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The gay community should stop attacking anyone who dares suggest sexuality is a choice

Adam Jowett, Coventry University

In her new book Straight Expectations, radical feminist writer and campaigner Julie Bindel has recently and very publicly claimed that she’s not convinced by the scientific argument that sexual orientation is innate, and that she feels she chose to be lesbian.

She received a vitriolic response from the gay community on social media, with comments calling her “stupid”, “confused”, and “an awful human being”. One reader comment on Pink News stated that “Julie Bindell’s [sic] suggestion that being gay is a choice is downright offensive to me!”

This fury at claims we “choose” our sexuality is nothing new. Aside from the controversy that Bindel has courted for years, back in 2012, Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon received a similar response from LGBT activists when, in an interview with the New York Times, she explained that being gay was a choice for her.

Nixon and Bindel are by no means the first to claim that lesbianism, in particular, can be a choice, though they are perhaps the highest-profile women in recent times to have drawn such intense ire by voicing this view.

The notion of political lesbianism based on a feminist rejection of heteropatriarchy has been around since the 1970s, and there is also research suggesting that women’s sexuality is more fluid than men’s. But what exactly is so offensive about this suggestion, and why does the gay community react to it with such scorn?

Born what way?

In the book, Bindel quotes her discussions with fellow journalist Patrick Strudwick on why he reacted so scathingly to Nixon’s claim that, for her, being gay was a choice. His answer was simple; anti-gay religious rhetoric is based on the assertion that we can “choose not to be gay”, and such claims can be used as a justification for those seeking to “cure” homosexuality.

It would appear then that biological determinist theories of sexual orientation are fervently supported by many in the gay community not because they are backed up by empirical evidence or because they chime with many people’s experiences, but because they are supposedly a very effective means of challenging homophobia.

That much is apparent in slogans such as “homosexuality is not a choice, but homophobia is”. And accordingly, those who claim to have any element of choice in their sexual orientation are often attacked by much of the mainstream gay community for not toeing the party line, and for playing right into the enemy’s hands.

This, of course, assumes that biological determinist arguments are actually effective weapons against prejudice – and that no other arguments work.

Not so fast

Over the years, many studies have found that heterosexuals who score lower on homophobia scales tend to consider sexual orientation to be biologically determined, rather than learned or freely chosen. But this doesn’t mean there is a causal link between believing biological determinist theories and having liberal attitudes towards lesbians and gay men.

There are other perfectly plausible explanations; it may simply reflect the way that these two theories of sexual orientation are dominantly used in public debate to justify particular pro- or anti-LGBT equality positions.

Although studies have shown that participation in university level sexuality courses that teach biological determinism can reduce heterosexual students’ prejudice towards lesbians and gay men, social psychologist Peter Hegarty found that prejudice also declined among students taking a course that addressed anti-gay prejudice directly, but which did not discuss biological theories of sexual orientation. His findings suggests that “born this way” arguments are hardly the only way to tackle anti-gay prejudice.

Much of the livid reaction to Bindel’s comments focused overwhelmingly on her contentious assertions that homosexuality can be a choice, but her book also offers a persuasive political critique of the “born this way” argument as a basis for LGBT activism.

For example, she points out that nobody questions the biological basis of sex and race and yet sexism and racism continue to exist. She also questions whether the notion of choice necessarily lends itself more to the idea of a “cure” than the notion of a “gay gene” or fetal hormone theories. After all, the Nazis were interested in research on the biological basis of homosexuality in order to eradicate it.

Science and morality

We don’t need proof that we were “born this way” to challenge religiously motivated attempts to “cure” homosexuality. Homosexuality is no longer classified as a mental illness, and “treatment” is therefore inappropriate – irrespective of whether we are born gay or not.

But I would also question the idea that the thorny issue of “choice” is settled once and for all by proving that sexual orientation is biologically immutable. Even if the biological basis of sexual orientation were proved beyond all doubt, those who subscribe to heterosexist religious ideologies which view non-heterosexuality as morally inferior could argue that while we cannot choose who we are sexually attracted to, we can choose whether to act upon those sexual desires.

The “born this way” argument cannot dodge the question of morality; science can never replace the need for thorough and tight moral argument. Either same-sex relationships are of equal moral value to heterosexual relationships or they are not.

We should be proudly proclaiming that they are – not attacking those in our own community who experience or make sense of their sexuality differently than we as individuals might choose (yes, choose) to do.

