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Intolerance hardens toward gays across Africa

Gay rights activist

Gay rights activist

(GIN) — Governments across Africa are decreeing new punitive laws against gay nationals just as displays of tolerance and acceptance are being seen around the world. Nigeria, Cameroon and Uganda in the last few months all tightened existing laws that target the homosexual community, their organizations, meeting places and anyone working within or for gay rights in Africa.

A so-called “Jail the Gays” bill was quietly signed earlier this month by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Dorothy Aken-Ova, head of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, said the law “encourages the persecution of gays and will endanger programs fighting HIV/AIDS.” Same-sex couples face up to 14 years in jail for a gay marriage. Last week, police jailed dozens of gay men in Nigeria’s northern Bauchi state. A list of some 168 suspects is said to be in police hands, obtained through torture of the detainees.

In neighboring Cameroon, gays suffer greater persecution than in any other African country, according to the NY-based Human Rights Watch. In one tragic case, a gay man was left to die after his family yanked him from a hospital where he was receiving treatment, saying he was a curse for them and would be better off dead. Jean-Claude Mbede, who had served jail time for sending a text to a man, which read: “I’m very much in love with you,” died last week at the age of 34.

Similarly in Uganda, gays live a precarious life since parliament last month passed a bill that punishes certain acts of homosexuality with life in prison.

“The knock-on effect of passing this bill will reach far beyond gay and lesbian people in Uganda, impeding the legitimate work of civil society, public health professionals and community leaders,” said the deputy Africa director at Amnesty International.

David Bahati, the Ugandan lawmaker who sponsored the bill, said, “This legislation is needed in this country to protect the traditional family here in Africa, and also protect the future of our children…”

Other countries with harsh anti-gay laws include Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Gambia, Mauritania, Sudan, Somalia and Zambia.

By contrast, Dr. Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, challenged claims that culture, tradition, and religion justify the marginalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

“Don’t fear,” Archbishop Makgoba said in a message to the gay community. “You’ve been given the task of helping humanity realize we are called to respect and honor each other. People may say this is un-African, and I’m saying love cuts across culture.”

 

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