Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Twelve notable African figures have been honoured for their stand against anti-LGBTI bigotry and for speaking out in favour of human rights for all.

Celebrating The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on the weekend, Human Rights Watch said Africans who in recent years have stood up for human rights and spoken out against homophobia deserve greater recognition.

Amid a growing wave of repressive anti-gay laws on the continent, the organisation has compiled a range of affirmative statements from prominent African politicians, academics, authors, religious leaders, and activists. These include:

  • Acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie rebutted the claim that homosexuality is “un-African.” Commenting on the passage of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act in Nigeria in January 2014, she said: “If anything, it is the passage of the law itself that is ‘un-African.’ It goes against the values of tolerance and ‘live and let live’ that are part of many African cultures.”
  • Speaking about Africa’s LGBT community, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said: “People may come and say this is un-African, and I’m saying love cuts across culture.”
  • Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, responded succinctly to the Ugandan legislation that was pending at the time: “What two consenting adults do is really not a matter for the law.”
  • The international economist, Dambisa Moyo, points to the use of homophobia as a tactic to distract attention from other pressing social issues: “At a time of precarious economic growth, stubborn [youth] unemployment, war, disease, poverty, and rampant corruption, is anti-LGBT legislation what we choose to spend our precious time on?”
  • The former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, pointed to the social cost of homophobia: “We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.”
  • The Ghanaian gender minister, Nana Oye Lithur, said: “You cannot, on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation, say the person has not got human rights.”
  • Speaking in Cape Town in February 2014, Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town, said: “We must be entirely clear about this: the history of people is littered with attempts to legislate against love or marriage across class, caste, and race. But there is no scientific basis or genetic rationale for love. There is only the grace of God. There is no scientific justification for prejudice and discrimination, ever.”

Homosexuality remains illegal in 38 African countries.

View the full list of Human Rights Watch’s pro-gay African voices here. It is only a pity that the list is not longer.

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