Global Activists march with African HRC at San Francisco Pride 2014.
As Americans revel in equality gains, we cannot forget that as LGBTI people, we are all members of a persecuted global minority with a responsibility towards one another, regardless of who we are or where we live.
While progress was made in Europe and America, our brothers and sisters suffered enormous setbacks in other parts of the globe, including Africa, with the enactment of several onerous anti-gay laws across the continent. Out of 54 countries in Africa, 38 ban same-sex acts, most with severe criminal penalties. Some countries have sought to make these laws more onerous, while others have started to enforce the once sleepy penal codes with terrifying vigor.
Notwithstanding existing criminalization, Nigeria, Uganda, and the Gambia took advantage of the newly heightened anti-gay sentiment, and their Presidents played gays as political pawns and scapegoats for the numerous social and economic problems by signing new anti-homosexuality legislation. Cameroon enforced penal codes with arrests and torture to force confessions, while the Gambia, Namibia, and other countries conducted frequent arrests.
To make matters worse, clergy, politicians, and Presidents have made homophobic comments that have served to fuel persecution. Much of the recent fervor to amplify these laws were a direct response to what is perceived as the encroaching western ideals of LGBTI equality.
The following is a non-exhaustive breakdown of what happened to LGBTI Africa in 2014:
The new Nigerian anti-homosexuality legislation, signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan, mandates a 14-year prison sentence for anyone entering a same-sex union and a 10-year term for "a person or group of persons who support the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions, or meetings." In addition, public displays of affection by gay men and lesbians are also criminalized.
President Yoweri Museveni, in preparation for a vote that would deliver his 30th year as Uganda's President, patronized his NRM party with his assent to the astoundingly popular Anti-Homosexuality Act, once dubbed the "Kill The Gays Law," which stipulates 14 years to life in prison for same-sex acts, as well as prison terms for so called "promotion" of homosexuality.
In both these countries the new legislation triggered a wave of persecution against LGBTI citizens like never before. In Nigeria we saw a spate of arrests, public whippings, and the stoning of gays. In Uganda, the most widely read East African newspaper celebrated the new law with a series of articles outing Uganda's "Top 200 Homos." Police arrested and paraded suspected gays in front of press and television cameras. Many LGBT people had to flee from homes, schools and jobs, for fear of assault and death threats. Many reported being blackmailed by police as well as family and friends.
After the Ugandan court nullified the law based on a technicality, 256 parliamentarians signed a petition to bring it back similar legislation Parliament, and a new and perhaps even more onerous proposed bill is now on track for possible introduction.
Several Ugandans have escaped this persecution into exile- some have made it to the U.S.A., Canada, Iceland, and Europe, while many are stuck in Kenya, in camps or as urban refugees, awaiting UNHCR resettlement abroad.
President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia used his UN speech on 27 September to attack and threaten the LGBTI community, claiming homosexuality is one of the three biggest threats to human existence: "Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence," he told the gathering of world leaders in New York. "It is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behavior." "Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil (and) anti-human, as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers," said Jammeh.
On October 09, Jammeh signed into law new Anti-Homosexuality legislation, which includes life in prison. Since that time there has been a targeted witch-hunt by authorities for gay people, with numerous arrests reported, and people fleeing into exile.
Amnesty International recently reported that Gambian security forces were allegedly torturing people arrested in raids, threatening them with rape and pressuring them to confess to homosexual acts.
Some Gambian exiles have made it to Europe, while others have been stuck in Senegal, awaiting recognition by the Senegalese Committee for Refugees, which seems to be purposely stalling their applications, after unconscionable and inexplicable delays.
The horrific anti-gay rhetoric by President Robert Mugabe and the presence of evangelical extremists such as Pat Robertson has continued to foster a climate and culture of impunity and lawlessness against LGBTI people in Zimbabwe. Violence against gays seems to be on the increase., as yet again the security of the organization GALZ was breached by an armed attack, causing physical injuries to members.
A Zambian court acquitted Paul Kasonkomona, a prominent gay rights activist charged with an offence against public morality over comments he made on television in support of LGBTI people. Though his acquittal was hailed by LGBTI rights defenders as a boost for human rights, anti-gay sentiment in Zambia is still at a high. As Kasonkomona noted, "Today is the end of my court case but the struggle continues. I will continue to speak for the rights of all Zambians, the struggle has to continue."
Cameroon is a hotbed for anti-LGBTI persecution. We have many reports over this past year of police arrests, torture, and forced confessions of LGBTI people.
In Cameroon, people are prosecuted for consensual same-sex conduct more than in any country in the world, and in many cases, people are charged with "homosexuality" based on extremely scant evidence.
Following the Oct. 1 arrest of seven men in Cameroon on homosexuality-related charges, Freedom House issued the following statement: "Freedom House strongly condemns Cameroon's criminalization of homosexuality and the arrest of citizens on charges related to their private behavior," said Vukasin Petrovic, director for Africa programs at Freedom House. "These arrests, which were made after neighbors involved in 'community policing' claimed the house was a haven for 'effeminate men,' is reprehensible. Such actions encourage a culture of collective violence against LGBTI individuals. Freedom House urges Cameroon to end discrimination and violence against the LGBT community."
These new laws, underpinned by false notions and myths about homosexuality, were exported to countries by radical right wing Christian Evangelicals, who see their losses in the United States as a call to invigorate the globe with homophobia, with Africa fertile soil.
While some believe Africa should be left to its own devices, I believe that LGBTI people around the world ought to unify with Africa as participants in a global minority community. We all have a duty, no matter our location, to provide some form of support to those in our global community who are struggling to survive persecution. It is my hope that 2015 will bring renewed awareness to this crucial frontier.
The global LGBT community can keep informed about news and calls to action involving Africa by visiting AfricanHRC.org.