Why is it that gay people are so hated on this continent? What makes people in Africa want to murder, imprison or beat up on them? And before you start telling me it is a tribal thing, a black thing or a whatever thing, I can tell you a lot of white Africans don’t like them either. I went to an all-boys (and pretty much all-white) school and the levels of homophobia ran high. It was part of that whole rugger bugger (oh, the irony) thing. To be honest, while I was at school, the concept of gay men scared me. All I’d ever heard was they were bad and that if you were in the same room as them, they would try to have sex with you. That was until Std 8 and my Uncle Bobby in London died of Aids. Unknown to me, he had been gay. He cheffed at various high-roller clubs in London and by accounts partied quite hard. While the family had their suspicions about his sexuality, they adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” type attitude to it. That was until he lay dying and they had to confront it. I’m quite proud to say that love won out and everyone realised it didn’t matter how Bobby chose to live his life, he was still our awesome uncle and that was that.
From that point onwards, I’ve had a slightly better understanding of what it is like for some gay people, often having to lead double lives and having to keep secrets from their families, employers and friends. It’s a tough break.
But in Africa those breaks are even harder still. For many gay people in Africa, their sexuality comes with very heavy toll. From discriminating legislation to violence to plain old prejudice, Africa has a problem with homosexuals. Lesbian footballers have been gang-raped and then murdered because of their sexuality. In Uganda gay men could face the death sentence, while in Malawi a gay couple have been arrested and if the state can prove they have had sex, they’ll do time in prison. In Zimbabwe, long before Robert Mugabe went mad, he spoke out against the evilness of homosexuality. He couldn’t make up his mind who he hated more — the gays or the imperialists?
Now the thing is Africa is one place that should be a little bit savvy about intolerance and hatred. Africa is one place that has experienced discrimination first hand. From Afrophobia, to xenophobia and every other form of cultural exclusion in between, Africa has been exposed to it. So it stands to reason that when it comes to gay people, Africans should be a little bit sympathetic. But vast majority of us are not. Yes, our Constitution is designed to protect the rights of gay people and yes, in the more cosmopolitan areas of our country gay people can live without fear. But leave those suburbs and the world changes. People don’t dig gays. In fact, they hate them.
Across our entire country and our entire continent you will hear people candidly say I hate them because God hates them. I hate them because they are not part of my culture. I hate them because they are different. I think they are a disease. A disgrace. I think they are immoral. Repugnant. A perversity. They’re not natural.
And the worse thing is we have all heard this talk before, sometimes told as a joke and other times more seriously, and we say nothing back. We just let it slide. For the sake of peace, because we don’t want to disrespect another person’s culture or religion, because we don’t spoil an otherwise nice day.
But imagine if we flipped a few words around. Say we were to exchange the word gay for black or white or Indian or Muslim. I hate blacks because God hates them. I hate whites because they are not part of my culture. I hate Indians because they are different. I think Muslims are a disease. A disgrace. I think blacks are immoral. Repugnant. A perversity. They’re not natural.
If you heard that, you’d say something.
The ambit of every person’s personal liberty should be expanded to include the freedom to decide on the timing of their death