Speaking boldly at the African Union summit Sunday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the African leaders in attendance that they must work to end sexual orientation-based discrimination on the continent.
"One form of discrimination ignored or even sanctioned by many states for too long has been discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity," Ban said. "It prompted governments to treat people as second-class citizens or even criminals.”
National and international conversations about the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Africans by society and government have increased exponentially over the past year.
In Uganda, legislators came close to green-lighting a bill that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Nigerian lawmakers are considering a new law that imposes criminal penalties on gay marriages, and Nigerian officials also publicly rebuffed President Obama’s decision to require all federal agencies working abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.
"Confronting these discriminations is a challenge, but we must not give up on the ideas of the universal declaration" of human rights, Ki-moon told the summit.
And a challenge it has already been. Given the staunch anti-gay positions of some African nations, many Western donor countries have threatened to withhold aid until progress has been made with respect to LGBT persons. The pressure is beginning to show signs of effectiveness in the case of Malawi, whose leaders are eyeing more tolerant policies. But others are holding firm, resentful of the negative light the controversy casts upon the continent.
"For as long as they are human beings we respect them but in terms of their practice and orientation we strongly condemn it," Ugandan Ethics and Integrity minister Simon Lokodo told AFP.
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(Photo: PETER DELARUE/EPA /Landov)