Justice Edwin Cameron, South Africa’s openly gay Constitutional Court judge, has urged African leaders to stop condemning and judging gays and lesbians.
Cameron made the call in a speech at the UNAIDS / LANCET Commissioners Dinner in Lilongwe, Malawi last week, which was hosted by the country’s president, Joyce Banda, and was broadcast on television.
“The most distinguishing feature of [the HIV] epidemic is the stigma that has attended it in the United States, in Western Europe, elsewhere in the world, but also on our continent,” said Cameron. ”The stigma that is associated with HIV/AIDS has been our biggest battle for rationality, for calm, and for good policy in this epidemic.”
The HIV positive Justice went on to use his own experience to discuss the stigma and rejection faced by those living with HIV and AIDS.
“I have to tell you something further about myself,” Cameron said to the audience. “I have to tell you how I got HIV. I got HIV from another man. I know that that’s a topic of deep debate in Malawi. In my country, it was also a topic of deep debate, and we decided, when we became a democracy in 1994, that we would not discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.
“And at the end of the year in which we became a democracy, President Mandela appointed me to the high court. And when I was appointed to my country’s highest court four years ago, not a single voice in the whole country raised an issue about the fact that I’m a proudly and openly gay man. And that’s right.”
Cameron continued: “Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that our continent has issues of flood, of starvation, of mal-governance, of corruption, of drought. Those are the issues that we as Africans should be concerned about. And issues of disease. Not issues of judgment about sexual orientation.
“I mention that because the example of condemnation of homosexual activity is only an instance of how we condemn people. We say, ‘That minister is alleged to have HIV. He sleeps around too much. That woman in the village next door is alleged to have HIV. She wasn’t faithful to her husband. That man has got too many girlfriends.’ We condemn. We allow our condemnation to step in between us and our rational responses to the epidemic,” said Cameron.
Cameron is possibly the only openly gay or openly HIV positive senior public official or judge on the African continent.
In May 2012, President Banda announced her intention to overturn Malawi’s ban on homosexuality. In November 2012 it was reported that Malawi had “suspended” laws criminalising homosexuality pending a parliamentary vote.
If the ban on same-sex sexual activity is repealed by its Parliament, Malawi would become the first African country to decriminalise homosexuality since 1994.
Watch Justice Edwin Cameron’s speech below.