Adam Jowett, Lecturer in Social Psychology, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is America’s airstrike in Syria changing international law?

 

In his article, Is Trump’s strike in Syria changing international law?Jan Lemnitzer underscored two justifications for the use of force (authorisation by the United Nations Security Council or self-defence) under international law that could have legitimized Trump’s airstrike in Syria. The airstrike was carried out without the UN Security Council resolution calling for an armed response, and the attack on Syrian children does not constitute a direct threat to the US or its allies. Thus, neither holds in this case.

One thing that constitute a sort of legitimacy for this strike was the overwhelming support it garnered from both parties in the US and its allies abroad; particularly democrats that have sworn to oppose his policies till the end of his term suddenly find a common ground with him (after months of discrediting him that he won the election with the support of Russia) and from abroad – NATO, France, UK, Germany and others who had thought he would align with Putin in Syria because of his campaign rhetoric.

Is the strike an act of aggression against foreign country?

Jan Lemnitzer, pointed out that the attack was technically an act of aggression against a foreign country and a clear violation of international law.

One may be curious how illegitimate strike garnered support even from Trump’s critics. This is unconnected with emotion stirred up by the death of over 80 civilians in the suspected sarin-gas attack against Khan Sheikhun on 4 April. Perhaps, it married the bad and the good across the globe to come together to condemn this form of atrocities; as we all have blood flowing through our veins. Today, it seems that the consensus against the use of chemical weapons is so universal that states have begun to improvise enforcement rules beyond those included in the Chemical Weapons Convention, which has been signed by every country in the world except Egypt, South Sudan and North Korea. Beyond emotions, shared support for Trump’s airstrike in Syria may signal the emergence of a new norm in international law, one that may serve as precedence to justify unilateral military force to sustain the ban against the use of chemical weapons in future.

The emergence of this new norm means that justification is now available to any country that desires to unilaterally punish another nation for its use of weapons of mass destruction like Syria without authorization by the UN Security Council.

Those applauding Trump’s aggression today would not actually want unilateral attack on foreign government to happen, so it will probably be a long time before the new norm is written down but before then US and its allies need to act with caution as their actions may set precedence for other nations.

Read extended excerpt from the article below:

No legal justification, but wide support

Under international law, there are only two justifications for the use of force: authorisation by the United Nations Security Council or self-defence.

Neither holds in this case. The UN Security Council has condemned the Bashar al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians but it has not called for an armed response, and most experts consider that attacking Syrian children does not constitute a direct threat to the US or its allies.

This is a crucial difference from the ongoing US strikes against the Islamic State on Syrian soil, which Washington justifies as support for Iraq’s self-defence.

Despite the absence of legal justification, only Russia and Iran have forcefully spoken out against the US missile attack, branding it illegal. Most world leaders welcomed the air strikes and hailed them as a strong signal in the fight to end the use of chemical weapons.

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande issued a joint statement in defense of Trump’s action, and the leaders of countries as diverse as Japan, Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Italy and Denmark have all supported it.

According to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Chinese President Xi Jinping also did not condemn the strikes and offered a measure of support by confirming its opposition to the use of chemical weapons.

The heads of the European Union and NATO have both stated their belief that the use of chemical weapons “cannot go unanswered”.

The creation of a new norm

Trump’s strike is thus about more than just “gesture politics”. It represents the creation of a new norm in international law that sanctions the unilateral use of force to punish those who use chemical weapons, especially against civilians.

New international law can be created not only through treaties and declarations but also established by state practice, as long as the behaviour is accepted by other states as legal and justified. This process can take decades.

But the outlines of one new rule have just been defined.

First, any use of force must be directed against targets that are related to the actual use of chemical weapons. The US struck only after it confirmed that sarin had been unleashed on the Syrian people, and targeted its missiles at the base from which the attacking planes had launched.

Battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield in Syria. DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Reuters

Second, any such counter strike must be designed to minimise civilian casualties. The attack apparently avoided the building suspected to store the chemical weapons, since an explosion there might have caused them to be spread widely, increasing civilian casualties.

To prevent Russian casualties, the US even warned the Russian military of the attack, which almost certainly ensured that the Syrian officers responsible for the gas attack could flee along with their Russian colleagues.

What remains unclear is the scope of this new principle. When, in February 2017, Human Rights Watch reported that the Assad regime had coordinated chlorine-gas attacks against civilians in Aleppo using crude barrel bombs, the news did not trigger a response from the Trump administration.

