An opinion piece by Thabiso Molapisi – Pretoria, South Africa
I usually question people when they show a certain disgust towards someone who is part of the LGBTQI+ community. It really bothers me to think someone can be so upset and disturbed by someone’s choice of living to a point where they feel like they have a championed entitlement to correct what they don’t feel comfortable with. After all, we are scared of what we don’t know, but it is rather sad that, instead of trying to understand someone, one would rather spew hate and project violence.
Africa has finally found its voice, although it might be quite faint and more of a whisper, there is a gradual change in the manner in which Africans fight for Africa. However, with the rise of activism and cry of equality and the need to be treated like humans, there is another minority that fights with us, but then come home to fight us for the same acceptance and equality we seek from the rest of the world. The LGBTQI+ community finds it hard to call most of their native countries home. Out of 54 countries in Africa, South Africa remains the only country that allows same-sex marriage, and although it seems progressive, the enforcement of the laws that were meant to protect them have constantly failed them and lacked implementation.
The end of June marked the end of International Pride Month, which helped with the spread and awareness of the types of violence, hate, assaults and violations LGBTQI+ members go through on a daily basis. In South Africa, it also marked the beginning of change as the government signed in a new Civil Union Amendment Bill, that intends to annul section (6) of the Civil Union Act; which allowed for a marriage officer to refuse to officiate a civil union between same couples on the bases of religion and personal preference, but unfortunately, some countries weren’t so lucky.
In countries such as Sudan, Somalia, Mauritania, and Nigeria homosexuality is still taboo and is punishable by death, while in Uganda, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, one can get life imprisonment. The Gambia recently refused to revise their homosexuality laws, stating that they had no intentions of ever changing the laws. The Gambia, like Nigeria has a similar act that prohibits same-sex marriage and the adoption of children between same-sex couples. Over recent years a wave of violence and arrests have seemingly increased and focused on the LGBTQI+ community in some African countries.
Travelling to the East African region, things do not get any better. In Kenya, homosexuality can be punished by 15 years of imprisonment. What is sad, is that a lot of the LGBTQI+ members that travel from neighbouring and surrounding countries, like Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi seeking solace and refuge in Kenya have found it quite difficult. Over the last couple of years there has been a surge of violence and assaults in Kakuma Refugee camp, which is in the north-western region of Kenya. Members of the LGBTQI+ community have come out in numbers asking and seeking help from the authorities, but nothing has been done. In 2018 the UNHCR Kenya said it would investigate the accusations, but in the same light the national security spokesperson Charles Owino, said ‘’they were unaware of the violence in the refugee camp’’.
Activists have been put behind bars for years, heterosexuals who seemingly speak out are constantly ostracized. In September 2017, the Egyptian security forces went into overdrive, arresting dozens of people after the rainbow flag was displayed at one of the concerts, in support of the pride family. Ms Far (Not her real name), director of FARUG, an organisation based in Uganda and a member of the LGBTQI+ community, speaks on constantly being eyed. She says, she is barred by neighbours from speaking to their young children because ‘’somehow my sexuality might be contagious’’ or rather ‘’I might corrupt their mind’’. She further relays that although her family knows about her sexual identity, she is still ostracized. Her partner has to leave her house when her mother visits and she has hardly seen her relatives and some of her siblings in a very long time because of the ‘’shame she has brought to her family by a way of her sexuality’’.
Sexual abuse is a problem in many communities and in the LGBTQI+ community, there is not much difference. Corrective rape is still one of the most common ways used to get lesbians to ‘’change’’ their minds. In some communities the corrective rape is done by family members in order to get women to change their perspective about her sexuality. However unfortunate and cruel as it is, many families believe it works as some women solely chose to marry to avoid the constant scrutiny and to avoid the fear of abandonment by family members.
So, as we raise our voice and fight for the minority to get a voice, to get a seat at the table, let’s not forget that minority does not stop at skin colour, race or ethnicity; sexual identity deserves the same recognition and spirit of unity.