The history of AIDS in Africa is a story intertwined with the ongoing legacy of colonialism, poverty, racial discrimination and other systemic ills. Including homophobia, according to the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
People often point to the African situation as “proof” that “AIDS isn’t a gay disease,” because on that continent—home to 25-million HIV-positive people and the disproportionate location of 60 percent of the world’s HIV infections—the bulk of the impact is upon heterosexuals, and children.
But the reality is more complex. According to IGLHRC’s just-released report “Off the Map”:
Studies in Senegal, Ghana, and Kenya indicate HIV seroprevalence rates significantly higher among men who have sex with men than in the general population. While African lesbians may have lower HIV seroprevalence rates than heterosexual women, same-sex practicing African women have self-reported HIV seroprevalence rates substantially higher than one might expect. The vulnerability of same-sex practicing men and women is not due to any biological predisposition, but is the result of an interlocking set of human rights violations and social inequalities that heighten HIV risk. Anti-gay discrimination is fueling the African HIV/AIDS epidemic.
IGLHRC’s Cory Alan Johnson wrote the report. He says that while part of the problem is homophobia within some African cultures and governments, another big issue is the agenda of international and local “faith-based” organizations, whose religious beliefs mandate ignoring same-sex practising African people. “Our inclusive efforts are oppressed and stigmatized by the majority of faith-based organizations,” he notes.
The needs and experiences of same-sex people in Africa may be drastically different from the agenda for queer rights in the West—but they need our support urgently. Education is the first step.