Friday, September 01, 2006

Homophobia: the new apartheid

The whole concept of treating gay men and lesbians as normal human beings has taken off in many parts of the western world. More so in Western Europe and Canada than in the hyperreligious US and macho Australia. But it's still far less dangerous to be gay in the latter two places than it used to be. I wonder when such a mentality will filter across the oceans into Africa. My experience on the continent found West Africans to amazingly warm and welcoming to outsiders. Homophobia stands as a stark exception.

I noticed that Ghana's government recently banned a conference for gays and lesbians that was due to take place in the country later this month.

"Government does not condone any such activity which violently offends the culture, morality and heritage of the entire people of Ghana," said the information minister. "Unnatural carnal knowledge is illegal under our criminal code. Homosexuality, lesbianism and bestiality are therefore offences under the laws of Ghana."

Whenever I see comments like this, I can only think of what life used to be life in the American South.

I know some people vehemently object to comparisons between skin color and sexual orientation but the comparisons are appropriate if you ask me. Both have political overtones, though neither should. Neither is an attribute one chooses.

The fact is that slavery was an integral part of the traditions of the American South. Treating black people as third-class citizens was a pillar of southern heritage; the region would've developed in a completely different way had it been otherwise.

Those who agitated for equal rights for blacks were seen as violently offending southern culture. Many were beaten or lynched, just as many African gays and lesbians are beaten or murdered.

Just as immoral segregation was state policy in most of the American South, homophobia is state policy in most African countries. Not only are gay acts illegal, but some even want to criminalize speech advocating tolerance of homosexuals. Not content with simply banning gay rights, some even want to criminalize SPEECH which contends that gays are normal human beings.

The parallels between homophobia and American segregation and South African apartheid are plain to see.

Update: Apparently Zanzibar, birthplace of the late singer Freddie Mercury, is following Ghana's example.


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