HARARE, Zimbabwe – Gay Zimbabweans face widespread harassment and some have even been raped by those intending to convert their sexuality, the U.S. State Department said in a discussion of its annual human rights report in Zimbabwe.
Gay men were forced into heterosexual acts and lesbian women were raped, sometimes by male relatives, to teach them to change their ways, said Amanda Porter, political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Harare and compiler of the report.
"Some families reportedly subjected men and women to corrective rape and forced marriages to encourage heterosexual conduct," she said Tuesday.
Homosexuals reported widespread discrimination in 2009, the year under review. But the report notes that the conservative southern African country has long frowned on homosexuality.
Hate speech by politicians against the nation's small gay community fueled social pressures on families, Porter said. And crimes against human rights and sexual abuse against gays were rarely reported to police.
"Victims are afraid to speak out," she said.
Same-sex acts are illegal in Zimbabwe and while there have been no reported prosecutions related to consensual homosexuality in recent years, the offense carries a penalty of up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $5,000.
President Robert Mugabe last month vowed gay rights would not be protected in a new constitution being drawn up under a power sharing deal ahead of new elections, possibly next year. Mugabe once described homosexuals as "lower than pigs and dogs."
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said he personally shared an abhorrence of homosexuality, but called for tolerance toward all minority groups.
"There can be no place in the new Zimbabwe for hate speech or the persecution of any sector of the population based on race, gender, tribe, culture, sexual orientation or political affiliation," he said in debate on constitutional reform earlier this month.
Condemnation of gays is common in Africa. In Africa, only South Africa has legalized same-sex marriage, and even so the gap between the liberal constitution and societal attitudes can be wide.
Ugandan lawmakers have proposed imposing the death penalty on some gays. A gay couple is on trial in Malawi, charged with unnatural acts and gross indecency and face up to 14 years in jail.
Ugandan clerics have accused President Barack Obama of "exporting" homosexuality to Africa under the guise of human rights.
Porter said the annual U.S. rights review presented to a discussion group in Harare late Tuesday gave greater emphasis to gay rights than in previous years, reflecting concerns in Obama's administration about homophobia.
She said attitudes and laws in Zimbabwe made gays feel unsafe. Many did not seek medical care, for fear of being shunned by health providers and others who were stigmatized, reported abandoning their education early and suffering higher rates of unemployment and homelessness than other groups.