Gay Rights In Africa: We Ain’t Helping

There’s a good piece up at The Daily Beast about the gay rights fight in Africa, and about the West’s role in some of the tragic setbacks on that front:

[C]onsider last month’s United Nations Human Rights Council debate on LGBT issues. This debate received little coverage in the American press, yet it was both a watershed moment and an international travesty. On the one hand, the debate was the fruit of years of effort to get the issue on the agenda. On the other hand, it was, in the words of Sebastian Köhn, an observer from the Open Society Institute, a “circus.” The so-called ‘Human Rights Council’ includes such beacons of liberty as Mauritania and Pakistan, where “sodomy” is a capital crime. And in the shadow of honor killings and state-sanctioned torture of LGBT people, nothing whatsoever was accomplished.

The standard explanation of this culture clash is that developing nations have just not caught up with the West. The reality, though, is far messier. For example, American organizations in Africa have entered a cultural war between Christians and Muslims, each seeking to appear more pious (read: more intolerant) than the other. For example, American missionaries wrote and promoted Uganda’s nefarious “Kill the Gays” bill, introduced yet again this year, which would make being gay a capital offense, and supported a campaign of media-orchestrated violence, including one newspaper displaying photographs of LGBT people and calling for their murder. In at least one case, that of Ugandan activist David Kato, they got what they wanted; Kato was murdered early last year. Some may cluck their tongues at these ‘backward’ nations, but the hatred they evince is actually as American as Coca-Cola.

I have to admit that as someone who has spent the majority of his life living in the deep-blue Northeast, I experience far too many moments when I forget what a life-and-death struggle this is for so many people.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.