Images from the Khan Sheikun attack seem to have stirred Trump’s emotions, and there are reports that the heartbroken response of his daughter Ivanka influenced him as well. While it first appeared as if the Trump administration intended to differentiate between sophisticated chemical weapons, such as sarin and military use of industrial chemicals such as chlorine, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer soon confirmed that the US would use force to punish Assad for any use of chemical weapons.

Chemical weapons must not go unpunished

Whether inspired by Trump’s head or heart, this new logic marks a significant divergence from the previous administration. President Barack Obama shied away from using military force in response to Assad’s first sarin gas attack against civilians in Ghouta in 2013.

At that time, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a new international-legal principle: if a state deploys chemical weapons against civilians, it forfeits the right to use them and must destroy its supplies. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons received the 2013 Nobel Prize for peace for supervising this process in Syria, and Assad was forced to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Now that Syria has broken this agreement and again used chemical weapons (which were either hidden from inspectors or freshly produced), Obama’s stance has offered Trump a viable platform for using military force – he can point to Syria’s violation of the convention it signed four years ago.

Still, establishing a new principle is not straightforward. Germany expressed support and understanding for the strikes while stressing that its military would not offer support to similar operations without UN authorisation, as German law bans wars of aggression.

Will Russia now promote its own version of international law and order? Stephanie Keith/Reuters

Russia, meanwhile, has countered the US threat to Assad by stating that it would use armed force in response to further US attacks, whether motivated by the use of chemical weapons or not.

Even the White House has wavered on the reasoning for its missiles. Trump first argued that preventing Assad from using chemical weapons was a “vital national security interest of the United States” (seemingly claiming a form of self-defence) before the White House clarified that the use or proliferation of chemical weapons “should be a concern to every nation”.

The US now sustains that action in Syria was meant to support the new principle that the use of chemical weapons against civilians must not go unpunished, regardless of the UN’s position.

This muddled language is typical of a norm-creation processes in which an action that clearly goes beyond existing law is receiving widespread international support.

Though codification of a new norm can take decades, the principle can become accepted practice long before that. Today, it seems that the consensus against the use of chemical weapons is so universal that states have begun to improvise enforcement rules beyond those included in the Chemical Weapons Convention, which has been signed by every country in the world except Egypt, South Sudan and North Korea.

The development of this new norm means that justification is now available to any country that wishes to unilaterally punish another country for its use of weapons of mass destruction. If successfully established, it would undermine the authority of the UN Security Council.

Many states applauding Trump’s actions today do not actually want that to happen, so it will probably be a long time before the new norm is written down. In the meantime, the US has made it clear that it will continue to invoke it against Assad and others.

Nigeria and Morality of Corruption

The causes and effects of corruption, and how to combat corruption, are issues that are increasingly on the national and international agendas of politicians and other policymakers. Corruption is not a major problem in some countries as it is in Nigeria today. The evolution of corruption in Nigeria could be traced back to pre-colonial era, but many believe it exploded like epidemic in the 80s, in particular under Babangida’s administration. One of the reasons former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission – EFCC in 2003. Since its establishment EFCC has proved to be the only agency in Nigeria with the best striking skills to fight a very defensive corrupt society.

It was number one on the primary agenda of the current President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, during his campaign in 2015. The revelations since it took office about millions of dollar some individuals appropriate to themselves without due process and with the sole intent of looting the commonwealth of the country is mind-boggling to say the least. A petty question that comes to mind when one sees the buried cash, stocked hard currencies and monies fixed in proxies’ accounts in the news, is how heartless are these individuals? They aren’t that heartless, rather they are brainless!

The question to ask is “what would they do if money was no object?”. A philosophical analysis of money vs wealth by British philosopher Alan Watts suggests that:

“The moral challenge and the grim problem we face is that the life of affluence and pleasure requires exact discipline and high imagination.”

It is evident that most corrupt officials lack discipline and any form of imagination.

And yet, despite our best efforts not to worry about it, money is an object — so much so that it renders the question all the more urgent and pressing today, in our age of growing political corruption coupled with increasing insensitivity to amoral acts by the citizenry themselves. Those that ought to reject any form of corruption, instead have no abhorrent attitude towards it. Some of them even do not consider corruption obnoxious and detestable. They believe everyone are the same (corrupt) and as such no one should be seen as different (upright/incorruptible). This is the premise and justification for witch-hunt by these people whenever an individual is investigated for corrupt practices.

