via afrol News, by afrol staff

afrol News, 23 March – Homophobic laws in Uganda and an anti-gay court case in Malawi are only two current examples demonstrating a conservative wave regarding sexual minorities in Africa. But in other countries, in particular South Africa, gays and lesbians are enjoying increased freedom.

There is a belt of current conservative reactions to homosexuality spanning from Zimbabwe to Ethiopia, including most of Southern and East Africa. One after another, countries in the region hit international headlines over homophobic actions.
International human rights groups are busy condemning what seems to be a wave of gay bashing in the region. Some northern donor nations, including the UK, Sweden and Norway, have included discrimination against homosexuals in their lists of unacceptable human rights violations, threatening to cut aid if the bashing goes on. Church communities are split in a north-south division over accepting homosexuals. It all looks like a war of values between Africa and Western nations.
But that is only at a superficial level. Indeed, the issue of gay rights in Africa is greatly advancing. Even repressive headlines, such as the Malawi court case against a gay couple accused of “unnatural offences”, can be read the other way, as an advance for gay rights.

Malawi is an example of deeply conservative societies, where traditional religion is mixed with Anglican church values formed during the colonial era. In Malawi, a vast majority had not even heard about homosexuality before the young gay couple was arrested in late December. Homosexuality was a non-matter, it did not exist in Malawi, even the more educated people thought.
But now, homosexuality is the big issue of talks in Malawi. While the great majority of Malawians have found they do not approve of this “foreign” thing as it goes against their conservative values, some few indeed defend that homosexuals should not be discriminated. It is the first time this point of view has been heard in Malawi. With time, it may grow stronger.
In Namibia and Botswana, also conservative countries but with a longer tradition of being open to outside impulses and with greater middle classes, many organisations now openly defend gay rights against discrimination and the occasional homophobic statements by political and church leaders. Here, the taboo is about to be broken.
The great taboo breaking in Africa has already happened in South Africa, the first country world-wide to protect sexual minorities explicitly in its constitution. Here, same-sex marriages by now are allowed and increasingly accepted. Here, forceful organisations are based, fighting for gay rights across the African continent.
But interestingly, even South Africans remain conservative regarding homosexuality. A 2006 survey found that more than three-quarters – 78 percent – of South Africans felt that sexual relations between two adults of the same gender were “always wrong”. Less than one in fifteen at a national level thought that homosexual relationships were “not wrong at all”.

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