Without a doubt, Uganda’s pending law to impose the death penalty on homosexual citizens is the worst case of African heterosexism I’ve heard about lately. Which isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of other cases! Here are a few. Reuters News Service reported this disturbing incident on 29 December 2009:
Two men who became the first Gay couple to marry in Malawi were arrested and charged with public indecency, the police said Tuesday. The men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, publicly wed in a symbolic, traditional ceremony on Saturday and were arrested Monday night. Homosexuality is banned in Malawi and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
The Chimbalanga-Monjezas have since been vilified in the local press, humiliated in the courtroom, beaten up in jail, and threatened with violation of their body cavities. The police want to brutally rape them with anal probes in order to find “evidence” of homosexuality! Can you even imagine the degree of suffering these defenseless men are enduring? If they can survive the cruelties of the Malawian “justice” system, they’ll still have to endure unbridled scorn from members of their own community. May God protect them both.
A few days ago, this ugliness was not only repeated but amplified in Kenya, the ancestral homeland of US President Barack Obama. This report comes from the website www.LiveJournal.com:
Kenya has become the latest African nation to generate headlines with anti-Gay actions. After last years proposal by a Ugandan lawmaker to put some Gays (sic) to death, and the arrest of a same-sex couple in Malawi for allegedly celebrating their betrothal, Kenyan officials acted to prevent a planned celebration that reportedly would have marked the union of a Gay couple. The ceremony was to have been conducted at a private residence not far from Mombasa, a resort town, reported the BBC in a February 11th article. However, local authorities stepped in following reports of the purported Gay union. Said Chief Hussein Swaleh, “I was shocked.” Added the Chief, “I wont allow it.”
In a second incident, an anti-Gay mob organized by politicians and religious leaders in the Kenyan district of Kilifi chased three men, a supposed Gay couple and another individual, through the streets of the town of Mtwapa. Police had to intervene to save the men . . . the vigilante action, called Operation Gays Out, was spearheaded by Sheikh Hussein Ali and Bishop Laurence Chai (who said) “We thank God for saving this town from being turned to Sodom and Gomorrah . . . we may (have been) doomed had (these) criminals managed to conduct their evil exercise within our neighborhood” . . . Chai and Ali publicly called for the government to close any night spots catering to Gays(sic), and Ali swore further violence against (them), urging residents of Mtwapa to attack them.
“Operation Gays Out”? Politicians and preachers leading a mob? Calls for random violence against same-gender-loving Kenyans? What barbarity! Mtwapa sure sounds like a modern Sodom to me, with predatory townspeople menacing the innocent. If I were Sheikh Ali or “Bishop” Chai, I wouldn’t start breathing easy yet; the threat of eternal doom hasn’t moved farther away from them, it’s drawn much nearer! Their kind of hateful doings never fail to get Satan’s attention.
Speaking of that hideous “death to Gay people” bill, it’s been roundly denounced by international human rights advocates. The rising chorus of criticism now includes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama. As a result, the bill’s future is somewhat in doubt; thank God for that development! However, some Ugandan clergy are going to bizarre extremes to keep it alive. The following information was posted to the blog www.towleroad.com on 17 February 2010:
In January (it was) reported that anti-Gay pastor and Rick Warren buddy Martin Ssempa had held a screening of Gay porn to scare up support from the (Ugandan) public for the pending anti-homosexuality bill. He held another screening today, after police blocked plans for his Million Man “Kill the Gays” March. The screening took place in a packed Kampala church. AFP reports: “The screening was attended by around 300 supporters crammed into an evangelical church in the Ugandan capital after plans for a ‘million-man march’ were thwarted by police. ‘We had planned to have a million-man-and-woman march in Kampala, but unfortunately we were told that we could not … because of security concerns,” Martin Ssempa told the crowd. ‘The major argument homosexuals have is that what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is nobody’s business, but do you know what they do in their bedrooms?,’ the pastor asked. Ssempa then displayed a slide show of Gay pornographic pictures. ‘This one is eating another man’s penis,’ the pastor said, before going into even more graphic descriptions … Ssempa is Pastor Rick Warren’s right-hand man in Uganda.
