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One significant barrier to sexual minority rights in Africa is the generally negative attitudes ordinary Africans have toward same-sex relationships. Yet since 1998, there has been notable progress in terms of legalizing same-sex relationships on the continent, with Botswana the most recent African country to do so, in 2019. Botswana joins Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Lesotho, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, and South Africa, among countries that have decriminalized same-sex relationships. Publicly available cross-national survey data measuring citizen’s attitudes toward homosexuality in 41 African countries from 1982 to 2018 shows that, on average, Africans hold negative attitudes toward same-sex relationships, which is consistent with previous reports. However, there is variation in these attitudes, suggesting greater tolerance of sexual minorities among women, people who use the Internet more frequently, and urban residents. One key finding is that homophobia is not universal in Africa. In light of recent policy and legal developments advancing sexual minority rights, and given findings in existing scholarship highlighting the influence politicians have in politicizing homophobia, the literature questioning the generalized notion of a “homophobic Africa” is growing, and there are calls for more research on the factors influencing decriminalization.

Article

Capturing the nuanced attitudes toward LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people and rights in Africa involves examining them from within and outside the African context. Constructions of the entire African continent as holding negative attitudes toward LGBT peoples and denying them any rights remain quite commonplace across the Global North. However, closer analysis of specific nation-states and regions complicates our understanding of LGBT people and rights in Africa. Advances in the global study of LGBT attitudes through tools such as the Global LGBTI Inclusion Index and the Global Acceptance Index survey African peoples’ beliefs about LGBT communities. These measures locate African attitudes about LGBT peoples within a comparative context to decenter assumptions and many inaccurate, often colonialist, constructions. Attitudinal measures also expose the gap between legislation securing formal rights and the beliefs driving peoples’ everyday practices. These measures further specify how African governments can, often in response to Western political and economic forces, leverage homophobia on a national level to serve their interests despite a misalignment with the population’s attitudes toward LGBT peoples. Nongovernmental organizations and advocates raise awareness about LGBT rights and issues to impact socialization processes that shape these attitudes to generate political, social, and economic change. A rights-based approach and research on attitudes emerging from the African context represent shifts critical to better understanding how LGBT peoples and rights can be more effectively advanced across the continent.