President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda are two African leaders who embrace legislation which targets the gay community. In Uganda, an anti-homosexuality law criminalizes same-sex relations, while in Nigeria, same sex couples that show affection in public risk ten years imprisonment. The laws in both countries are forcing communities vulnerable to HIV deeper into the shadows.
It’s a tough time to be gay in Africa, where 37 countries have banned homosexuality and where, at least in parts of the sub-Saharan region, HIV/AIDS rages.
Anti-gay laws complicate the jobs of health care workers such as Ifeanyi Orazulike, who runs a clinic for gay men and transgender people in a poor area of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. While the country’s prevalence of HIV infection was a relatively low 3.1 percent overall in 2012, it affected 17 percent of gay men.
“The world is saying we want an HIV/AIDS-free generation,” says Orazulike, who is 33 and not infected. “We can’t achieve that without including [health care for] men who have sex with men. We can’t achieve that without involving transgender people.”
In January, Nigeria imposed a controversial law banning same-sex marriage and civil unions; violators face up to 14 years in prison. The new rule, approved by President Goodluck Jonathan, prohibits gays from public displays of affection, from gathering in groups or from “aiding and abetting” homosexuality, threatening up to 10 years behind bars.
Uganda followed suit in February with its own harsh anti-gay law, one that carries a life sentence for repeat offenders.
The U.S. State Department has objected to both measures.
President Barack Obama called Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act “odious.” And in June, the U.S. government announced sanctions against the country. Among them: travel bans on individuals involved in human rights abuses, cuts in funding for its police force, and a shift in funding from the national health ministry to other organizations.
Religion plays a role
Such anti-gay policies are, at least in part, a product of American evangelical influence, says Roger Ross Williams, director of “God Loves Uganda.” The 2013 documentary film looks at how it has shaped the African country’s politics and policies.
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