That last line refers to the fact that Rick Warren, one of Barack Obama’s favorite evangelists, has been in Uganda spreading his “purpose driven” anti-Gay message. The Saddleback mega-church pastor and best-selling author recruited local Bible bigot Martin Ssempa to help him disseminate hatred in Africa; but that certainly can’t explain the man’s pulpit-profaning, blowjob-narrating, X-rated-movie-screening habits! Warren has issues for sure, but to my knowledge he’s never stooped to this kind of sleazy tactic; Ssempa’s feeble attempts to camouflage voyeurism would be hilarious if his intentions weren’t so evil. Clearly, he is the sickest of sick puppies, and the same goes for anybody who’d willingly attend one of his perverted “church services”.
Reverend Rowland ‘Jide Macaulay, an African expatriate now living in London, puts living conditions for African LGBT folk in perspective. The following excerpts come from an essay he wrote titled Africa and Homosexuality:
Lesbians and Gay men of African descent, like myself, today struggle to affirm our identity because we have often been expected to deny our sexuality for the sake of surviving in our spiritual communities . . . not only does legislation prohibit homosexuality in many African countries, but its very existence is also denied . . . there is a continual attempt to deny that Gays(sic) and Lesbians make up a significant part of the population. “Gay culture” virtually does not exist from an African point of view. The subject of homosexuality is a huge taboo. Many Africans are in same-sex relationships, but very few will be open about their sexuality to their families . . . if it were possible to determine homosexuality at birth, many African parents would repudiate their homosexual children before they have the chance to live. It is commonly said in Africa, “It is better to have the corpse of my child, than for me to accept that my child is Gay.”
Have you ever heard anything so tragic?
As far as Africans are concerned, homosexuality is an abuse of traditional values. Homosexuality is seen as a sign of western sexual corruption and immorality. Some families believe that homosexuality is a result of occult activity, and others, that it is a disability. There are many cases where violence is perpetrated against Gays and Lesbians, and where family relationships break down. Those known to be Gay or Lesbian are seen as outcasts, bringing terrible shame to their family name and harming the families’ values and reputation.
Lest you believe this kind of ignorance is just an African cultural trait, Rev. Macaulay fixes blame for widespread anti-Gay prejudice precisely where it belongs:
The Christian churches are among the worst perpetrators of homophobia, using the Bible to support their attitudes and arguments. The issues are preached about in ways that are difficult to challenge, and (they) cannot be openly debated in the pews. Counselling is usually offered to those known or suspected of being homosexual. The experience usually leaves the victim more confused … powerful organisations like the church, which could make an enormous difference, (instead) add fuel to the stigma and undermine all efforts to change attitudes. African Gays(sic)and Lesbians therefore go underground, leading to a lack of self-esteem, increased insecurity, loneliness and sometimes suicide.
I don’t doubt it. Despite the fact that Gay Africans have taken their own lives, I would call them victims of genocide. Reverend Macaulay speaks to his own experience as a Gay man exiled from Nigeria:
The experience of an African Gay or Lesbian person living in exile in a foreign country is one of lost hope and a lack of representation. There are times when it feels that the entire world is against you. Gay Africans are not accepted by their own … African culture and are equally faced with oppression, prejudice, and low self-esteem. I have spoken to over 50 African Gays(sic) and Lesbians in the past two years. The conversations revealed that their lives seem worthless in a society that gives them little protection against the hatred (of) their sexual orientation.
Now that Rev. Macaulay provided the context, let’s look at concerns surrounding HIV transmission on the African continent. In the December 2009 issue of Positively Aware, an HIV treatment and health bi-monthly distributed to hospitals and health centers, columnist Jim Pickett reported on the Fifth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention. Held in July 2009, the conference took place in Cape Town, South Africa. One of the main challenges to HIV/AIDS prevention that Mr. Pickett identified was culturally-enforced invisibility of LGBT African people.
Contracy to rampant, pernicious mischaracterizations, fueled by structural homophobia that negates the existence of Gay (men) and completely devalues their lives, Gay men and other MSM (men who love men) exist in Africa! Hello! Despite official HIV/AIDS estimates that mostly ignore this fact, these men constitute a substantial percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS on the continent …
After contextualizing the challenges faced by African Gay (men), including criminilization, stigma, discrimination, human rights abuses, lack of access to prevention and care, and limited HIV surveillance, (a colleague) shared some numbers from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Namibia and Botswana. The data revealed high burdens of HIV among Gay (men) across all these countries, significantly higher than prevalence rates among males from the general population in each country save South Africa, Botswana and Namibia …
Let’s have a bit more context here. The aforementioned Live Journal article confirms what Rev. Macaulay has said about African law:
… in many African nations, homosexuality is illegal; only South Africa has extended marriage equality to Gay and Lesbian families.
