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Repression of Gender Minorities in Africa

Recent years have seen the growing repression of gender minorities in several African countries. Same-sex activity is outlawed in at least 30 of Africa’s 54 countries. People with same-sex attraction and engagement can be detained, flogged, imprisoned and, in Uganda, even sentenced to death for ‘aggravated homosexuality.[1] The Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) which Uganda enacted on 29 May 2023, defines aggravated homosexuality as transmitting HIV/AIDS and/or same-sex activity with minors. People convicted of this crime face the death penalty, even if the transmission of HIV occurred between consenting adults who knew each other’s HIV-status at the time.[2]

The criminalization of homosexual activity is an infringement of the human rights of people who have same-sex orientation, and who live out this orientation. They are persecuted for their identity, which is given and not voluntarily chosen. Unfortunately, the African Catholic hierarchy is not innocent in the stigmatization and suffering of homosexual persons.[3] The laity, theologians, religious and clergy have been singularly silent in the defence of human rights of homosexual persons.

The criminalization of homosexuality poses a threat to public health. UNAIDS reports[4] that in countries where same-sex activity is criminalized, there is a five times higher prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men than in countries where it is not criminalized. This is because people with HIV are obstructed from accessing health services that might be life saving for them and their partners. In his message for the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on 23 May 2023, the Secretary General of the United Nations renewed his “call for all Member States to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and end the criminalization of consensual same-sex relations and transgender people. Being yourself should never be a crime.”[5]

Citizens of many African countries perceive such calls to be interference in their sovereignty: Countries which use their economic muscle, threatening to cancel bilateral aid as a form of leverage for the respect of the human rights of LGBTQI+ people, are accused of imposing their will as a form of imperialism. The countries on the defensive argue that homosexuality is “against nature” or “a deviation from normal,” or “not African” but “Western.”

I propose to engage these arguments one by one:

Regarding imperialism: It is frequently pointed out[6] that many of the African laws against homosexuality did not exist before the era of colonialism, and were cut-and-pasted from the European penal codes against unnatural carnal knowledge, sodomy, etc. After gaining independence, in many former colonies these laws were not repealed, and remain in force, while they have been gradually removed from the statutes of the former colonial powers. The anti-imperialist agenda would in fact be better served if these colonial-age laws were rescinded. Ironically, it is not uncommon that vocal and wealthy white American conservative Christian organisations are sponsoring the hardened anti-homosexual bills and homophobia as they pass through the various stages of enactment in African countries.[7] So, the cultural warfare and agendas in the USA are being fought on African battlefields, and as the African proverb goes, “when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”

Regarding what is “natural” and “against nature:” Denial that a person has predominant same-sex tendencies is a refusal of his or her natural inclinations by imposing an alternative regime on him or her is indeed “against nature.” It is tragic that many homosexual people in Africa (and elsewhere) are still compelled to live in the closet and feign heterosexuality, to the extent of contracting marriages with a person of the opposite gender. I have seen this happen in African countries. It is a guarantee for frustration in marital relations, particularly when there was deception of the prospective spouse at the outset. What could be less natural than a person living his or her entire life with a spouse to whom s/he has no physical attraction, and with whom the unitive dimension of marriage is not satisfactorily consummated? This is a recipe for marital infidelity.

Regarding homosexuality as a “deviation from normal:” Statistically, this cannot be denied. The seminal Kinsey Reports[8] infamously generalized from a limited sample, trying to give figures for a population. This attempt was heavily slated as methodologically flawed. However it is now clear that small but statistically significant minorities of populations of many countries report themselves as 5 or 6 on the “Kinsey Scale,” which means that they are “predominantly homosexual with incidental heterosexual attraction” or “exclusively homosexual.”[9] There is no evidence to believe that the same deviations from the statistical norm of heterosexuality do not exist in Africa. The generalized results of the 2021 Ipsos survey of 19,000 people in 27 countries on all the continents (only South Africa, in Africa), indicate that about 3% of the population identify as gay, lesbian or homosexual.[10]

Albinism, multiple births, left-handedness, etc. are also “deviations from normal” in the sense that they are statistically significant. However, these deviations do not demand that the natural phenomena be suppressed by beating, imprisonment or a death sentence. Without doubt, fecundity is a great value in many African societies, as is becoming the ancestor of one’s own progeny. A person who does not contribute to the number of members of a family, clan, tribe or nation is regarded as not pulling his weight. However, even if there is a maximum of 3% of any African social group who are exclusively same-sex oriented, the population trends are still upwards in African socieites. It is also clear that many African societies acknowledge that one may join the village of the elders even without having direct biological descendants, and thus childless individuals are not necessarily rejecting a valued African eschatological worldview.

To argue that homosexuality as “not African but Western” is not helpful: It is true that homosexuality is “not African” in the way that giraffes and ostriches are African. That is, homosexuality is not endemic to Africa. Similarly, breathing and eating, loving, and human rights, are “not African,” because they are common to people all over the world. Conversely, to maintain that homosexuality is “not African” in the way that polar bears are not African, because they do not occur here at all, is mistaken. In 25 years of pastoral work, I have met people who identify as homosexual from Lesotho, Egypt, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa, etc., and they have not been contaminated by Western values. Nor does the so-called “West” own homosexuality as though it has a home there and nowhere else.

Most societies are predominantly heteronormative, but the measure of the humane-ness of a culture is the way in which it accommodates diversity and outliers. This results in a lot less suffering for the people whose sexuality does not conform to the dominant mode. In Africa, apostles of Christ’s mission of love, compassion and mercy are frequently intolerant of people whose lives and identity do not conform to societal norms.


[1] Reuters, “Uganda Enacts Harsh Anti-LGBTQ Law Including Death Penalty,” 30 May 2023, .

[2] PBS, “Uganda’s New Anti-gay Legislation Includes Death Sentences in Some Cases,” 29 May 2023,

[3] cf. Elizabeth Asasha, ‘KENYA: Catholic Bishops Tighten Stance on LGBTQ Ruling, Calling for Constitutional Reforms to Strengthen Cultural & Religious Values,” 21 April 2023, AMECEA, .

[4] UNAIDS, “Press Release: UNAIDS Urges All Countries to Decriminalise Homosexuality as a Vital Step in Ensuring Health for All,” 15 May 2023,

[5] cf. ,17 May 2023.

[6] cf. for example, Human Rights Watch, “Alien Legacy: The Origin of ‘Sodomy’ Laws in British Colonialism,”

[7] cf. Caleb Okereke, “How U.S. Evangelicals Helped Homophobia to Flourish in Africa,” 19 March 2023, and Lydia Namubiru, “Exclusive: US Christian Right Pours More than $50 Million into Africa,” 29 October 2020,

[8] cf. Alfred Kinsey, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female (1953).

[9] cf. Wikipedia, “Demographics of Sexual Orientation,” viewed on 22 June 2023, .

[10] Ipsos, “LGBT+ Pride 2021 Global Survey Points to a Generation Gap around Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation,” 9 June 2021, .