A Globe of Witnesses      
AGW Welcome The Witness Magazine

 

Africa and Homosexuality

By Rowland ‘jide Macauley

 

Once again we are being faced with the problematic relationship of the Christian church and homosexuality. Comments on the issue from African statesmen and clergymen, especially African Anglican bishops, make headlines and the basic human rights of gays and lesbians continue to be violated.  

I am Nigerian, gay, a Christian theologian, a poet, self-published author, an educator in business and Christian education, and a confirmed and ordained pastor. I have a law degree and hold a master's degree in theology, I am self-employed as a business consultant and also fulfilling my calling in pastoral ministry with the Metropolitan Community Church, a ministry which began in 1968 for lesbian and gay people.

Lesbians and gay men of African descent, like myself, today struggle to affirm our identity because we have often been expected to deny our sexuality for the sake of surviving in our spiritual communities. Religious tradition has too often emphasised the holiness of heaven over the holiness of the earth.

Lesbians and gay men of African descent, like myself, today struggle to affirm our identity because we have often been expected to deny our sexuality for the sake of surviving in our spiritual communities. Religious tradition has too often emphasised the holiness of heaven over the holiness of the earth.

Not only does legislation prohibit homosexuality in many African countries but its very existence is also denied as prevailing within the culture. There is a continual attempt to deny that gays and lesbians make up a significant part of the population. “Gay culture” virtually does not exist from an African point of view. The subject of homosexuality is a huge taboo. Many Africans are in same-sex relationships but very few will be open about their sexuality to their families.

There have always been African men who are sexually attracted to other men, since biblical times. South Africa's Brenda Fassie is an icon for many African gay men and lesbians. Before her demise, Brenda was openly bisexual. Bisi Alimi, a notable scholar of the University of Lagos, Nigeria, in an interview with Ms Funmi Iyanda, came out as “gay” on national television in Nigeria. The reaction of the nation was totally unforgiving towards her. But very soon, we will see a new generation of African gay icons.

Being born homosexual in African culture is not something that you are able to understand as a child. African society has made it a taboo because it cannot deal with the growing demands of gays and lesbians, of their human rights, their need to be recognised and protected under the law.

If it were possible to determine homosexuality at birth, many African parents would repudiate their homosexual children before they have the chance to live. It is commonly said in Africa, “It is better to have the corpse of my child, than for me to accept that my child is gay.” As far as Africans are concerned, homosexuality is an abuse of traditional values. Homosexuality is seen as a sign of western sexual corruption and immorality. Some families believe that homosexuality is a result of occult activity and others that it is a disability.

The experience of an African gay or lesbian person living in exile in a foreign country is one of lost hope and a lack of representation. There are times when it feels that the entire world is against you. Gay Africans are not accepted by their own heritage of African culture and are equally faced with oppression, prejudice, and low self-esteem.

I have spoken to over 50 African gays and lesbians in the past two years. The conversations revealed that their lives seem worthless in a society that gives them little protection against the hatred for their sexual orientation. Although I'm gay and living in a foreign country, I still fear the hatred that comes from my own country.   Just a few weeks ago I went back to Nigeria to visit family and friends, but also to take part in one of the rare public events for lesbians and gay men in Nigeria. It was the fifth anniversary symposium of Alliance Rights of Nigeria, led by its president, Dare Odumuye, a very brave gay man. It was a rare occasion for Nigerians to discuss the issues affecting sexual minorities. Michael Akanji of INCRESE another organisation championing gay issues in Minna, Niger State, explained the struggles of sexual minorities and facilities available in Nigeria.

There are many cases where violence is perpetrated against gays and lesbians and where family relationships breakdown. Those known to be gay or lesbian are seen as outcasts, bringing terrible shame to their family name and harming the families' values and reputation.

Powerful organisations like the church, which could make an enormous difference, add fuel to the stigma and undermine all efforts to change attitudes. African gays and lesbians therefore go underground; leading to a lack of self-esteem, increased insecurity, loneliness and sometimes suicide.

Powerful organisations like the church, which could make an enormous difference, add fuel to the stigma and undermine all efforts to change attitudes. African gays and lesbians therefore go underground; leading to a lack of self-esteem, increased insecurity, loneliness and sometimes suicide. The Christian churches are among the worst perpetrators of homophobia, using the Bible to support their attitudes and arguments. The issues are preached about in ways that are difficult to challenge and cannot be openly debated in the pews. Counselling is usually offered to those known or suspected of being homosexual. The experienced usually leaves the victim more confused.

The spiritual needs of Africans are different from western needs. African culture embraces a greater intimacy of spiritual growth. We need a new era of Christian faith that can celebrate same-sex unions, so that many more gay Africans can be proud to celebrate their sexuality in a loving union.

In Europe, the last decade has seen a radical change in attitudes towards lesbians and gay men. There has been a limited change of attitudes within the African gay community in Europe, but for those with families in Africa, secrecy remains essential. Many gay Africans still find it difficult to come to terms with their sexuality, mainly because they are not ‘out' as gay in their own cultural communities.

My goal as a gay man of African descent is to reach out to other gays and lesbians who are suffering persecution to offer hope and let them know they are not alone. I know that taking a stand and making myself visible will have repercussions. However, I stand strong in my faith and belief that as a child of God all will be well.

In London on November 20, 2004, Tumaini (meaning “Hope”) was inaugurated: it was the first-ever African gay men's culture event. Tumaini brought together gay men of African descent in a safe, mutually supportive environment where they shared experiences, accessed information, and gained practical advice.

Tumaini addressed a range of issues affecting African gay and bisexual men, as well as generated debate and provided the space for dialogue in a structured setting. We hope that this event and others in the future will attract the attention of African governments, faith groups, policy makers and many more decision-makers in our home nations.

Gay Africans are entering a long battle to get our experiences and the reality of our lives recognised and accepted within our own cultures.

 

The Rev. Rowland ‘jide Macaulay is a Nigerian theologian and poet living in the United Kingdom. He works to help support and connect African gay and lesbian Christians around the world. A writer and speaker, he maintains a website with his writings and work, and may be reached by email at ramacaulay@aol.com .