South Africa have completely changed their political sphere to accommodate homosexuality as an integral part of their nation.

 

  • Many Activist groups and organizations begin to rise in the African continent for the common cause of fighting for the human rights of the LGBT people living on the African continent.

Mapping Severity of Laws in The World

In the map below click the + button (upper-right hand corner). Pin according to color the gravity of laws upon homosexuals in your country: (red) punishable by death, (yellow) imprisonment, (green) legal or unrecognized by the law. Pin where your country stands.

Final Survey


Work Cited

Amory, Deborah P. ““Homosexuality” in Africa: issues and debates.” Issue 25.01 (1997): 5-10.

Dlamini, Busangokwakhe. “Homosexuality in the African context.” Agenda 20.67 (2006): 128-136.

Boyd, Lydia. “The problem with freedom: Homosexuality and human rights in Uganda.” Anthropological Quarterly 86.3 (2013): 697-724.

Epprecht, Marc. “The ‘unsaying’of indigenous homosexualities in Zimbabwe: Mapping a blind spot in an African masculinity.” Journal of Southern African Studies 24.4 (1998): 631-651.

Alimi, Bisi. “If You Say Being Gay Is Not African, You Don’t Know Your History | Bisi Alimi.”The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 09 Sept. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/09/being-gay-african-history-homosexuality-christianity>.

http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/history-lgbt-legislation/ 

http://cypheravenue.com/homosexual-history-in-africa-zande-warriors/

http://blog.swaliafrica.com/the-homosexual-nature-of-africas-past/

http://www.care2.com/causes/the-myth-of-african-homosexuality.html

 

 

 

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COMMENTS: 3
  1. April 28, 2017 by Jonah C

    Thank you for the insightful information. Many people are wrongly under the impression that all of Africa is homophobic, and are unaware of the vibrant cultures in which homosexuality is a celebrated norm.

  2. April 28, 2017 by Kevin S

    Is homosexuality illegal in most countries in Africa? Are there certain countries where homosexuality is illegal but the law is not strictly enforced?

  3. April 30, 2017 by Aparajita Kashyap

    This is such an interesting project; I did not realize that Africa had such a prominent homosexual culture. I don’t think that this is uncommon (for example, homosexuality was a celebrated part of Ancient Greek culture, but after the spread of Christianity, that stopped being the case. As far as you have observed, is there a large disconnect between the public view of LGBT people and the law (in Africa)?

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