I will quote Alan Watts as a response to these sophists:

“If you say that money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time: You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is, in order to go on doing things you don’t like doing — which is stupid!”

Alan Watts response is a poignant exploration of our tendency to confuse money with wealth, a manifestation of our more general inclination to mistake symbol for reality, which Watts considers “the peculiar and perhaps fatal fallacy of civilization.” Many people today worship money, allowing money to be subject while they turn themselves to object. What can we do to help the corrupt ones among us become subject over money?

Alan Watts spent his career reconciling Eastern Zen practices with Western thought and civilization. In his lectures, Watts explores the makeup of Western society and offers insight that releases us from the confines of our unquestioned social norms. Watts encourages readers and listeners to achieve a state of existence, in which we become the designers of our own experiences, our own identities, and the cultivators of our own happiness.

To do this, Watts asks you to answer the original question again, but this time eliminate perhaps your greatest perceived obstacle:

“What would I like to do if money were no object? What would you really like to do in my life?”

Watts urges us to detach ourselves from the internalized notion that money will bring us happiness, to relieve ourselves from the impulse to chase something that can offer us some sort of quantifiable understanding of our achievements and our existence—something that is (seemingly) material. He goes on: “If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time.” To structure your existence with an objective of monetary gain is to spend a lifetime chasing an abstraction; “[Money] is only an accounting of economic energy,” and its relationship to happiness is an ideological construct which denies us the ability to discover our own identity and carve our signature on life.

For Watts: “Experience is a thing we are taught. We are taught what experiences are permissible and not, just in the same way we are taught what speech is permissible and not, and what actions are permissible and what are not.”

It is so easy to follow what we are taught, to walk the beaten path, but while “Social pressures are irresistible,” Watts directs us towards deviation:

“Clouds never make mistakes. Have you ever seen a misshapen cloud? Have you ever seen a badly designed wave? No, they always do the right thing. So, as a matter of fact, do we, because we are natural beings just like clouds and waves.”

For Watts, a mistake in life is an organic occurrence—in the grand scheme, no mistake at all. Deviation from a normative path surely comes with its own potholes, but missteps form a necessary cycle for natural beings to flow through and to learn from.

A wave, regardless of its design, will constantly rise and fall, much like our journey that comes with its own highs and lows. How do we move through these cycles, and seek what we desire, without giving into pressures? “Trust your own mind,” says Watts; trust that when you make a mistake, you will rise back up; trust that your mind will reveal your desires and permit you the ability to feel what is right. After all, happiness is not quantifiable, it cannot be measured; happiness is a state of being. It can be felt. It requires constant work to be achieved and then achieved again. This is the result of unlearning experiences we are taught and allowing ourselves to listen to our own waves, our own ebbs and flows which compose the events of our life and the cycles of our mind. “You identify yourself with a series of events that you remember.”

How do you want to identify yourself?

In the next article, I will be looking at what corruption is. The reason being that most of the definitions of corruption are unsatisfactory in fairly obvious ways. Conceptualizing one given by the former President, Goodluck Johnathan, when he attempted a definition of corruption by first eliminating what is not corruption. According to him, mere stealing is not corruption. Is stealing not corruption?

What does Russia want from Donald Trump?

There are several explanations for why relations between Russia and the United States having been in decline since 2010, from Russia’s increasingly aggressive postures (especially regarding Ukraine) to US support of regime-changing revolutions (especially during the Arab Spring). The Conversation

The fact is, we are quite far today from the the “reset policy” attempted by the Obama administration in 2009 to bring the two countries closer.

All-time low

For the past few months, US-Russia relations have been a roller coaster ride. Though presidential candidate Donald Trump seemed to be praising Russian President Vladimir Putin during America’s 2016 election campaign, everything changed quickly once he was elected.

The US media started to investigate even more potential “Russian connections” to the president-elect, and the FBI launched an investigation, putting Trump on the defensive.

Then, following the suspected sarin gas attack on the Syrian village of Khan Sheikhun that killed more than 80 civilians, Trump decided to strike the Assad regime on April 7. This provoked a strong reaction from Moscow.

Whichever side you are on, everybody can agree that today, relations between Russia and the US have almost reached an all-time low, recalling – at least in terms of the rhetoric being employed – the worst periods of the Cold War.

Exploring tensions

The irony is that, until recently, both President Trump and President Putin seemed eager to put the relationship back on track.

This was apparent during the preparatory phase for US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Russia on April 11 and 12. On both sides, foreign policy planners were working to resolve numerous issues.

