Does Africa need our outrage?

Support for African LGBT activists is better than outrage

Queer liberation = unfinished African liberation struggle

Debate at the Royal Society of Arts in London

London – 19 November 2012


Does Africa need our Outrage? Prompted by rising homophobia in some African countries, this debate was hosted on 7 November by Aeon and the Royal Society of Arts in London:

The main speakers were Dorcas Erskine, Graeme Wood, Brigid Hains and Peter Tatchell.

Watch an edited version of the debate here:

Peter Tatchell’s main speech (edited) starts at 7.35 minutes and later there is a short clip of him speaking about Somaliland – a great African and Muslim success story – at 18.31 minutes.

Speaking as Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Peter’s key points in his main speech and his supplementary contributions were:

Human rights are not a western concept. They first evolved in ancient Persia and India.

The principle of universal human rights includes LGBT people.

All African nations have signed the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which they collectively drafted and which guarantees equal treatment and non-discrimination to all African citizens, not just straight ones.

We should not dictate to African governments but we can ask them to honour the human rights agreements they have signed and pledged to uphold.

While outrage at human rights abuses is understandable, it may not be helpful. The best way to respond to homophobia in Africa is to support the courageous LGBT and human rights defenders in those countries.

We should listen to their concerns and advice – and be guided by them. Our role should be support and solidarity, modelled on the worldwide anti-apartheid movement.

Western aid should not be cut to homophobic countries. This would cause suffering to some of the world’s poorest people. It would also create a homophobic backlash against LGBTs in Africa. They’d get the blame and be persecuted even more.

Instead of cutting aid, it could be switched from abusive regimes to non-discriminatory relief agencies and non-governmental organisations.

The real import into Africa is not homosexuality but homophobia.

Same-sex relations existed, and were sometimes tolerated/accepted, in pre-colonial Africa.

European (especially British) colonisation resulted in the imposition of Africa’s first anti-gay laws – and it is these laws that continue to oppress LGBT Africans today.

Nevertheless, African countries are now independent nations. They cannot put all the blame on colonialism. They are responsible for the current homophobic and transphobic persecutions.

The struggle for LGBT human rights is one aspect of the unfinished struggle for de-colonisation and African liberation.