By Thabo Seroke
A couple of months ago, Uganda asked a question that could usher in the systematic hate aimed at a group of people. The question was simple: Who is going to inspire the senseless murder of gender-variant people in Africa?
This was not a view that needed to be vocalised by Ugandans, but many nations responded. Nigeria is the latest. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which provides penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment for gay marriage and a maximum of 10 years for membership or encouragement of gay clubs, societies and LGBTI organisations, was last week signed into law by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
Since then, nearly 40 people have been arrested and many more threatened with violence.
However, Nigeria has never pretended to be a nest for the advancement of human rights and against the comprehensive violence aimed at her citizens. Police brutality is rampant and comedic material inspired by the continental prevalence of rape. Ever heard of someone called Basketmouth? Me neither! Quick web search pops up a Nigerian stand-up comic who said that African women who “hold-out” on the eighth date deserve to be raped on the ninth.
Gays and lesbians therefore never stood a chance in the face of such extraordinary prejudice and ignorance in the fight for equality or at the very least tolerance.
Throughout Africa today, homosexuality is still viewed as an “unAfrican” thing. This rationalisation ignores history and it misses the point by 100 years.
History provides many examples of same-sex practices such as the “boy-wives” of the Azande in contemporary Sudan and Congo, the gender-crossing queers of the Hausa Bori culture in … wait for it … modern-day Nigeria! Lesbian relations were also prominent among co-wives in polygamous marriages in 19th century Southern Sudan — the same polygamous practice frowned upon by the western world — which leads me to an unsurprising fact. Colonialism imposed this prejudice and other divisive ideals on a number of non-western societies.
Its influence convinced many Africans that homosexuality was wrong and that polygamy is barbaric (though it seems we’ve managed to circumvent the polygamy smack)!
The next line of defence was then obviously religion. Especially in Christian societies, “the-Bible-says” is the mantra most homophobes live by and how discrimination has been allowed to flourish. These guardians of such sacred scripture conveniently ignore the fact that Leviticus (the book that condemns homosexuality and claims it is punishable by death) attaches the same penalty for adultery, pre-marital sex, disobedient children and blasphemy.
I believe it was St Augustine who said (and I paraphrase): If you choose to believe what you like in the gospel and reject all you don’t, it’s not the gospel you believe, it’s yourself. So it is universally difficult to accept — whether based on tradition or religion — that the oppression of any group doesn’t expose others to the same injustice.
Why stop at the freedoms of the LGBTI members, why not branch out that oppression to women and children? It seems consistent with the current rules aimed at such groups. It is always interesting how ones devotion to tradition and love for their God translates into hatred of other human beings.
The issue in countries such as Uganda, Malawi and Nigeria isn’t a “gay issue”, it’s a human-rights issue. Many members of such communities are being denied their liberties. From the very beginning, this threatens to be more than just an anti-gay bill, it’s the start of legalised violence. Now, how will you respond to the questions asked?
Thabo Seroke is a writer and social activist. Co-founder of the RedLips Project and Theatre Actor. Twitter: @Thabo_SerokeY