Americans were eager to talk about a potential nuclear arms reduction deal that could lead to ending sanctions against Moscow. On the Russian side, there was mention of discussing the many concerns that may not be well-known to Western readers, such as the arrests of Russian citizens by American special services in foreign countries, the rights of Russian foster children in the US and the “artificial difficulties” created for Russian diplomats as they perform their duties.

But just before Tillerson’s departure for Moscow, events in Syria changed both the tone and the agenda of the visit. Russian and US officials – including the Russian minister of foreign affairs, Sergey Lavrov, and Rex Tillerson himself, as well as both presidents – exchanged harsh words. President Vladimir Putin even said that the relationship had deteriorated since the Obama administration.

Still, the long-awaited visit of Tillerson to Moscow stayed on schedule. The US secretary of state first passed a whole day behind closed doors with Sergey Lavrov before spending another two hours with the President Putin. This was a sign, at least, that both sides were still engaging in talks and that they were, in some way, successful.

Results announced by Lavrov and Tillerson included – beyond discussions on Syria, North Korea and Ukraine – the appointment of a special task force to explore existing tensions between the two countries. The two also mentioned the need for reviving business contacts, which could imply lifting some mutual regulations that limit trade between their countries.

The day after Tillerson left Moscow, President Trump wrote what looked like a reconciliatory tweet:

So what exactly happened during that visit?

Developments to watch

There is every reason to believe that these two did not share with the public all the details of their talks.

Putin is famous for his love of secrecy, a habit that comes from his background as a KGB officer. Tillerson, on the other hand, came to politics from business, where nobody ever gives away the details of a just-made bargain.

Certainly, something interesting will come out of what was discussed in that long meeting on April 12. As the world watches Trump to see how US policy toward Russia develops, observers should also monitor Russian reactions to American policy worldwide.

Already, the White House has made attempts to move American media coverage away from the tensions with Russia that followed the US intervention in Syria. Trump has since ordered military operations that demonstrate that there are other hot spots around the globe, from Afghanistan to North Korea.

In fact, it looks today like the North Korean nuclear program is a matter of great priority for the American administration, and it is no coincidence that this issue was brought up at the post-negotiation public press conference in Moscow. If there is more action ahead for North Korea, Washington would need Moscow as an ally – or at least a guarantee of its support.

What price Trump will pay for such support remains to be seen.

On an alarming domestic note here in Russia, shortly after the US secretary of state left town, law enforcement officials arrested about ten people nationwide on charges of “wrongdoing” during a March 26 anti-corruption rally, Russia’s largest protests since 2012.

Some analysts say that the timing of that crackdown – the day after Tillerson’s visit – illustrated Moscow’s clear desire to make some progress during Tillerson’s visit. In what was already perceived as a difficult negotiation, Russia did not want arrests of the political opposition to become yet another subject of contention.

Ivan Kurilla, Professor, European University at St Petersburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why anti-gay sentiment remains strong in much of Africa


Image 20150609 10726 12ejedk
Members of a breakaway faction of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe protest against homosexuality.
Reuters

Harry Dugmore, Rhodes University

This article is part of a series The Conversation Africa is running on issues related to LGBTI in Africa. You can read the rest of the series here.

Of the 76 countries that still criminalise same-sex relationships and behaviour, 38 are African.
Recent surveys also show that the overwhelming majority of people who live in Africa strongly disapprove of homosexuality. This is even the case in South Africa, the only country on the continent that has legalised same-sex marriage.

Last month, socially conservative Ireland voted convincingly to legalise same-sex marriage. It became the first country where the people, as opposed to the courts or parliament, decided to legalise same-sex marriage. Ireland is now one of 20 countries globally that permit gay marriage. Fifteen years ago, such marriage was not legal anywhere in the world.

What the science is saying

Africa’s strong anti-homosexuality sentiment, harsh laws and active discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people warrant exploration.

A report by the Academy of Science of South Africa reviews recent science about human sexuality and sexual orientation and challenges attitudes that are common in many African countries. The report also provides some explanation about the attitudes and laws prevalent in Africa.

It outlines how global science has steadily demonstrated that gay people are not “sick” nor do they have “conditions” needing treatment. This research, from the 1950s to the 1990s in particular, encouraged professional organisations to remove homosexuality from diagnostic manuals.

Contemporary science does not support thinking about sexuality in a “binary opposition” of hetero/homosexual and normal/abnormal. Rather, it favours thinking about a wide range of variations in human sexuality.

