MAKE NO mistake: The homosexual genie is out of the bottle. It all started with lawmakers passing anti-gay laws, first in Nigeria and then more recently, in Uganda.
What followed has been a spat between the western world and the concerned African governments, with all manner of threats and counter threats hurled around.
Let’s start with the perspective of Western governments. They believe homosexuality to be a genetic condition where human beings are thus born.
As individuals, they enjoy all the rights and privileges enjoyed by other citizens; as a community, they require state protection, similar to that enjoyed by other racial, ethnic, or religious minorities.
As a result, homosexuality is considered a human right. Failure to protect them is a human right violation, which prompts countries in the western world to adjust relations with such human rights violators, with the possibility of suspending or cutting development assistance altogether, a scenario that is presently happening to Uganda.
The argument put forth by many African governments is that homosexuality is an abnormality, a social defect, rather than a genetic condition. Accordingly, they argue, it can be ‘corrected’ through efforts to do with behavioral and lifestyle change, with the help of psychological counseling, for instance.
In Uganda’s case, there are apparently individuals ‘recruiting’ young men from poor families into homosexuality. Members of Parliament in that country were apparently shown a video recording of this recruitment taking place, something that helps feed the argument that homosexuality is a choice, which in this case could be ‘cured’ by improved socioeconomic outcomes, such as an increase in employment opportunities.
Also related to this argument is the issue of consent. With many of these countries having laws protecting minors, usually those under eighteen, from sexual exploitation, would those slightly above that age threshold be considered ‘consenting adults’ able to make responsible lifestyle (sexual or otherwise) decisions?
At hand, therefore, are contrasting values. As is the case in almost all disagreements, the important question for the adversaries is this: Whose values shall prevail?
As opposing values come into confrontation, the silly season starts. Take the U.S. On its own soil, there’s hardly any consensus on the issue of homosexuality; the country is, generally, ideologically split down the middle between ‘Blue’ states in support and ‘Red’ against extending full citizenship rights to members of the gay community.
In the ‘deep south’ it’s much worse; there, bigots are downright hostile to homosexuals.
That the U.S. is generally a tolerant society but still has a large part of its population opposing homosexuality should suggest that, as a country, they are also still soul searching.
However, it doesn’t mean that the U.S. government shouldn’t take a position on the treatment of homosexuals abroad. The point is that this should be done in a restrained manner that seeks deeper understanding of people’s reservations, instead of the shoot-first-aim-later mentality.
That approach will not erase the fact that the vast majority of Africans consider homosexuality a western intrusion meant to ‘corrupt African values.’ Of course, whether homosexuality is, in fact, ‘unAfrican’ is subject to its own questions. However, the homophobia is real and its extent far-reaching.
Consider this: People known to defend the legitimacy of foreign influence in the spread of democracy and human rights abroad can be heard questioning the same intrusion when it comes to homosexuals, on the basis that ours are sovereign states where what the people want should take precedence.
Sensing a trap in that argument, more sophisticated critics cite inconsistency in western intervention. They fault the west for overlooking the conduct of dictators on good governance and then turn around and threaten to cut aid when it comes to the treatment of homosexuals.
While this argument has traction, it reveals a failure to grasp that domestic politics drives the conduct of most of these foreign donor countries. In this case, it’s the strong lobby of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) community.
Finally, in efforts geared towards responding to the question of whose values should prevail, it is clear that threats are not helping.
All they do is narrow the options for a resolution that caters for the reservations of all parties concerned. What’s required is to bring an end to the silly season and to start exercising some humility, restraint, and tolerance.