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African gays speak out on "state-backed" homophobia
May 8, 2007 / 12:25 PM / 10 years ago

African gays speak out on "state-backed" homophobia

(updates with fresh quotes)

By Gershwin Wanneburg

JOHANNESBURG, May 8 (Reuters) - Gay activists are protesting against what they describe as "state-sponsored" homophobia in Africa, saying authorities tacitly condone their persecution across the continent.

The International Gay and Lesbian Association’s (ILGA) first pan-African conference in Johannesburg, which ends on Tuesday, drew about 60 activists who say they have seen first-hand the consequences of laws that breed homophobia.

In some cases, possible sentences against gays include death by stoning.

Thirty-eight of 85 U.N. members who outlaw homosexuality are in Africa, according to an April 2007 ILGA report entitled "State Homophobia in Africa", which accused many African governments of "institutionally promoting a culture of hatred" against gay and lesbian people.

"Although many of the countries ... do not systematically implement those laws, their mere existence reinforces a culture where a significant portion of the citizens need to hide from the rest of the population in fear," the report said.

"A culture where hatred and violence are somehow justified by the state and force people into invisibility or into denying who they truly are."

South Africa stands alone in Africa in its liberal attitude, last year becoming the first African nation to allow gay marriages.

Rowland Jide Macaulay, a gay cleric, breaking with African tradition that regards homosexuality as a taboo, launched a gay-friendly church in his native Nigeria last year to counter negative messages from officials and church leaders in a country where laws render homosexuality punishable by stoning to death.

"We’re talking with people who cannot even integrate in the society. They’ve lost their jobs because they found out that they’re gay at work, they’ve lost the roof over their head because their landlord found out they are gay," he said.

"There are people who suffer homophobic attacks ... verbal abuse and I think people need assurance they’re not mentally ill."

Laws proposed last year will make life harder for gays in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, he said. The Same Sex Prohibition Bill bans homosexual unions and allows for the prosecution of anyone "aiding and abetting" gays and lesbians.

"In the southern part of federal Nigeria the punishment is seven-14 years. In the sharia (Islamic law) states in the north it’s actually death by stoning," Macaulay said.

A West African activist, who did not want to be named, said discrimination towards gay men in his region was deep-seated, especially in the justice system.

"We’ve been fighting to have access to justice in a fair way because many times you are judged arbitrarily because when you are homosexual your rights are not recognised," he said.

"You are wrong even before you start to talk."



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