Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Africa: 'Look for allies in the most unexpected places and you’ll find them'

Zackie AchmatImage via Wikipedia
Source: The Daily Tar Heel

By Melvin Backman

Zackie Achmat, renowned AIDS activist, does not think that half-naked, buff white men are the only queer people in the world.

In a speech at Rosenau Hall, University of North Carolina (UNC), on Monday, the founder of the South African AIDS group Treatment Action Campaign spoke about the need for more inclusion in the African struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer rights.

“Identity politics is severely limited,” said Achmat, whose group was called the world’s most effective AIDS group by the New York Times in 2006.

After praising the United States for its relatively advanced level of LGBT rights, he criticized global rights movements for too closely following its lead.

“We have copied, uncritically, the American, European and Australian model,” he said.

Achmat said the American model focuses too heavily on institutions like courts, governments and media for action and attention.

He said LGBT rights movements in Africa should do more to engage traditional African community leaders like chiefs and matriarchs.

Achmat also said those interested in advancing LGBT rights in Africa should work harder to include and have more respect for those who are not educated on LGBT issues.

“Unless I can convince my mother of anything, I don’t think I should ask for it from my state,” he said.

He also called for African LGBT rights groups to include women and stateless people in civil rights campaigns so African leaders would not be able to isolate LGBT people.

Barbara Shaw Anderson, assistant director of UNC’s African Studies Center, which co-sponsored the talk, said it was important for students to hear about the fight for LGBT rights in Africa.

She mentioned the African nation of Uganda, where legislation is under consideration that could make homosexuality a death penalty offense.

“This is an important issue on the continent,” she said.

Achmat was brought to the University in part by graduate student Daniel Cothran, who interned for Treatment Action Campaign while studying abroad in 2006.

Cothran said he had asked Achmat to speak at UNC two previous times.

Cothran said a donation of about $1,000 was made to the Coalition to End Discrimination in lieu of paying Achmat for speaking.

Achmat expressed his displeasure with the use of the word “pride” in relation to the LGBT community.

“If I have to be proud of you, I have to be proud of (Liz) Cheney,” he said. “And I cannot be proud of (Liz) Cheney.”

After his speech, Achmat answered questions, including one from an audience member seeking advice in regards to helping black gay men.

“Look for allies in the most unexpected places and you’ll find them,” he said.
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