Homophobia in Africa: Between rigid laws and finding refuge in Art

Homophobia is not just the attitude of few bigots in our continent. The intimate and personal lifestyle of African LGBTQ+ people is being politicized. Lawmakers and politicians seem to be highly concerned with what two consenting adults are doing behind closed doors.

Rampant homophobia in Africa

38 African nation prohibit homosexuality by making it illegal. Five of these 38 countries have the death penalty whereas the rest sentence the accused to several years in prison. Other rigid anti-gay laws and bills are being enacted. Uganda and Nigeria recently passed a bill against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Christian and Muslim African countries alike seem to implement laws that limit the freedom of LGBTQ+ people.

In Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Uganda homosexuals face life in imprisonment whereas in Senegal for example, the penal code regards same-sex intimacy as an “unnatural act” and the offender is prone to five years in prison. In Tunisia, the penal code condemns sodomy to 3 years in prison and Nigeria even condemns allies and supportive families and threatens them with 10 years in jail.

According to Peter Tatchell- director of the director of the human-rights organization Peter Tatchell foundation said “ Senegal’s anti-gay laws violate the country’s own constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, both of which guarantee equal treatment and non-discrimination to all citizens.”

These repressive and intrusive laws only back up bullies and encourage bigots to be brutal towards their fellow citizens who happen to be homosexual. Mainstream intolerance along with rigid laws create an unfavorable and unsafe environment that gay people have to either endure or flee.

Fighting Homophobia through different Art forms

Even though homosexuality is a risky subject to tackle. The LGBTQ+ community and its allies in Africa can only hope to soften the perspective of people through their art. Talented choreographers, playwrights, and filmmakers took it upon themselves to enlighten mainstream people and give them an understanding of the LGBTQ+ people‘s plight.

South African Ballet choreographer Dada Masilo, challenges people’s heteronormative attitude by changing the sexual orientation of some of her main characters, in her personal interpretation  of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet. The group of dancer that Masilo leads, all wear tutus and feather tufts regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. This is her tactful way to fight both homophobia and patriarchy.

Botswanan transgender playwright Katlego Kolanyane-Kesupile and her ally Adong Judith – An Ugandan filmmaker- are taking up the fight against homophobia to the next level even though they risk their own freedom and lives. Despite the constant abuse they have to endure, the two women are paving the way for queer theater festival where the LGBTQ+ community is welcome. Their Festival is called Queer Shorts Showcase Festival. Fighting homophobia through Drama is their motto. Adong Judith also created movies to raise empathy and compassion towards the African gay community.

During the Carthage film festival (JCC), a Tunisian documentary entitled “Upon the shadow”  was screened. In it, the filmmaker, Nada Mezni Hafaiedh, followed a group of Tunisian LGBTQ+ friends and chronicled bits of their lives and listened to their hopes and fears. The documentary ended up receiving a Bronze Tanit – one of the top three awards of the festival. This is considered a step forward in a country where homosexuality is still criminalized.

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