.يولد جميع الناس أحرارا متساوين في الكرامة والحقوق. وقد وهبوا عقلا وضميرا وعليهم أن يعامل بعضهم بعضا بروح الإخاء‎
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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

African gays speak out on "state-backed" homophobia

JOHANNESBURG - African gay activists protested against "state-sponsored" homophobia, saying authorities tacitly condoned their persecution across the continent.

The International Gay and Lesbian Association's (ILGA) first pan-African conference in Johannesburg, which ends on Tuesday, drew about 60 activists who say they have seen first-hand the consequences of laws that breed homophobia.

In some cases, possible sentences against gays include death by stoning.

Thirty-eight of 85 U.N. members who outlaw homosexuality are in Africa, according to an April 2007 ILGA report which notes: "Although many of the countries ... do not systematically implement those laws, their mere existence reinforces a culture where a significant portion of the citizens need to hide from the rest of the population in fear.

"A culture where hatred and violence are somehow justified by the State and force people into invisibility or into denying who they truly are."

South Africa stands alone in Africa in its liberal attitude, last year becoming the first African nation to allow gay marriages.

Rowland Jide Macaulay, a gay cleric, breaking with African tradition that regards homosexuality as a taboo, launched a gay-friendly church in his native Nigeria last year to counter negative messages from officials and church leaders in a country where laws render homosexuality punishable by stoning to death.

"We're talking with people who cannot even integrate in the society. They've lost their jobs because they found out that they're gay at work, they've lost the roof over their head because their landlord found out they are gay," he said.

"There are people who suffer homophobic attacks ... verbal abuse and I think people need assurance they're not mentally ill."

Laws proposed last year will make life harder for gays in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, he said. The Same Sex Prohibition Bill bans homosexual unions and allows for the prosecution of anyone "aiding and abetting" gays and lesbians.

"In the southern part of federal Nigeria the punishment is 7-14 years. In the Sharia (Islamic law) states in the north it's actually death by stoning," said Macaulay.

Jean-Louis Rodrigues, secretary-general of Only Gay, a Senegalese support group for gay men, applauded the recent inclusion of gay men in a government HIV/AIDS panel but said this group faced discrimination in many spheres of society.

"Our struggle is about being visible and claiming our rights," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting. "Many gays in Senegal are arrested ... and given unfair trials because what is judged is not their crime but their sexuality."

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