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LGBT Health in Africa

More and more countries around the world are opening their arms to welcome and embrace LGBT pride. Although not everyone in these countries are in complete agreement on LGBT rights, the presence of the LGBT community in mainstream media demonstrates increasing open-mindedness.

However, the opposite seems to be the case in Africa. 36 out of Africa’s 55 states outlaw homosexuality. Homosexuals in Nigeria are locked up for 14 years while their Ugandan counterparts face life sentences. Moreover, the Ugandan government expects its citizens to report suspected gay friends and family.

Incarceration is not the only injustice homosexual Africans face. In South Africa, where same-sex marriage is legal, homosexuals, especially lesbians, still face violence and “corrective” rape. By ostracizing homosexual individuals, communities deny rights to these individuals and inhibit their access to economic opportunities and basic health needs.

Homosexual individuals face difficulties finding jobs, whether they are searching for a willing employer or trying to start their own business. They are mocked, shunned and even assaulted. Due to these injustices, there are high poverty rates in the LGBT community where people suffer from hunger and insecurity.

Also, by denying a large part of health care access to homosexuals, the rate of HIV/AIDS continues to climb among the LGBT community, especially among men who have sex with other men. In South Africa, the rate of HIV/AIDS among gay men is as high as 38 percent. To avoid discrimination, these men avoid seeking medical care and avoid discussing their health issues with health care professionals. This delay in seeking treatment is detrimental and without proper care and education, infected individuals may spread the disease. The incidence of HIV/AIDS has a strong foothold in South Africa, with the overall prevalence being 17.8 percent.

The stringent African laws make it difficult for foreign intervention and reform. Foreign disapproval of Africa’s anti-LGBT legislation is a sensitive subject. When British Prime Minister David Cameron said that British aid should be conditional based on how Africa handled its human rights, there was an outcry that Britain was being colonially oppressive by introducing “western values.”

However, as Chimamanda Achebe, a Nigerian novelist, has stated, love and sexual intercourse are not divided as either “African” or “Western.”  Love does not fall under any political jurisdiction.

There is also a moral question behind using humanitarian aid as a negotiating wager in order to press for LGBT rights in Africa. The humanitarian aid that countries withdraw in protest could be potential funding for African schools and hospitals. Also, the governments in Africa are unfazed by Western countries’ suspension of certain donations, since Africa can turn to China as an economic partner. This approach of coercing African governments has made very little headway.

Even if Africa were to yield their anti-LGBT legislation, it would be based on money. Western countries’ use of bargaining donations and aid to change deeply set morals in Africa is a superficial tactic.

Instead, foreign governments should help local African activist groups gain the attention of their governments. Aid and support from foreign relief agencies should be directed to these local humanitarian groups, to help them lobby their governments and bring social justice. It’s a fight for the people by the people, with international governments to back them up.

There is an LGBT Project in South Africa that aims to understand why unsafe sex occurs among LGBT individuals, so as to better help these individuals. The project also hopes to increase funding for other partner activist projects, and use advocacy campaigns to establish the needs of gay men as a priority in the National AIDS Council.

The Public Health Program’s Sexual Health and Rights Project (SHARP) is also working to advocate for LGBT health rights in Eastern and Southern Africa by looking into the needs of the LGBT community and collecting data and reports.

There are many advocacy groups and projects in Africa and around the world. Western governments should actively engage with these groups in order to understand how supporting these communities can drive social change.

– Carmen Tu

Sources: Bridging the Gaps, Huffington Post, Human Rights First, Open Society Foundaitons, Sida
Photo: Bridging the Gaps,