Monday, June 01, 2015

Against Homophobia

Homophobia is on the rise across much of Africa and remains illegal across much of the continent. In conservative Christian and Muslim countries in Africa homophobia is a vote-winner.

The movement against LGBT rights in Africa has brought together very strange bedfellows, African Muslim and Christian preachers with strong backing from right-wing American Christian organisations. As they lose ground at home, where public opinion and law are rapidly shifting in favor of gay equality, American religious conservatives have increasingly turned their attention to Africa.  ‘African’ ideas about homosexuality are often those spread by American Evangelicals, out to ‘colonise’ Africa spiritually. American pastor Lou Engle, who leads a big Christian right group called The Call, said, ‘This is ground zero of the great war with homosexuality.’ Apologists for the Christian Right deny their goal is of creating Christian theocracies but that is the message they send to Africa.

 Bans against homosexuality go back as far as the colonial governments, which was guided heavily on social issues by Christian missionaries. A few African countries, such as South Africa, have done away colonial-era prohibitions against homosexuality, but other countries are moving in the opposite direction, imposing heavier penalties to the laws that currently exist. Pre-colonial African sex 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. And, like the hijras of India, there are examples in several ethnic groups of men who took on women’s roles and dress to have sex with men. These people were not ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual.’ Those are Western terms, laden with connotations of culture and medicalization. They had names of their own: Chibadi (Southern Africa), Mukodo Dako (Uganda), and many others.

President Robert Mugabe is particularly derisive of the gay community. He urged young Zimbabweans to shun homosexuality as an abomination of humankind ‘that destroys nations, apart from it being a filthy, filthy disease’. That speech relied on an unhealthy dose of homophobia, effectively using existing public disdain for homosexuality as a means to delegitimise the political opposition - with its liberal economics and politics - as part of the evidence that it was merely a puppet of the West.

But Mugabe is certainly not alone in abusing the gay community for political gain.

Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh has a history of making unbelievable homophobic comments. Jammeh said gay people ‘destroy culture and would doom the world He has described gay people as ‘vermin.’ He said that homosexuality was ‘more deadly than all natural disasters put together’. He said that LGBT stood for ‘Leprosy, Gonorrhoea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis’.

 Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, has told church worshippers that homosexuality had no place in the nation. A Kenyan cross-party parliamentary group is seeking stricter application of existing anti-gay legislation. ‘We will not allow homosexuality in our society as it violates our religious and cultural beliefs,’ Ruto was quoted as telling a cheering congregation at the Jesus Winner Ministry Church on the outskirts of the capital. ‘We will stand with religious leaders to defend our faith and our beliefs.’ The Jesus Winner Ministry Church specialises in prophecies and describes itself as ‘an oasis’ for people ‘under the yoke of curses, witchcraft, stagnation, ancestral spirits and other evils brought by Satan.’

Nigeria’s ex-president Goodluck Jonathan signed a law criminalising homosexuality which contains harsh penalties for homosexual activity and membership in gay rights groups. “Persons who enter into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison,” the law says. “Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison.”

The position of the World Socialist Movement is that capitalism thrives on scapegoats because they absorb the blame for the poverty, stress and insecurity that the system cause and divert the pressure for change into other channels. Socialists hold that sexual activity between consenting adults which gives pleasure to the participants and does not harm anybody should be entirely their own affair. But to end the persecution of the LGBT communities we must tackle cause and not effects. 

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