The report finds that:

Variation in sexual identities and orientations has always been part of a normal society, [and] there can be no justification for attempts to ‘eliminate’ LGBTI from society.

A growing public appreciation of this new science has been important in shifting public attitudes and laws globally.

The effect of colonialism

An understanding of the moralities that appeared in 19th-century Europe, entailing missionary-driven assaults on African social and sexual customs and practices such as polygamy, and sex before or outside of marriage, is key to unpacking the current state of affairs in Africa.

Dozens of studies show that same-sex practices in pre-colonial Africa were not generally taboo in the way that colonial administrations codified them. Many traditional societies in Africa, and elsewhere, developed ways of ordering and tolerating [same-sex attractions and behaviour](http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/making-love-a-crime-criminalization-of-same-sex-conduct-in-sub-saharan-africa “).

Many tolerated some same-sex relationships among men, particularly in age-related cohorts or military units. Large numbers of men practised some same-sex activities while asserting their heterosexuality in other spheres of life.

Among women, many different African societies record marriage or other kinds of recognised relationships between women, as well as different forms of cross-dressing and role-swapping. These include societies and cultures in Kenya, Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Lesotho, South Africa and many others.

Only during the height of colonisation were precise definitions of sexual orientations developed and proscribed behaviours punished. The British in particular brought in legislation because they thought “native” cultures did not punish “perverse” sex enough.

Like so many other colonial era laws based on Victorian prejudices, these laws should have been repealed as part of the decolonisation process. But, on liberation, most English-speaking colonies did not repeal colonial-era “sodomy” or “crime/vice against nature” laws.

There has been some progress. For example, Mozambique, which celebrates 40 years of independence this month, will officially rescind “vice against nature” legislation in a few weeks time.

In more recent times

But attitudes and laws about homosexuality are not purely a colonial import. Since independence, other factors, including political populism, have driven anti-LGBTI attitudes. More recently, some of the impetus behind new laws has come from conservative and often racist organisations based in the US.

In the last 15 years, the Christian right, primarily charismatic right-wing churches from the US, has been very active in driving anti-homosexuality sentiment in parts of Africa, like Uganda.

These groups have supplied their African allies with discredited junk science to bolster what is ultimately a narrow, imported set of ultra-conservative values. Similarly, the growth of a more conservative set of Islamic customs in some parts of Africa has seen the erosion of indigenous belief systems that have been historically more tolerant of non-heterosexual orientations.

Attempts in Uganda to impose new, tougher laws has drawn global attention and opprobrium. In 2014, President Yoweri Museveni ordered the establishment of a Presidential Scientific Committee on Homosexuality to advise his government on whether on not to pass a controversial anti homosexuality law.

The medical academics involved concluded that:

  • Homosexuality “is not a disease”;

  • Homosexuality is not an “abnormality”;

  • Specifically that “homosexual behaviour has existed throughout human history, including in Africa”; and

  • Homosexuality existed in Africa way “before the coming of the white man”.

Despite receiving this report, Museveni signed a law that contained harsh new punishments for “homosexual acts” and for what it calls the “promotion” of homosexuality. Implementation of that law is currently suspended by the Ugandan Constitutional Court.

There are also new laws in Nigeria, homophobic changes to the constitution in Zimbabwe and discussion about possible new laws in a number of countries, including Kenya.

Countries where same-sex acts are criminalised.
assaf

Negative impacts

The impact of this type of legislation is severe on LGBTI individuals and communities as well as on public health services.

A particularly dangerous aspect of new laws in some parts of Africa is that they are designed to criminalise those who advocate for LGBTI rights or campaign for better access to public health facilities. This impedes the work of NGOs and activists and wider dissemination of new science about sexual orientation.

The report aims to make recent science more accessible to African policymakers so that policy can be based on good evidence, not social prejudices. Same-sex attraction is neither “un-African” nor a colonial import. Between 350 million and 400 million people globally are not heterosexual, about 50 million of whom live in African countries.

It is time to transform the continent’s laws, and its societies, informed by a rapidly evolving, and ever more convincing, science of sexual orientation.


This article draws from the ASSAf report, which says that 38 African countries have laws that criminalise same-sex relationships. This figure was taken from the 2014 report by the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). In its 2015 report released in May, the association has revised the number to 35.

Harry Dugmore, Professor and Director of the Centre for Health Journalism , Rhodes University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.