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February 14, 2014

The New York Times is Rightly Alarmed by Homophobia in Africa

The New York Times Editorial Board recently published a wake-up call on the alarming trend in increasing homophobic legislation in Africa. As Human Rights First has stated, the recent enactment of a ban on same-sex relationships in Nigeria and the Anti-homosexuality bill sitting on Ugandan President Museveni’s desk establish dangerous precedents for persecution and violence against LGBT people and their allies. 

President Goodluck Jonathan signed Nigeria’s bill into law on January 7th and the effects were immediate. Authorities arrested dozens of suspected gay men and reports surfaced of Sharia courts authorizing public floggings of men convicted of homosexual acts. Passage of the law alone would have placed Nigeria’s LGBT community in a more precarious situation, but the fact that the law was enforced so quickly and forcefully indicates the depth of the country’s human rights crisis.

In Uganda, President Museveni is likely to sign the bill any day. Support of the bill amongst the public is overwhelming, with polls indicating that 96% of Ugandans believe homosexuality should be rejected outright.  Marginalization of LGBT people in Uganda is a political winner for Parliamentarians trying to win local elections. 

All of which indicates that dehumanization of the LGBT community in parts of the globe is prevalent. Because of the Olympics, the international press has focused on the anti-LGBT bill in Russia. By signing the bill, President Putin played to a conservative base he calculates he needs to support his authoritarian regime.  Polls have found a 74% rate of disapproval of homosexuality among Russians. Much as in Uganda and Nigeria, the Russian government has justified its assault on LGBT rights by hiding behind a mob rule notion of democracy. They claim anti-gay legislation to be the will of the people, all while violating the human rights of their citizens and legitimizing bias-motivated violence.

The Times rightly suggests that such laws could prevent certain African countries from achieving their long-term economic potential. Foreign entities will opt to invest elsewhere due to the hostile environments the laws create, the corruption they enable, and the international commitments they violate.

In the short-term, however, homophobic legislation is an appealing tool for demagogic leaders who wish to mask ethnic divisions and cover up broken political promises.