In addition, consider this older report which was posted to CCN.com/World on 15 May 2008:
Jackson Irungu is … among a tiny minority of openly Gay men in Kenya who face a constant barrage of verbal abuse on the street and even occasional physical attacks. “We live in fear,” says Irungu, “There is a perception that being Gay is wrong, so it is a bit tricky … when you live in Kenya.” Irungu says a friend of his was beaten so badly outside a nightclub in Nairobi that he had to be taken to hospital. There is no way to corroborate such incidents with the police because homosexual Kenyans are just too afraid to report them. (Kenyan) law books help create the ambivalence. Two separate penal codes relate to the Gays in Kenya, and the archaic laws can lead to a 5-to-14 year jail term.
So it’s established that criminalization of their existence is a given for most of the subjects in this study group. Let’s go back to Jim Pickett’s conference report. He elaborated on African HIV statistics:
… let’s take a look at Kenya, where (my colleague) told us the prevalence rates among Gay (men) is 15.6% in contrast to 7.49% prevalence among (heterosexual) Kenyan men of reproductive age. This means that about one in six or seven Gay Kenyans are HIV-positive. How about Sudan? (Heterosexual) men of reproductive age represent 1.26% prevalence (and) Gay (men) 8.8% in that North African country. Malawi? 21.4% for Gay (men), 11.46% for (heterosexual) men of reproductive age. In Senegal, the prevalence of HIV among Gay (men) is 21 times higher than other men. In Nigeria, seven times higher. Pretty dismal, yes?
Hell, yes! And from those news reports I cited, we know the intensity of heterosexism that exists in Kenya and Malawi. Might there be a connection? Mr. Pickett discussed the sexual practices of Gay Africans:
… anal intercourse is common among Gay (men) in Africa, and most of these men are using some sort of lubricant … but here is the rub: in a 2008 study of Gay (men) in Namibia, Botswana and Malawi, only one quarter of them used water-based lubricants. Of the men who indicated they always used condoms, 12.9% used a water-based lubricant. Nearly half of the men had used petroleum-based products during their last episode of anal intercourse with another man, and one-fifth used nothing … for those of us acquainted with the finer points of anal intercourse, the thought of engaging in this activity without any type of lubrication (brings) a grimace. And the fact that lube-free anal sex hurts and tears and burns creates a perfect storm in the rectum for HIV transmission . . . we all know that oil-based lubes are a big no-no with latex condoms, though using these lubes in the absence of condoms is still much, much better than using nothing.
What’s going on here? There are huge barriers (in Africa) to lubricant use, including cost and very limited availability, as well as the stigma attached to buying lubricant (you shouldn’t need to buy lube for vaginal sex, right? If you’re buying lube, you must be doing bad things.) Many African men who have the ability to travel come back from the West with suitcases packed with lubricant for their friends; the demand is extremely high. But this is not the best distribution system …
There are now condom-distribution programs operating in many parts of Africa. After overcoming considerable local and international resistance, they were established in response to the African AIDS pandemic. Given the continental stigma against same-gender love, few if any of these programs are targeted at Gay men. But quiet as it’s kept, heterosexual lovers enjoy anal sex, too; the availability of lubricants would be just as much a safeguard for them as for Gay couples. Here’s an example of how heterosexism, with its antiquated, restrictive concepts of human sexuality, poses needless danger to the health of all Africans. Even so, the health of Gay and bisexual African men is endangered in a much more devastating way.
Before I elaborate, let me say that I don’t believe every African who was interviewed for that 2008 study spoke truthfully about his condom use. It’s no secret that men habitually lie about what they do in bed, and that’s a cross-cultural fact! Besides, if they were all telling the truth, then the HIV infection stats wouldn’t be so high. Let me also say that, just as I don’t believe Gay African-Americans are totally ignorant about sexual issues, I don’t believe Gay Africans are, either. While some of them may not know about or have access to K-Y jelly, most of them understand that anal penetration without some kind of lubricant is dangerous. You can’t avoid the pain and bleeding that results. What could make a man want to endure such trauma?
