Tutu’s advocacy for LGBTQ rights did not influence most of Africa

Desmond Tutu is remembered for his passionate advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ people as well as for his fight for racial justice. But the South African Archbishop’s campaign against homophobia has had limited impact in the rest of Africa, where same-sex marriage remains illegal and most countries criminalize same-sex relationships.

Even within its own denomination, the Anglican Communion, there has been no continent-wide adherence to LGBTQ rights. Leaders of the Anglican Church of Ghana, for example, joined with other religious leaders in approving a bill that would impose jail terms on people who identify as LGBTQ or support this community.

Before Tutu’s death on Sunday at the age of 90, most African religious leaders rejected his LGBTQ positions, and those who agreed with him were often cautious, said Kenyan researcher Yvonne Wamari of Outright Action International. , a global LGBTQ rights organization.

“Most of them are unwilling to express their opposing views for fear of retaliation and backlash for not conforming to ‘African values’,” Wamari said by email. “Until religious leaders are prepared to interpret the Bible from the perspective of love for all, as Tutu did, homophobia and transphobia will be part of our lives.”

Homosexual activity remains banned in more than 30 of the 54 African countries; in some he is punished with death. Many LGBTQ Africans face stigma and abuse, face unemployment, homelessness and estrangement from their families.

Stephen Brown, a professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa, described Tutu as “a moral giant” who held on to his beliefs – including support for LGBTQ people – no matter how badly that might be. be risky or unpopular.

For example, Tutu was mocked in 2013 by Robert Mugabe, then Zimbabwe’s repressive leader.

“Tutu should just quit because he supports gay people, something that is wrong,” Mugabe said at a political rally.

That same year, Tutu delivered one of his most memorable comments on LGBTQ inclusion.

“I wouldn’t worship a homophobic God,” he said. “I would refuse to go to a homophobic paradise. No, I would say, ‘Sorry, I would much rather go to the other place.'”

South Africa is the only African country to have legalized same-sex marriage and its constitution protects against anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Yet even there, violence against LGBTQ people remains common.

In Cape Town, where Tutu was the Anglican Archbishop, members of the LGBTQ community responded to his death with tributes.

Throughout her life, Tutu has stuck “to the ideas of promoting absolute love, absolute acceptance and absolute kindness, no matter who you are, no matter your sexuality or your race,” said activist Saya Pierce. -Jones.

Daniel Jay, who works in the medical industry, said Tutu’s support for LGBTQ people has been key in South Africa’s decision to make anti-HIV drugs available for free.

“I love it all the way,” Jay said.

Beyond South Africa’s borders, a few recent developments have encouraged supporters of LGBTQ rights.

– In Botswana, the Court of Appeal last month unanimously upheld a 2019 ruling decriminalizing consensual homosexual activity. Previously, gay sex was banned and offenders faced up to seven years in prison. A few other African countries have also decriminalized same-sex relationships in recent years, including Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles.

– In Namibia, the LGBTQ community recently hosted their biggest pride event – a week-long celebration in Windhoek, the capital, which began on November 27. During the parade at the end of the week, some protesters called for the repeal of a Namibian anti-sodomy law that remains on the books but is not enforced.

The winner of the Mr. Gay World 2021 competition – Louw Breytenbach from South Africa – was the Grand Marshal of the parade. He then posted a tribute to Tutu on Facebook: “RIP to one of the most incredible humans to ever walk on this earth! A champion of human rights. A warrior of gay rights.”

In many African countries, anti-LGBTQ violence is a persistent threat.

A prominent LGBTQ activist in Tunisia reported that two men, including one in a police uniform, beat and kicked him in an assault in October which they said was punishment for his attempts to kill him. lodge a complaint against the police for previous ill-treatment. The attack left Badr Baabou, president of the Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality, with many marks and bruises.

Last month, according to Human Rights Watch, a mob in Cameroon beat and sexually assaulted a 27-year-old intersex person. The perpetrators made videos of the protracted attack that circulated on social media.

At the government level, Senegal and Ghana are closely watched by supporters of LGBTQ rights.

In Senegal, 13 opposition lawmakers recently tabled a bill to toughen sanctions against homosexuality, doubling the maximum sentence to 10 years. Members of the ruling coalition say such a measure is unnecessary since homosexual acts are already illegal.

In Ghana, members of parliament continue to work on a bill that has been condemned by supporters of LGBTQ rights in that West African country and abroad. Among other things, the bill seeks to criminalize the promotion and funding of LGBTQ activities and the dissemination of information about LGBTQ people.

Alex Kofi Donkor, director of LGBT + Rights Ghana, regretted that relatively few African religious leaders share Tutu’s point of view.

“A lot of African preachers have a lot of prejudice, hatred and loathing for the LGBTQ community,” he said.

The controversy over Ghana’s bill has highlighted the challenges facing the Anglican World Communion, which has taken pro-LGBTQ positions not adopted by many Anglican leaders in Africa.

In October, Justin Welby, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canterbury and symbolic leader of Anglicans around the world, said he was “gravely concerned” about the bill and would discuss the Anglican Church of Ghana’s response to the bill. of law with the Archbishop of Ghana.

He issued a statement reminding Anglican leaders in Ghana that the world organization of Anglican leaders is committed to opposing anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the criminalization of same-sex activity.

But in mid-November, Welby apologized for not speaking to the Ghanaian church before releasing his statement of concern.

“I have no authority over the Church in Ghana, and neither would I,” he said.

Days later, he released another ambivalent statement, referring to ongoing “private conversations” that would become “unnecessary or harmful” if made public.

Reverend Susan Russell, who is on staff at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., Recalled a Tutu visit to the church in 2005, shortly after the Episcopal Church ordination of her first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. , sparked a controversy that still shakes the Anglican Communion.

She recalled that Tutu spoke about how all people are kissed by God, regardless of gender or race – and when he included gays and lesbians on that list as well, “there was really a gasp audible in the room of astonishment, relief and pleasure. “

“When you’re fighting on the sidelines and the powers seem to be galvanizing against you, and you have Desmond Tutu by your side, almost anything seems possible,” she said.


Associated Press editors Sylvia Hui in London; Farai Mutsaka in Harare, Zimbabwe; Wesley Fester in Cape Town, South Africa; Francis Kokutse in Accra, Ghana; Kwasi Asiedu in New York and Peter Smith in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.


The Associated Press’s religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment via The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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