This year’s LGBTQ Pride month marks change, but how is this being received around the world?

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Kenyan LGBTQ activists protesting Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law. Credit: Inter Press Service

Homosexuality is undeniably a controversial topic throughout Africa, dating back to colonial times, where laws prohibited “unnatural acts” and defined the basis of traditional relationships. To this date, of the 72 countries globally that find homosexuality illegal, 32 are in Africa.

Homosexuality, seen to be imported from the West, has created visibility for the sexual minority, creating flags, events, communities etc. As more and more countries and cities label LGBTQ rights as human rights, visibility has been rising with events such as NAIROBI, and campaigners ActionAid and Kate Kamunde working to give unrepresented LGBTQ communities a voice against prejudice. But now that June is here, how effective are Pride rallies, rainbow flags and other symbols in promoting LGBTQ rights in otherwise socially opposed nations?

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Mapping anti-gay laws in Africa: Which countries criminalise homosexuality. Credit: Christian Science Monitor

In June, Pride month is thought to be celebrated with rallies, walks, flags and symbols appearing more prominently throughout society. In countries where LGBTQ+ communities have been normalised, Pride events can even push people to become more accepting and change conservative attitudes. Pride celebrations centring in the West create visibility elsewhere even though rights and protections remain limited, with some protestors even facing intense backlash and violence for their campaigning efforts.

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A young lesbian woman at an LGBTQ community centre in Accra, Ghana. Credit: Human Rights Watch

It is thought that LGBTQ+ visibility and campaigning could boost social tolerance and accelerate governmental change, but how would this first be received in Africa’s own religious and conservative nations? Under wraps, a survey in December 2019 found that 80% of respondents believe homosexual sex is wrong in Malawi, with 50% having reported non-conforming individuals to the authorities. Similarly, in 2019, Zambia arrested two men, sentencing them to 15 years in prison for gay sex with Ugandan police detaining over 125 people in a gay-friendly bar in the capital.

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Ugandans sitting cross-legged with police patrolling around them. Detained outside the RAM bar in the country’s capital city after a police raid. Credit: Pink News

Although homosexuality remains taboo throughout the continent, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Through small steps, Africa is progressing towards change. In 2011 the first Kenyan online gay forum launched, providing a voice for the African gay community to anonymously share stories and find a community. It was the first of its kind in the country and proved to be a small step towards tolerance.

Since 2011, the events have become more prominent, with NAIROBI, the first pan-African virtual Pride event taking place last year. The event aimed to gather LGBTQ+ Africans to share their stories of struggle and success from a continent where their sexuality is often seen as “unnatural” and subsequently criminalised throughout the region.

Pan Afrique 2020 organiser Kehinde Bademosi, a gay Nigerian social inventor who was forced to migrate to the United States upon receiving homophobic threats to his life at home, said the pandemic had created the perfect opportunity to host the event.

“More people [were] online due to coronavirus, and so we thought it was a good time to reach out virtually to the LGBTQI people living in Africa.”

Kehinde Bademosi, gay Nigerian social inventor

The event being broadcasted at home also created a safe space for those wanting to take part.

“We are doing this because right now in Africa, many countries are criminalising LGBTQI people, and we want to send a strong message to them that they are not alone and show them that there is a community where they belong.”

Bademosi to Reuters.

South Africa was the first of the continent to legalise same-sex marriage, seeing a flurry of support from activists and LGBTQ+ allies.

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LGBTQ activists rallying to support the government’s decision to legalise same-sex marriage. Credit: Travel Noire

While protected by the law, LGTBQ people still face a range of discrimination living in the country, from public services such as schools and health clinics. The prejudice many face can cast fear over their everyday lives.

A 2015 survey researched by the organisation OUT found that out of 30,000 people in the Johannesburg area, only 56% supported LGBTQI rights. Also, 14% of respondents said it was “acceptable to be gay towards gay and lesbian people”. Statistically, this indicates that one in seven people could physically abuse an LGBTQI person.

Pride events have the ability to transform society. When LGBTQ communities are present at local political demonstrations, they can work to promote acceptance and change opposing attitudes. However, right now, many LGBTQ people are at risk of rejection, persecution and even violence, especially if they live in more intolerant countries.

Therefore, Pride events can have limited effects on societal attitudes beyond that close community. For marchers and those a part of the LGBTQ community, the effects are far more widespread, leading to empowerment and a feeling of inclusion. However, although visibility can strengthen a community and its movement goals, it can also lead to severe consequences. Thus, movements must decide for themselves, considering the context of whether and when to become visible.