By: Gcobani Qambela*
I really enjoyed the last weeks’ contribution to Bokamoso by Bradley W. Parks on “How journalism aids development” and especially the conclusion that “In order for the United Nations’ next development plan to succeed, we must find ways to make it mean something to more people”. In the case of the article by Parks, this means that there must be a vibrant and free press that will help aid development through rigorous reporting that will ultimately help keep government[s] in check. Parks’ article got me thinking about another issue that is often ignored in much of the thinking around the post-MDG agenda, and this being the issue of the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Intersex, Queer, and Asexual (LGBTIQA) persons, particularly in the African continent.
Earlier in the year I read an interesting article under the title “Why gay rights is a development issue in Africa, and aid agencies should speak up” by Hannah Stoddart. Stoddart, concerned with the very high rise in state sanctioned homophobia in Africa, shows how homosexuality in some African countries is often accompanied by a life sentence or up to twenty years in jail as nearly 37 African countries have outlawed homosexuality. Such outlawing is often accompanied by “increased threats and attacks against gay people – as has been the case in Uganda since the anti-gay law was introduced last year” writes Stoddart.
According to Stoddart, development agencies working in especially the “developing world” are often faced with a dilemma in that the presence of these organisations is “in many countries authorised by the same States that are preaching homophobia – but whose supporter-base by and large consists of liberal folk in the developed world who find homophobia distasteful.”
As a result of this dilemma, gay rights are often seen as a different category to other rights with many organisations remaining silent on the issue. Those who do decide to tackle the issue often do so under creative and euphemistic titles and language utilizing terms such as ‘at risk’ or ‘high-risk’ populations. It is in this fashion that Stoddart calls on us to “commit to lobbying donor governments to put pressure on recipient States who are criminalizing homosexuality” because it is important “for the sake of good, fair and equal development” that we “speak up.”
Just over a year ago, I conducted interviews for Stop Street Harassment with self-identified lesbian women in rural Peddie (Eastern Cape, South Africa). In the write up I remarked that “despite progressive same-sex legislation, [South Africa] still presents an extremely hostile environment for non-heterosexual sexualities.” Yet, beyond the reports of homophobia and ‘corrective rapes’ that saturate much of the South African public discourse, very little interrogation and investigation is paid to the ways in which social and state sanctioned anti-LGBTIQA sentiments also affect the development needs of such persons.
In speaking to many of the lesbian women, I saw that homophobia not only appeared to have psycho-social impacts, but also often affected many of their abilities for livelihood and shaped some of their migrational patterns in various and often detrimental ways. This is not a new observation, per se. Jessica Horn in her talk “Can aid donors help support LGBT rights in developing countries?” notes that the choice to discriminate on any basis is always a political choice. She says that it is political in two senses: firstly, in the sense that as humans we are always choosing ethically to navigate the questions of power and authority “and how we manage collective life”. And the second sense referring to the political choices we make especially in reference to party politics.
Horn says that it is important to expand the debates and attempts to “narrow spaces around sexual orientation and gender identity” because such efforts are part of broader heterosexist gender norms that want to maintain a particular type of social system of patriarchy in place. In this view, it is no coincidence that a lot of the anti-homosexuality legislations accompany the backlash against other various forms of challenges to patriarchy including challenges on marital rape, the prioritization of women’s economic justice and resistance against restrictive gender norms.
Horns notes that in countries where there is anti-homosexuality legislation tabled, that legislation often goes side to side with legislation that criminalises the dress codes of women, legislation that censors the use of pornography, regulates the sexual and reproductive body and generally a lot of other measures of containment (that are for the most part fueled by ‘the religious right’).
What is also concerning to Horn is also the often ignored party politic element to state sanctioned homophobia where governments play on “presumed national homophobia” to garner support for anti-LGBT policies. In this process governments are able to create a distraction around “other” issues by creating a diversion where LGBT(IQA) individuals are used for a “scapegoating exercise”. Under such conditions, dissent becomes criminalized with ultra-surveilled with various penalisations that infringe people’s freedom of association. Horn concludes that issues pertaining to LGBT(IQA) therefore are not only about “a question of identity… [they are] economic, social and political struggles… and queer Africans are facing poverty; [lack of] education, lack of water, healthcare issues…”
As we start unpacking the “post-MDG agenda”, I strongly believe that an inclusive post-MDG agenda is one that also makes specific measures in place to accommodate the social, economic and political needs of LGBTIQA persons in both the African continent, and globally. This, I believe will be the first step in creating an intersectional, inclusive and accepting world where difference are not a means for exclusion, but the entry point to connecting people across gender and sexuality.
Gcobani Qambela is a regular Bokamoso contributor. Read his previous articles here.