The curious case of queers in Africa

Published: March 3, 2014

 This needs to be said. Even if being queer were un-African, even if it were a “choice”, it is not a basis on which people should be denied basic, or any, human rights.

Let alone be pulled from their homes, assaulted and taken to the police station by an angry mob, as is reported to have happened in Abuja, Nigeria, earlier this month.
It’s also not a valid reason to write into law that people will be jailed for having sex with consenting adults of their choosing – as the Ugandan government did last week.
I am ambivalent about making this mind-numbingly elementary point because, right now, the stakes are high over which side of Africanness and “choice” being queer will be permitted to fall.
In some places it’s a matter of life or death.
As one who benefits from and supports the campaigns for gay rights, I am fully aware that subtlety and nuance could be read as equivocation.
This undermines the work activists and allies have been doing in advocating for equality, recognition and visibility for those whose gender identities or sexual orientation are viewed by society as “different”.
But this needs to be said because rarely are the supposed differences between people invoked without an ulterior motive.
This can be linked to power and a political project to attain or maintain it.
Much of the outcry about homophobia and other unspoken antigay prejudices here in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent has pivoted on the terms set by these political projects, on terms set by:
» Politicians eager to curry favour with religious and other social conservatives;
» Presidents and political parties wanting a distraction from the profligacy that yokes people in their countries topoverty and inequality;
» American evangelicals waging “spiritual warfare” on the African continent because people in their own country are growing weary of the hateful bile they preach; and
» A majority so enthralled by their own false sense of superiority that they obsess over the proclivities of sexual minorities.
It needs to be said that we’re hindered by participating in the conversation on the terms set by these political projects. What should be a conversation about human rights and how all humans are entitled to them has become, instead, about whether being queer is un-African, or a “choice”.
This as though it could be a legitimate basis on which to allow or deny people rights.
To debunk the claims of those who seek to use warped notions of African identities to exclude and oppress, activists and allies alike have felt compelled to provide “evidence”.
They’ve scoured Khoisan paintings near what later became the Kingdom of Mapungubwe for evidence of homosexual activity.
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