Despite the rapid advance of gay rights worldwide, homosexuality is still illegal in numerous African nations while same-sex marriage is legal in only one African nation.
The sole African nation that has legalised same-sex marriage, South Africa, gets many cases of what is termed as correctional rape. This reflects the fact that even though it is constitutional, it is still frowned upon. Some reasons for this widespread disapproval, such as religion, are very obvious. Africa is the most religious continent with most of its population falling under Abrahamic religions. There are, however, several reasons that people overlook when considering why homophobia is so widespread in Africa. One of these reasons is how the image of a gay man or woman has been perverted.
Homosexuality, sodomy and homophobia
The first thing Africans think about when they meet a homosexual person is how they have sex. They immediately see the person as some sort of debased instead of a regular person, even if they have never had sex before. The word sodomy has been associated with homosexuality and popular culture has also portrayed lesbians as sexually promiscuous people. Africa has a culture of sex shaming because of the high level of religiosity among the population and the associated cultural norms. Because gay personalities, for some reason have become associated with ‘free sex’ and what is termed as promiscuity in religious societies, gay rights activists have to fight multiple battles: homophobia and sex shaming. How would any of us feel if, on learning that one is ‘straight’, one’s private sex life immediately comes into question? Gay people know that story all too well. It is important therefore, that homosexual people should be viewed as people with rights not debased Casanovas to be shamed.
“Africa has a culture of sex shaming because of its high level of religiosity”
Sexuality and fetishes
Another problem is that most Africans do not know the difference between sexuality and a fetish. It is common to come across the argument, “If we allow gay people to marry each other, what will stop people who are into bestiality or pedophilia to have their way?” Most people in Africa view gay people with the same disgust they have for people with strange and unacceptable fetishes. They fail to understand that homosexuality falls into the same category as asexuality or being straight; it is not a fetish but sexuality.
How do we know this? Over 1500 species of animals can have homosexuality as a natural trait, it is the same as being right or left-handed, not something you choose to be or are nurtured into. A fetish on the other hand is something that someone can be nurtured into or chooses. Some fetishes are okay and harmless while others are inhumane – tragically, homosexuality is incorrectly likened to. It is interesting to note that inhumane fetishes are most common with people from sexually repressed cultures, which brings religious communities to mind. It might also explain why there are so many cases of pedophile Catholic priests. If there is one thing people should get straight, it is that homosexual people are not perverts.
A lack of sexual education
Another interesting factor that fuels all this hate is the lack of proper sex education. The earliest form of sex education in most African patriarchal societies is aunts teaching their nieces how to satisfy their husbands in bed and grandfathers telling their grandsons how to control his wives. Even in modern African society with a great deal of westernised influences, people get their sex education from schools that are very religious. These schools teach them to abstain and portray straight marriages as the only acceptable condition for sex. Traditional sex education has no perspective or the ability to grasp homosexuality or feminism, while the modern approach, while acknowledging the existence of homosexuality, condemns it since it is sullied religious bigotry. The need of the hour is many more organisations educating young Africans about sex and sexuality. If their knowledge about the subject is enhanced and they are not indoctrinated with the bigotry that their teachers have, a more inclusive society can be built.
There are likely more insights into the serious homophobia that plagues most of Africa that are overlooked. Once they are put into perspective, the fight for gay rights is more clearly directed. It is about time Africa joins the rest of the world in the fight for human rights.