Discrimination against lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is the sad standard in most African countries. Activists defending rights of LGBT people in Africa are harassed and often intimidated. Some face arrest, detention and ill treatment.
Many African countries criminalize consensual sex between individuals of the same sex. In Uganda, an Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in 2009 for consideration by parliament and provides for the death penalty and life imprisonment for some of the offences.
A number of African countries have, or are considering, legislation that goes further, making the “promotion of homosexuality” a new, ill-defined offence. Such legislation can be easily used to target activists defending the rights of LGBT people.
The State is not the only source of threat to activists. Arguably more pressure and reprisals come from family, neighbours, the community, and religious leaders. The government then too often fails to protect activists exercising their fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association.
Joel Nana is a Cameroonian activist based in South Africa, working on behalf of LGBT people for inclusive HIV prevention policies and access to HIV/AIDS treatment and support services around the continent. He says: “For most of my colleagues it’s nothing less than a heroic act, to stand up and speak out about the rights of LGBT persons – that’s how things are in next to all African countries.
“I have managed to shield myself from some forms of abuse. But most of my colleagues defending the rights of LGBT persons face pressure or even reprisals. Not just from the police, but also from religious leaders, their neighbours, their very family. To know that people support you and your work, near and far, makes a great difference when you’re operating in an environment like that.”