Everything that human beings do is done for a reason; African men have unprotected sex for a reason. I submit it’s the same reason why Gay men who live under hostile conditions all over the world have unprotected sex: Internalized shame! Shame, compounded by the suicidal mindset that Rev. Macaulay describes. Shame, making them devalue both their own lives and the lives of their bedmates. Shame, convincing them that Gay sex must somehow be made less pleasurable. Shame, telling them Gay sex must hurt! Gay sex must maim! Gay sex must be traumatic and potentially lethal. Consciously or subconsciously, these men feel so guilt-ridden that they turn God’s gift of same-gender intimacy into a form of punishment. They punish themselves and their lovers! Like other destructive behaviors Gay people indulge in, unprotected sex is a form of self-flagellation.
And where does the concept of self-flagellation come from? You Catholics out there know the answer: it originates with the Oppressor Church, the same church that Rowland ‘Jide Macaulay indicts for embedding anti-Gay hatred in African culture. It’s the same church that exercises undue influence over American culture, politics, education and media. Now, in the West, we don’t usually see Old Testament law enforced by mobs, but we do see rising rates of seroconversion among Gay men (especially those of African descent). There’s no doubt in my mind that a connection exists between a minority group’s desire to maintain good health and religious persecution of that minority group! The criminalization, the stigmatization, the fear, shame and self-destructiveness: you can trace it all back to the church, to some fire-breathing dragon of a demagogue preacher damning Gay men to Hell.
Jim Pickett’s report implied that the solution to high infection rates is better distribution of water-based lubricants. I wouldn’t argue against that course of action, but I disagree that it will solve the problem. The problem will only be solved when Bible bigotry is forcefully attacked; when African churches start valueing the lives and loves of Gay men; when African preachers start condemning mob violence instead of encouraging it; when religious hatemongers like Rick Warren, Martin Ssempa and Laurence Chai are exposed as the false prophets that they are and dealt with accordingly. Once false prophesy has been done away with, Christian churches can fullfill Jesus Christ’s mandate to promote compassion. They can start to undo much of the damage they’ve done over centuries; and they are the only institutions that can do it effectively. Madonna said it best, in her song “Erotica”: Only the one that hurts you/Can make you feel better/Only the one that inflicts pain/Can take it away.
It’s time for health care professionals to come together with equality activists and declare war on bigotry disguised as religious doctrine. Granted, taking on organized religion will require tons more time, energy and money; but if our concern for Gay men’s health is sincere, that battle must be joined! HIV counselors have long understood that “faith-based” homophobia is a major obstacle to curbing seroconversion, particularly in Black communities. When will they finally understand that Gay Rights activism is an essential element of AIDS prevention?
Patient advocates like Jim Pickett should think of every Gay man as a potential suicide poised on a window ledge. There are cruel onlookers down below, urging the poor guy to jump to his death: genocidal clergy and their thuggish followers. If caregivers can put a lid on these sadistic bastards (shout them down, discredit them, penalize their hateful expression), they’ll have a much better chance of talking distraught patients back to safety. Fighting suicidal sexuality with condoms and lube alone simply isn’t enough.
The spiritual needs of Africans are different from western needs. African culture embraces a greater intimacy of spiritual growth. We need a new era of Christian faith that can celebrate same-sex unions, so that many more Gay Africans can be proud to celebrate their sexuality in a loving union.
These wise words come from Rowland ‘Jide Macaulay, and I agree with them up to a point. I don’t think New World spiritual needs are very different from those in the Old World. Western folk just don’t acknowledge their spiritual needs as honestly.
However, Rev. Macaulay and I agree 100% that a new era of Christian faith is sorely needed all over the world, especially in Africa where the Devil has seared his wicked brand on entire nations. Satanic hatred is blazing out of control in the cradle of humankind, and in the cries of innocent victims like Tiwonge and Steven Chimbalanga-Monjeza, you can hear Africa scream for deliverance. Lord, when will You lift the massive burden of poverty, corruption and ignorance thats crushing Mother Africa? How much worse does the situation have to get before it gets better?
Boston cartoonist, composer, journalist, social commentator and graphic novel writer DC (Don Charles) Hampton Jacobs is the author of three graphic novels, two cartoon novelettes, a mock screenplay in graphic novel form, four cartoon short stories, an illustrated Great American Rock ‘n’ Roll Songbook and a stage musical treatment in cartoon form. He blogs at https://popculturecantina.blogspot.com.