Most of us Africans do not know any other fellow Africans who openly identify as gay. Among Africans, homosexuality is mostly spoken of in derogatory terms. Known gay men and women are reviled, derided, ridiculed and maligned and sometimes the hostility can degenerate into violence. It is this hostile environment into which most gay Africans are born and in which they must grow up and live. In Africa gay people are openly discriminated against and the likelihood is very real that a gay man who comes out with his sexual orientation will lose many of his friends, his job and his means of livelihood and probably his home as well. In some countries, the discrimination against homosexuals is even given legislative backing. New laws are being promulgated that prohibit same-sex unions or associations and target gay rights advocates, with political and religious leaders joining in the fray. And this in the 21st Century! It is understandable then that the majority of same-gender loving African people will choose to keep their true nature hidden in order to avoid the hostility to which they would otherwise quickly become susceptible. My view is that this situation only exists because Africans generally do not understand homosexuality.
Whatever may be a society's attitude towards homosexuality, there will always be same-gender loving people among its members. It is simply not possible to legislate against sexual orientation, and the overall effect of anti-gay laws is to inhibit the pursuit of happiness for a significant portion of a country's population. Many heterosexual Africans might argue that they do not wish for same-gender loving people to be happy or pursue happiness, but this is a reactionary viewpoint that is borne out of prejudice, not one that is founded on modern secular rationality. And prejudice is always irrational and wrong. If the overriding objective of these laws is to protect the heterosexual majority, there has been no evidence from those parts of the world where homosexuality has been decriminalised that the heterosexual majority has become at greater risk of harm as a result. If anything, the guarantee of equality for all individuals irrespective of their sexual orientation has made for societies that are more egalitarian, healthier and more progressive. In those countries sexual orientation is not a bar to the individual in the opportunities that are available to him and in what he is able to achieve or make of his life.
Earlier this year, Iceland named Johanna Sigurdardottir a lesbian woman as its first openly gay prime minister/head of government, albeit this was an interim appointment. Clearly her sexual orientation was not a hindrance to her success as a politician and clearly, that she is a lesbian was not relevant to the Icelanders when the decision was made. Indeed, it seemed to have caused more of a stir abroad than it did within Iceland itself. Bertrand Delanoë is a gay man and he is the Mayor of Paris, one of the world's major cities. He is liked and very popular and is said to harbour the ambition of running for President of the French Republic in 2012. Klaus Wowereit has been the Mayor of Berlin since 2001. He too is an openly gay man and has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Chancellorship of Germany. His partner is a neurosurgeon.
This shows us that it is quite possible to be gay and be respectable at the same time. It is in this direction that Africa should be looking, including the gay Africans themselves, many of who because they have been raised in a society that condemns them, feel the need to hide that aspect of their nature. We are what we are, and it is our responsibility to portray our sexual orientation in a positive light. For the sake of the younger generation of gay Africans and for those yet to be born, there is a need for positive role models who are African and gay. We cannot continue playing to the fallacy that we are deviant, depraved and morally degenerate, an argument that is relentlessly advanced by our heterosexual brothers and sisters. We must demonstrate that we are capable, competent and responsible, but that at the same time we are gay and proud of it too.