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African Countries Continue to Struggle With LGBT Issues

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Feb 16, 2012
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Several African countries offer little or no rights to their gay citizens. Some gay Africans are penalized for being who they are or even worse -- sentenced to life in prison or death. The Star Observer reported that a Ugandan cabinet minister stormed an LGBT rights meeting and claimed that the function was illegal.

The group said that the Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo had police shutdown the meeting that was being held in a hotel. The minister said that the meeting was against the law and that the activists had to leave the hotel or they would be physically removed by authorities.

Uganda is a landlocked country located in East Africa and borders Kenya.

Just a few days ago, the Uganda Parliament reintroduced a bill that would give the death penalty to anyone engaging in some consensual homosexual acts. The country’s government, however, said it does not support the proposed law, the Associated Press reported.

"As a parliamentary democracy the process of debate will continue," a government statement said. "Whilst the government of Uganda does not support this bill, it is required under our constitution to facilitate this debate. The facilitation of this debate should not be confused for the government’s support for this bill."

Amnesty International, an international human rights organization, said that the incident involving the gay rights meeting was "outrageous" and that Uganda’s government must protect the LGBT community.

"This is an outrageous attempt to prevent lawful and peaceful activities of human rights defenders in Uganda," the secretary general of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty said. "The Government of Uganda must protect all people against threats, violence and harassment irrespective of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The Government’s claimed opposition to the bill needs to be supported through their actions," he said. "The Ugandan government must allow legitimate, peaceful gatherings of human rights defenders, including those working on LGBT rights."

The bill was written by Ugandan legislator David Bahati who first introduced it in 2009. He claimed that the bill would "protect" Ugandan children from Western gays who "lure them with money and other promises."

Gay men who are infected with AIDS and are caught having sex could receive the death penalty, while others would face life in prison for other offenses. Heterosexuals would also be impacted if they did not to report homosexual activities to the authorities.

Many African leaders have not supported LGBT rights in the past and have been straightforward about their views on homosexuality. On Tuesday, Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh said that he would never accept homosexuality, Indepth African Magazine reported.

"We know what human rights are. Human beings of the same sex cannot marry or date," Jammeh said while swearing in 15 ministers of his new government. "If you think it is human rights to destroy our culture, you are making a great mistake because if you are in the Gambia, you are in the wrong place then," he added.

In 2008, Jammeh threatened Gambia’s gay men and said they had to leave the country or he would "cut off their head."

Gay sex for males and females is illegal in Gambia, which is in West Africa and is surrounded by Senegal, and if caught an individual can face up to 14 years in prison. The country does not recognize same-sex marriage nor does it have any anti-discrimination polices that would protect LGBT members.

The Agence France-Presse reported that Liberia’s former first lady who now serves as a senator, Jewel Howard Taylor, introduced a bill that would also subject homosexuals to the death penalty.

"No two persons of the same sex shall have sexual relations. A violation of this prohibition will be considered a first degree felony," the amendment says.

A judge can sentence a gay man to 10 years to life in prison or the death penalty.

A Libyan delegate told the United Nations Huma Rights Council that gays and LGBT issues "affect religion and the continuation of the human race," the Geneva-based UN Watch monitoring group reported. The organization’s president, Laura Dupuy Lasserre said, "the Human Rights Council is here to defend human rights and prevent discrimination."

"Today’s shocking homophobic outburst by the new Libyan government, together with the routine abuse of prisoners, underscores the serious questions we have about whether the new regime is genuinely committed to improving on the dark record of its predecessor, or to pandering to some of the hardline Islamists amidst its ranks," executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer said.

Although most African nations fail to protect their LGBT community, some countries such as Swaziland, have shown some signs of improvement.

The country’s public health officials are asking gay men to get tested for HIV. The country has outlawed sex between two males and if caught they could face jail time. Health officials, however, promise that their sexual orientation will be kept a secret when tested, IRIN reported.

"February is known as the month of love, when couples express their love for each other through gifts, especially on Valentine’s Day," said Simon Zwane, deputy director of health. "The purpose of our new campaign, called ’The Love Test’, is to encourage couples to undergo HIV testing. Couples need to be consistently aware of their HIV status. This will result in them making joint decisions on risk reduction in their relationships," he added.

Swaziland, a landlocked country in Southern Africa boarded by South Africa and Mozambique, has one of the highest HIV rates in the world -- about 25 percent of all adults are infected with the deadly disease.

"Just admitting that there are gays in Swaziland is a big step for a government ministry," said Alicia Dlamini, a HIV testing counselor in Manzini, Swaziland’s second largest city. "AIDS is not a ’gay disease’ in Swaziland. It is almost entirely spread by heterosexual relationships... No one blames gays for AIDS in Swaziland, they just blame gays for being alive and being gay, so it is hard for a gay person to risk exposure," Dlamini said.

South Africa is the only country in Africa that recognizes same-sex marriage and offers a number of protections to its LGBT members. Gays are allowed to adopt and openly serve in the military. Transgender persons are allowed to legally change their gender as well.

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