May 17th marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). The theme for this year’s day is ‘alliances for solidarity’ recognizing the joint effort required for liberation whilst also appreciating particular personal struggles for different groups. In South Africa, the day is an important reminder that whilst constitutions and legislation may appear to be advancing the rights of LGBT groups, there is still some way to go in terms of changing attitudes. Indeed statistics reveal that over 60% of South Africans are still hesitant to accept homosexuals in society, and acts of hate crime and discrimination are still prevelant. LGBT discrimination is also affecting mainstream culture, with the film ‘Inexba (The Wound)’, which depicts life as a gay man in the Xhosa community, receiving an X-rated film classification and withdrawn from mainstream cinemas due to its focus on homosexuals. Across the rest of the region, legislation still criminalizes homosexual activity in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, making a change of attitudes and LGBT rights activism all the more difficult and dangerous.
On this important day, we share the thoughts and hopes of Canon Collins Scholars and Alumni researching and advocating for the advancement of LGBT rights across the region. From researching legal frameworks in Zambia to combatting stigma around HIV and LGBT relationships using participatory theatre, these inspiring change agents are conducting important research to improve legislation and attitudes for the better.
Our scholar’s Scholar, Princess Alice Sibanda (PhD Drama, University of KwaZulu-Natal) shares a poem she has written to mark the day, entitled ‘You are my Mother Africa’. Read here.
Emmanuel Phiri (PhD Applied Ethics, Stellenbosch University), discusses the role of colonial influences on current legislation in Zambia:
A wise man once said “the best way to solve a problem is to deal with its source.” As we commemorate international day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, it is imperative to soberly reflect on the root cause of these phobias. These phobias, particularly homophobia can be traced back to the middle ages within the ambience of Christianity and Islam-before this time, historical scholars are generally agreed that homosexuality was accepted as a normal aspect of society.
The current Zambian law against homosexuality was only introduced in 1931 and was modelled after the then British law against homosexuality. Historians posit that precolonial Africa including Zambia had a tolerant attitude towards homosexuality. Homophobic tendencies only came to the fore with the onset of colonialism and religion, particularly Christianity and Islam. These tendencies were only accentuated after independence, first with Kaunda’s humanism, and second with Chiluba’s Christian Nationalism-which saw Zambia declared a Christian Nation in 1991. Ever since then, the Christian narrative has been part and parcel of Zambia’s identity politics. Person’s that identify as LGBTI are among other things regarded as unZambian, unChristian, rapists, mentally ill, violent and demon possessed. These misconceptions are thus used as justification for continual criminalization and discrimination.
Stereotypes against person's that identify as LGBTI are similar to those directed at persons on the basis of their Race. However most people find racial discrimination morally reprehensible. But why should discrimination against LGBTI be an exemption?
Megan Robertson (PhD Sociology, University of the Western Cape), shares her thoughts on the possibility of a synergy between theology and LGBT rights:
For African academic activists, today is a chance to be reminded of the importance of shifting narratives around Africa and sexuality. Popular and academic rhetoric from inside and outside Africa has often been concerned with positioning queer sexuality as something ‘western’ or European. This continues to create a false binary between a liberal, accepting America/Europe and a backward, hostile Africa. Thus, the myth that Africa cannot be a sight of liberative, life-affirming religious experiences and institutions for queer people is created and sustained. It is important to note that queer theology in Africa has made significant headway in nuancing the experiences of queer people in Africa, and that there are spaces and means for living in life-affirming ways at the intersections of belief and sexuality. It is my hope that academic activists will continue to build on the significant contributions made by others who have explored Africa as a prime site for challenging heteronormative belief systems and structures, and that a transformative queer Christianity may take shape in ways which is life-affirming for all.
Nkosinathi Thema (LLB, University of the Western Cape), discusses the problem of internalized homophobia within the LGBT community. He took part in our podcast series last year on LGBT rights, listen here.
As much as homophobia is still prevalent in society, we must also be aware of the internalised homophobia within the LGBTIQ+ community itself. This usually takes undertones of 'preferences', of which more often than not, such preferences are actually borne out of unsettled issues with gender identity. This spills over to the treatment of persons who identify as Trans (particularly underprivileged, black Trans individuals), who are often forgotten and overlooked by the LGBTIQ+ community itself. If we are to truly embrace each other as equals, we must then learn to appreciate each other as is, without any reservations.
Pancho Mulongeni (MSc Public Health, University of Cape Town, 2014-15) discusses the roles of community and social groups in Namibia in advancing LGBT culture and activism:
As I write this, we are gearing up for a drag show extavaganza in a prominent bar in Windhoek, Namibia - the Warehouse Theatre. The show is thanks to the efforts of local NGOs that work to advance LGBT rights, with funding from a competitive human rights grant that they won a few years ago from the European Union.
The drag show was advertised widely, in the press and social media. Namibian LGBT people are becoming increasingly bold and venues such as the warehouse in Windhoek provide spaces where communities can be forged, through events such as the drag show, Rainbow or Pink evening events or regular fixtures that are not LGBT themed, but where open-LGBT individuals take center stage.
However, there are no legal protections against violence afflicted against persons for their sexual orientation or gender expression, apart from laying charges of assault. Police officers may choose to taunt victims of attacks and there have been reports of exacting violence against transgender women. Nevertheless, the LGBT community in Namibia is making great strides, with a legal challenge against the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, laid by a same-sex Namibian-South African couple, expected to reach the court this year.