(Nairobi) – Africans who in recent years have stood up for human rights and spoken out against homophobia deserve greater recognition. Human Rights Watch’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program is marking the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17, 2014, with a compilation of affirmative statements from prominent African politicians, academics, authors, religious leaders, and activists.
“Amid homophobic rhetoric, voices of moderation, understanding, and empathy are not being heard,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “This year we are commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia by amplifying some of these affirming voices from Africa.”
The annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) celebration began in 2004 to mark the 1990 decision by the World Health Organization to remove homosexuality from its rosters of disorders.
The acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie rebutted the claim that homosexuality is “un-African.” Commenting on the passage of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act in Nigeria in January 2014, she said: “If anything, it is the passage of the law itself that is ‘un-African.’ It goes against the values of tolerance and ‘live and let live’ that are part of many African cultures.”
Speaking about Africa’s LGBT community, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said: “People may come and say this is un-African, and I’m saying love cuts across culture.” Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, responded succinctly to the Ugandan legislation that was pending at the time: “What two consenting adults do is really not a matter for the law.”
The international economist, Dambisa Moyo, points to the use of said homophobia as a tactic to distract attention from other pressing social issues: “At a time of precarious economic growth, stubborn [youth] unemployment, war, disease, poverty, and rampant corruption, is anti-LGBT legislation what we choose to spend our precious time on?”
The former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, pointed to the social cost of homophobia: “We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.”
The Ghanaian gender minister, Nana Oye Lithur, said: “You cannot, on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation, say the person has not got human rights.”