African countries’ anti-gay stance hurts more than just African LGBT people.
I recently received a letter from a pastor asking me to speak at a conference in South Africa. The pastor checked out, as did his church, and the conference at which I was asked to speak. But the speaker’s fee, $25,000, seemed exorbitant. I wrote back and asked for more information.
“After checking your credentials and reading blogs about you, we received the Lord’s direction to invite you to speak in this event,” the email read. The church, which the letter referenced, was clearly an American Evangelical Christian plant, heavily influenced by fundamentalist theology. Those people don’t invite me to speak in their churches. I knew this letter was either a scam, or they were willing to pay $25,000 to fly me to their country and send me to prison for the rest of my life. I reasoned that if the second scenario were true, I probably wouldn’t get the money. Needless to say, I declined the offer.
Though, that letter was a little more sophisticated than the usual, “You’ve won the Nigerian lottery! Just send us a check for $4,397, and we’ll send you a check for $5 million,” it was a scam nonetheless. Unfortunately, these are not usually the types of letters I usually receive from African men. The letters I receive look more like this:
“I am 19 years old and I’m gay. I am effeminate and people tell me I am gay from a distance. I deny it and it hurts. If I come out, I might lose my family and my church. I do not have a lot of friends here. I am alone. For us gay people, when bad things happen to us, we think God is punishing us…we are told that we are sinners. As a result we get into drugs and get abused. Reporting abuse is not easy here because we gay people are not recognized. Please help me.”
“As I walk around [high] school, I feel like everyone hates me. I don’t want to lose hope. At the moment everything seems to be falling apart…I feel emotional pain, but try not to talk about my sexuality. Isolating myself is the only option I have.”
“I am 37 years old and married. Getting caught acting out here is a disaster…I just need a reprieve from the depression…. Please tell me what to do.”
As I’ve searched for resources, I’ve quickly realized how much better we have it here in the United States. It’s not that American LGBT people don’t go through similar thoughts and struggles, but there are an abundance of resources in the U.S.
To the contrary, in Nigeria, according to Mother Jones, there are harsh prison sentences for anyone who “makes a ‘public show’ of a ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ same-sex relationship or supports an LGBT organization (10 years [imprisonment]), and anyone who attempts to enter into a same-sex marriage (14 years [imprisonment])…” The result is that even some HIV centers have shut their doors so they are not perceived to be helping any LGBT people. Of the estimated 3,000,000 adults infected with HIV, women are the largest majority in Nigeria, according to UNAIDS.
These laws were modeled after Uganda’s anti-LGBT laws, which were heavily influenced by fundamentalist Christian doctrine. Scott Lively, who is now charged with crimes against humanity, spent many hours promoting his deadly version of Christianity to the Ugandan people.
And then, just yesterday at a news conference in Nairobi, Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, stated that gay rights are a “nonissue” in Kenya, and not a priority for the Kenyan government. However, anyone caught engaging in same-sex sexual activity in Kenya can be sent to prison for up to 14 years.
I get that Kenya has some major problems to deal with. I understand that, for a predominately straight society, addressing LGBT “problems” may seem like a luxury. But here’s why it matters to all of us.
People become a “social class,” not human beings
By categorizing people based on a set of beliefs or ideals that establishes one group, (men, straight people, white people, rich people) as better than another, human beings are unilaterally segregated, based on a designated value. We’ve seen this throughout history, whether it was apartheid in South Africa, Native Americans relegated to reservations in North America, or white purity in Nazi Germany.
In all cases, social classes ostracize and disenfranchise people by stating overtly, or covertly, that one group of people is not as valuable or important as another. It is a system of subjugation that diverts resources to keeping social classes down rather than building humanity up.
People who are ostracized are dehumanized
By ostracizing people who are not like “us,” they are dehumanized and, thus, incapable of human emotion and feelings. Their stories and experiences are dismissed as invalid. And if they don’t have the same emotions and feelings as “we” do, they are not better than animals. They are treated as animals once they are thought of as animals. When people are dehumanized, we are no longer responsible for them, or to them, and any acts against them are justified.
In the United States alone, there have been 15 homicides of LGBT people in 2015 so far. Half of those, according to the Anti-Violence Project, were out of hate-motivated violence. More recently, nine people were gunned down in a South Carolina church simply because they were black. In all cases, someone determined, based on his own perceived social class, that he was better than the person he killed. He was human and they were not. Ironically, as is often the case, those who do the dehumanizing become the animals.
People who are dehumanized will eventually react
In 1969, in the United States, it was the Stonewall riots that finally put the LGBT cause on the map. Gay men and women were tired of being harassed and beaten by the police.
In communities around the country we’ve seen African Americans burn down neighborhoods and businesses as a revolt against police violence and lack of economic and education opportunities.
Throughout the world, terrorism continues to grow. Terrorist organizations like ISIS target youth, who are joining in droves. Why? According to a study by Dr. John Horgan at the International Center for the Study of Terrorism, people who join these organizations share common traits: They feel angry, alienated and disenfranchised; they identify with the perceived victims of social justice; and they feel the need to take action.
Those leaders in Africa aren’t doing themselves, their constituents, or humanity any favors by taking a radical stand against LGBT people. They are only adding to the overwhelmingly harsh economic and social injustice problems that plague their own nations, as well as ours.
Some American evangelical Christians support harsh penalties against LGBT people in Uganda. As if that isn’t frightening enough, here in California, one attorney was able to get his own “kill the gays” bill on the the ballot by getting enough signatures of others who agree with him.* Any of us are susceptible to be deemed “less than human,” by only a few.
Though it’s easy for us to shrug our shoulders at third world countries and their backward ways, keep in mind that many of these ideas are coming from the fringe of American ideologies, such as Christian fundamentalism. If one group can be dehumanized so easily, then no one is safe.
To the contrary, when people feel valued and empowered, they find the fortitude to empower others. These leaders have the opportunity to turn the tide on their own African countries, but will never do so as long as they believe shaming and shunning any members of their communities is an acceptable practice.
*In June, 2015, a judge dismissed the “Sodomite Suppression Act” from appearing on the ballot.
Photo – Flickr/ Mark Fischer