On May 16, news broke that the President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, had threatened to kill anybody caught seeking asylum in Europe by citing Gambia’s anti-gay laws. The article ( http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2014/05/gambia-president-threatens-to-kill-asylum-seekers-who-cite-anti-gay-laws/ ) on this story, as with all articles since, is a glaring example of just how dangerous the world still is for LGBTQ people.
Death threats, uses of words like “vermin,” likening LGBTQ people to malaria-causing mosquitoes … none of this surprises me. We’ve seen this before. We’ve seen it in Uganda, Zimbabwe, now Gambia, and other African nations. The reason I am writing about it now is because the African prejudice against LGBTQ people does not get the attention it should. Most of the reports on polls that I have seen reveal that the majority of people in choice countries on the continent of Africa are opposed to homosexuality (this is allegedly true even in South Africa, where same-sex relationships are legal, but the state routinely turns a blind eye to violent attacks against LGBTQ people). Laws against love are abundant, dolling out sentences of 14 years and more for having a relationship with somebody of the same sex; and they are widely supported by an approving citizenry (ie: 95% of the Ugandan population according to some estimates). Some people speak out about these crimes against human dignity on a regular basis, and it’s time for more of us to join them. For those living in this hell, this is not some issue to be dealt with eventually … evading capture, living in fear of being discovered, hiding in the shadows and living in slums to blend in … this is their everyday life. They are human beings. Our fellow human beings.
As often as I see stories about the deplorable treatment of LGBTQ people in Africa, I come across articles about rape being defended in those same countries. I have seen documentaries in which men tell the camera that rape is the fault of the woman, that she must not wear short skirts because that causes them to rape her. In February of this year we all heard of Uganda’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, saying that men raping girls is okay because it is heterosexual rape, “which is natural” ( http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/ugandan-reverend-simon-lokodo-child-rape-better-homosexuality-video-1437976 ). This paradox wherein rape is acceptable but homosexuality is not is a grossly immoral ideal not often seen in our western discourse. It is common, however, in other places, and the root cause is ignorance. When a population is ignorant of something, in this case the inherent violence and subsequent harm caused by rape, there is nothing to prevent it from happening. In a patriarchal society, things that satisfy men are justified regardless of what consequences may befall the female victim. In Christian societies, and most of Africa has been Christian since colonialism, moral confusion drives the problem. Laws that are in direct conflict with the actions of the deity who imposes them serve to confuse the population to the point where we simultaneously have socially acceptable violence against women, and laws to prohibit and torture people who love the “wrong” person.
Now, I’m not going to suggest that an appropriate course of action is to barge in to Africa and tell them that we have a better way of life they must abide by. That happened in the past – it was called colonialism, and it destroyed the cultural fabric of every society it touched. What I suggest is that we educate. Society functions best when it is given quality education. Africa does not need missionaries, they don’t need more churches, and they don’t need a spiritual awakening as I’ve heard some people suggest. What Africa needs is the education that has been denied them by corrupt doctrines like “AIDS is bad but condoms are worse,” and “suffering is good because the last shall be first with thy father in heaven.” No, education must not be denied them any longer. With education, rape will eventually become unacceptable. With education, homosexuality will become something that is understood rather than reviled. With education, AIDS infections will begin to decline, and with education the laws of nations will change to reflect more empathic and unified societies.
These thoughts on the power of education may seem idealistic or insurmountable to anybody reading this, but it’s exactly what is working here in the west. Africa is the cradle of life, it is the birthplace of humanity. What a terrible disservice and disrespect has been paid by her descendants. People need not suffer any longer, and we need not sit idly by and watch it happen with self-righteous “empathy.” We can’t all go to Africa, but we can still speak out and make ourselves heard. We all have a voice, and we have a moral obligation to use it to defend those who are worthy. Those who have been denied proper education, and suffer because of it, are worthy. The people of Africa are worthy.