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Queer Activism in Africa  

Ellie Gore

From Pride marches in Entebbe to legal battles in Lilongwe, the struggle for queer liberation in Africa has intensified over the past two decades. This has given rise to diverse formations of queer activism and organizing across the African continent and, in turn, to a burgeoning academic literature on the politics and practices of queer African activism. From a legal perspective, this period has seen progress in the status of queer or LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) rights in some parts of the continent. Elsewhere, this has paralleled a rise in forms of state-sponsored homophobia. The Ugandan government’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill is one prominent example, which garnered international notoriety in 2009. Focusing on waves of political homophobia in countries like Uganda, some Western media commentators have characterized Africa as homophobic, a continent where queer individuals face violence and persecution. Yet heightened international concern over the plight of queer Africans has not always been accompanied by an understanding of the movements, alliances, organizations, and activists working on these issues on the ground, nor has it incorporated the voices and experiences of queer Africans themselves. Thus, narratives of “homophobic Africa” belie the multiple, far-reaching ways Africans are coming together to contest homophobia, unsettle heteronormativity, and assert their rights. Among this growing array of activist groups are the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, Freedom and Roam Uganda, the Association of LGBTI People in Zimbabwe (GALZ), and LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays & Bisexuals of Botswana), to name just a few. In the academic literature, scholars have converged around a key set of issues and debates in an attempt to document and understand the character of contemporary queer politics and activism in Africa. This includes debates over language, naming practices, and terminology and discussions of political and religious homophobia, processes of globalization, the impact of HIV interventions and international aid funding, and the political economy of development. The complexity of these issues defies generalization and necessitates a concern for specificity: for an understanding of the shifting social, cultural, economic, and political contexts in which struggles over queer liberation and LGBTI rights are taking place in Africa; of the historical legacies of colonialism and uneven patterns of global development; and of the opportunities and constraints shaping queer activism in each setting. Against this background, scholars engaged in the study of queer activism must interrogate whose experiences, voices, and priorities are being heard (and whose are being excluded) and seek to center those activists at the grass roots who are leading the struggle for queer liberation and erotic justice on the continent.

Article

Russian LGBT Politics and Rights  

Emil Edenborg

Research on LGBT politics in Russia is a growing but still relatively small field. The current conditions of LGBT politics in Russia have been shaped by various historical processes. A key event was the 1933–1934 Stalinist anti-homosexual campaign and the recriminalization of sodomy; during this period a discursive frame was established that, to a large extent, continues to structure public perceptions of homosexuality: according to this framework, it is a political as well as a national transgression, associated with imagined attempts to undermine Russia by Western states. A near-total silence about homosexuality in the post-Stalin Soviet Union—where same-sex relations were regulated by criminal (in the case of men) and psychiatric (in the case of women) institutions—was broken during late 1980s perestroika, leading up to the 1993 decriminalization of sodomy. The Putin years have seen the gradual rise of a nationalist conservative ideology that opposes LGBT rights and stresses the importance of “traditional values.” The latter concept became state ideology after Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, as manifested in the 2013 ban on “propaganda for nontraditional sexual relations” and the foreign policy profiling of Russia as an international guardian of conservatism. In neighboring Eurasian countries—the post-Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus—the rise of “traditional-values” discourses and proposed propaganda bans in the 2010s indicate the extent to which LGBT politics have become entangled in geopolitical contestations over identity and regional influence. In Russia, a first wave of gay activism in the early 1990s failed to develop into a vital and lasting political movement but established a queer infrastructure in larger cities. It was followed by a second generation of activists in the mid-2000s, for some of whom the organization of Pride marches have been the main strategy, leading to controversies that have increased the public visibility and politicization of LGBT issues. In scholarship on LGBT politics in Russia and Eurasia, two important subjects of discussion have been visibility and geopoliticization. The first includes a critique of identity-based visibility politics and how it has structured perceptions of queer life in Russia as well as LGBT activism itself. Researchers have examined the multiple and contradictory effects and meanings of public visibility in the Russian context and have pointed at alternative forms of activism and organizing. Second, researchers have explored the geopolitical underpinnings of sexual politics, mapping how LGBT issues are interwoven in complex negotiations over national and civilizational identity, sovereignty and regional domination, security, progress, and modernity.

Article

African Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Relationships, 1982–2018  

Kim Yi Dionne and Boniface Dulani

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

Attitudes Toward LGBT People and Rights in Africa  

Jocelyn M. Boryczka

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.