An analysis on the origins of sexual bigotry in Africa.
• Jacinta Kasume
Homophobia is the cultural and systemic fear of- or prejudice against homosexuals that sometimes manifests in oppressive legislature, or in bullying or premeditated violence against queer individuals. The term homophobia was coined by an American clinical psychologist, George Weinberg in his late 1960s book Society and the Healthy Homosexual. In the 19th century Western psychology began to view homosexuality as more than a temporary behaviour, thus understanding that it was immutable. The rise of the Industrial Revolution fueled migration and integration between rural and urban areas and the greater density of people permitted same-sex attracted individuals to organize and flourish – initially under the cloak of anonymity – this ultimately led to greater visibility and the scientific study of homosexuality. As a means to understand homosexuality, early research such as Sigmund Freud’s 1905 study proposed and popularized the erroneous notion that homosexuality was a product of a child’s upbringing, writing “The presence of both parents plays an important part. The absence of a strong father in childhood not infrequently favors the occurrence of inversion”, which at the height of Western Industrialization is to say that boys raised in single-mother households are more susceptible to such proclivities as they lack male role models and will ergo not know how to be “men”- or the societal perception of what a “man” is. With Freud’s warning in mind, homo-social organizations i.e sporting clubs and boy scouts, were developed to introduce young boys to heterosexual masculine role models in the absence of their fathers. The teaching of masculinity to boys and femininity to girls was – and remains – a fallacy that is believed to prevent homosexuality in children. This fallacy also perpetuates the idea that masculinity and femininity are polarities rather than points on a continuum, suggesting not only that masculinity is inherently void of any feminine attributes – thus offering a rigid understanding of masculinity and gender as a whole, often conflating it with sex – but that any such case and/or individual is spiritually and socially deviate.
While the West was attempting to draw consensus on the origins of homosexuality, contrary
to most misconceptions, the precolonial African continent and her various cultures lived in tandem with homosexuality. With Northern Africa containing some of the most visible and well-documented traditions of homosexuality in the world – particularly during the of Mamluk rule. Emerging Arabic poetry of this period from cosmopolitan and literate societies describe the pleasures of pederastic relationships. In the East, gender-nonconforming and homosexual practices existed in societies with examples of religious priests dressing in traditional female garments. British anthropologist Rodney Needham described such a religious leadership role called “mugawe” among the Meru and Kikuyu people of Kenya. Mugawe were frequently homosexual and sometimes openly married to other men. Such men were also known as “ikihindu” among the Hutu and Tutsi people of Burundi and Rwanda. In fact, contrary to our past with homosexuality – one in which it was widely accepted and pursued, many present-day Africans are quick and adamant to label the sexual orientation as pagan and “non-African”. This anti-gay rhetoric is overtly conceded to, as the continent is home to 33 of the 69 countries in the world that have criminalized same -sex relations. Research further indicates that countries colonized by the UK are more likely to have and uphold anti-LGBTQIA+ laws, while countries colonized by France are less so. A reason for this is that France removed the anti- sodomy laws in the 1790s while the UK removed hers in 1967. In 2020, approximately 66% of Common Wealth states still criminalized homosexuality compared to 33% of the states predominately colonized by France. Present day Africa is one with a poor track record in the legal rights, support and protections for LGBTIQIA+ individuals. The politicization of issues affecting queer individuals has increased over the recent decade, resulting in further infringement on the rights and well-being of LGBTQIA+ people in several countries. Akin to colonialism in Africa, was Christianity. Its impact on the queer community is relatively well studied and research has found that higher levels of religiosity tend to result in higher susceptibility towards homophobia. The least accepting religions are Christianity and Islam, both dominant in Africa, with northern Africa being predominantly Muslim and southern African being predominantly Christian. When missionaries of these religions arrived, they condemned all non-heterosexual sex practices and social ques as illegitimate, deviant and criminal. These ideologies have since been sustained through high levels of religiosity across the continent. This perspective intersects with the larger conversation that oppressed groups are far more credulous and susceptible to religious dogma, as the concept of heaven will alleviate you from all your earthly sufferings.
Homophobia and anti- LGBTQIA+ attitudes exist in various societies and countries across the
earth. However, attitudes, perceptions, and levels of tolerance differ substantially. These
reasons for homophobia, or relevance to the dynamics of Africa are not uniformly applicable
to the continent, however they substantiate the deduction that it is homophobia and not homosexuality that is un-African. The discourse on queer rights is not as nuanced as it is made out to be – it’s as simple as the doctrine to live and let live. The bigotry that is homophobia should be seen as narcissism at it’s most malignant – historical contexts and cultural- and religious convictions set aside – no one should question the validity of another’s life experience.
Rodney Needham, Right and Left: Essays on Dual Symbol Classification, University of Chicago Press, 1973.
Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Encyclopedia of Africa, Volume 2 OUP, USA, 2010
Jim Jormanainen Colonial legacy, Religion and Politics – the Roots of Homo[phobia in Africa