LGBT Activists in Africa

Image courtesy of timestilve.co

Image courtesy of timestilve.co

I recently listened to an interview about Eliot Elisofon’s exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. Elisofon was a photojournalist for LIFE Magazine and major influence on America’s view of life in Africa. Contrary to much of the reporting on Africa, during his time, Elisofon chose to photograph a more positive reality of the life of Africans. He again came to mind when I was considering how discouraging it can be to discover that many internet search results for activists for LGBT rights in Africa end up being biographies about fearless leaders whose lives have ended in brutal murder, such as Ugandan activist and teacher, David Kato Kisule. As did Elisofon with his photography, I am hoping to highlight a few activists who, despite the risk of being ostracized, attacked and jailed, continue to be vocal in the fight for LGBT rights in Africa.

The first figure of inspiration is David Kuria Mbote Kenya’s first openly gay politician. Mbote, who is flooded by social media outlets spewing hateful words and is not ignorant to the risk in running as an openly gay politician, is not deterred by any of it. While Mbote’s faith in his people is admirable, it’s his perseverance that is equally worth mentioning. For it is not uncommon for a politician with so much stacked against him to hide their true selves. And while this may be a challenge for some, Mbote clearly remains unaffected.

Image of Paul Kasonkomona courtesy of frontlinedefenders.org.

HIV-AIDS has been deemed an epidemic in Africa and according to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, men who have sex with men are more severely affected by HIV. Therefore, by denying that homosexuality exists or persecuting those who are homosexual may result in a higher rate of individuals contracting the virus. Living a closeted life means people do not feel comfortable to ask, even their doctor,  questions about the lifestyle they are living, which further limits the amount of health education one is able to take advantage of. So while much of aide is devoted to reducing HIV-AIDS, there must also be an emphasis on gay rights. Otherwise a major target population may be missing the facts they need to live safe and healthy lives. One man working to change this is Paul Kasonkomona. Kasonkomona, a Zambian, who recently stood trial (and was acquitted) for stating in a television interview that there is a need to focus on gay rights, when fighting the HIV-AIDS epidemic. The fact that Kasonkomona had to even stand trial for voicing his concerns does not appear to be a step forward for LGBT rights, but Kasonkomona himself is.

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  1. Reblogged this on The Life and Times of Ms. Lanai and commented:
    ***Guest Post***

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  2. Jonathan

     /  November 11, 2014

    It’s nice to hear a story about LGBT rights in Africa with a hopeful tone. It’s so rare that we come across an article about the LGBT movement in Africa that doesn’t involve legislation against the community, violence against LGBT individuals, or worse. I have great admiration for people like David Kuria Mbote and Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera for standing up for human rights in the face of such great adversity. I certainly hope that they inspire others and are able to positively affect change in their countries. I can’t help but be a bit scared for their safety though. The stories of beatings and murder are hard to ignore. However, change won’t happen without courageous people like them. I then have to move past that and ask myself how those of in the U.S. can help?

    While I cannot directly affect the situation on the ground for LGBT individuals in Africa, we can all affect how our government approaches its policy in Africa and what private organizations who work in Africa we support with our own money. One of the most important issues of our time to our government officials is national security. As Victoria points out, criminalizing homosexuality has the effect of making it much harder to slow and prevent the transmission of HIV. The Director of the Central Intelligence’s February 11, 2003’s briefing states: “The national security dimension of the virus [HIV] is plain: it can undermine economic growth, exacerbate social tensions, diminish military preparedness, create huge social welfare costs, and further weaken already beleaguered states. And the virus respects no border.” (https://www.cia.gov/news-information/speeches-testimony/2003/dci_speech_02112003.html) We can pressure our elected leaders, who seem to value national security above all at many times, to exert pressure on African countries to treat the LGBT community with dignity and respect. Even if national security issues are the only ones leaders can identify with, it will still help real people on the ground be safe and work without fear to their lives. As individuals, we can also be sure that when we are donating to aid organizations, to be sure to make sure that in addition to providing food, medicine, etc., that they do not support anti-LGBT laws and discrimination, as a number of evangelical organizations do. The road to LGBT equality is a tough one, but I hope the African LGBT community can make rapid progress soon, as the community has elsewhere in the world.

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