In Solidarity? An Open Letter to Pan-African Activists, the Black Left and Human Rights Activists in the U.S.

by Joan P. Gibbs

Homophobia is on the rise in Africa, in significant part due to donations provided by US-based conservative evangelical organizations. US organizations intending to support the LGBT rights struggle in Africa need to reflect carefully on a number of important factors.


In Solidarity? An Open Letter to Pan-African Activists, the Black Left and Human Rights Activists in the U.S.

by Joan P. Gibbs

This article previously appeared in Pambazuka News.

Although I am concerned about ‘social,’ ‘cultural imperialism’ and fuelling a backlash against African LGBT persons, doing nothing is simply not an option for me.”

Revolutionary Greetings Sisters and Brothers,

I write as a long-time activist in the Black and LGBT movements as well as the anti-war, and solidarity movements in the United States, to inform you, if you are not already aware, of the emerging campaigns within the US-based LGBT movement in opposition to the persecution of LGBT people in Africa, to urge you to pay attention to these campaigns and, when and where feasible, lend your support to them. In writing, I am not unmindful of the fact that we have more than enough work to do here on other issues facing our people such as the forced migration of Black people from Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and other historically Black communities, the disproportionately high rates of unemployment, underemployment, poverty, homelessness and incarceration among our people.

The Ugandan parliament’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on December 20, 2013, signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni, following the early January surreptitious signing into law of the Same-Sex Marriage Law by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, and the subsequent reports of the harassment, arrests, violence against individuals known, suspected or perceived to be LGBT in Nigeria, in particular, but elsewhere as well, have inspired both a greater interest in the situation of African LGBTI persons and an array of, in some instance problematic, actions and proposals by US based LGBT organizations and activists.

After putting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on hold purportedly pending advice from U.S. scientists as to whether homosexuality is caused by nature or nurture, Museveni, on February 24, 2014, signed the bill into law at a press conference at his official residence at Entebbe, before an audience comprised of other government officials, journalists, Ugandan scientists and others. In an interview with CNN after the signing, Museveni when asked if he personally disliked homosexuals said: “They are disgusting. What sort of people are they?” “I never knew what they were doing until I was told recently,” he added. “It's terrible. Disgusting. But I was ready to ignore that if there was proof that …[LGBT persons were ] born abnormal but now the proof is not there.” Museveni also has a message for Obama and other critics of the law: they, he said, should “respect African societies and their values. Let us manage our society; if we are wrong we will find out by ourselves…”

Presidents Jonathan and Museveni, as well as other African leaders, are scape-goating LGBT people to rally public support for their remaining in power.”

President Obama and members of his administration had condemned both the Nigerian law and Ugandan bill. In a recent statement on the then Ugandan bill, Obama stated: “I am deeply disappointed that Uganda will shortly enact legislation that would criminalize homosexuality. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people.” In closing, Obama stated that “enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.” Obama has also issued a memo ordering US diplomats to advance the rights of LGBT persons, and announced that the fight against LGBT discrimination will be a central point of his administration’s foreign policy, and that transgressing nations could be denied US aid.

In my opinion, Presidents Jonathan and Museveni, as well as other African leaders, are scape-goating LGBT people to rally public support for their remaining in power by deflecting attention from the real, serious economic and social problems that they face. Museveni and his National Resistance Movement have ruled Uganda since 1986. From 1986 to 1996, when multi-party elections where reinstituted, the NRM ran Uganda as a one-party state. In the years since, Museveni has won presidential elections in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Speculation exists that Museveni is grooming is son, Muhoozi Kaineruga, to succeed him.

The action proposals suggested by US-based LGBT organizations and activists range from letter writing and petition campaigns to calls for global days of actions and boycotts, to assisting African LGBTI persons seeking to migrate with obtaining asylum, to the reduction or elimination of US aid, and calling up the debts, to the imposition of sanctions, to recalling ambassadors to the severing of US ties with countries that criminalize homosexuality.

In addition, it has been suggested that US LGBT activists target the US-based anti-LGBT evangelical organizations such as The Abiding Truth Ministries, the American Center for Law and Justice, and the Alliance Defending Freedom that have been travelling to Africa as well as advocating for and supporting the enactment of or strengthening of existing anti-LGBT laws. As Reverend Kopya Kaoma noted in “Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches and Homophobia,” a study published in 2009 by Political Research Associates that is available for free on-line: “Traditionally evangelical African churches have been biblically and doctrinally orthodox but progressive on such social issues as national liberation and poverty, making them natural partners of the politically liberal western churches. However, their religious orthodoxy provides the U.S. right with an opportunity. Africans resonate with the denunciations of homosexuality as postcolonial plot: their homophobia is as much an expression of resistance to the West as a statement about human sexuality.” Because of this, Kaoma continued, “[c]onservative U.S. evangelicals … [have played] a strong role in promoting homophobia in Africa by spreading their views and underwriting the widespread conservative educational, social services, and financial infrastructure. Right-wing groups have enticed African leaders to reject funding from mainline denominations – which require documentation of how money is spent – and instead accept funds from conservatives. This money usually goes to individual bishops without accountability or oversight for how it is used.” In other words, right-wing US organizations, who were previously isolated in Africa because of their role in propping up colonial regimes, have successfully reinvented themselves as allies against the purported importation of LGBT rights from the West.

Africans resonate with the denunciations of homosexuality as postcolonial plot.”

In short, homophobia has risen in Africa in significant part of the donations provided by US-based conservative evangelical organizations. This is particularly so in Uganda. Both Museveni and his wife are reportedly evangelicals, and worship at church run by Robert Kayanja. “Whatever you see here,” Kayanja tells Robert Ross Williams in his recent documentary, God Loves Uganda, as they sit in a well-endowed church built mostly with money donated by US based evangelicals organizations, “is the fruit of American labor.” Kayanja is reportedly one of the richest men in Uganda.

Based in Springfield, Massachusetts, the mission of The Abiding Truth Ministries, according to its website is “[t]o promote and defend the Biblical view of the family through . . .education…[and] training.” To this end, its President Scott Lively, since at least 2002, has been travelling the world promoting the enactment or strengthening of anti-LGBTI laws. In 2009, Lively, along with several other US evangelicals, with the assistance of a Ugandan organizer, led a three day conference in Kampala entitled a “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexual Agenda,” that was reportedly attended by thousands of Ugandans, including government officials, religious leaders and law enforcement people. Approximately one month after the conference, the original Anti-Homosexual Law, dubbed the “Kill the Gays bill” because of its inclusion of the death penalty, was introduced in the Ugandan parliament by David Bahati, who had attended the conference.

However, in an interview with the New York Times, Bahati stated that he got the idea for the bill from members of the Fellowship, a secretive powerful Arlington, Virginia based group that sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast and owns the C Street house where several members of Congress live. Founded in 1935, the Fellowship has been described as one of the most politically connected ministries in the US with extraordinary influence over US foreign relations. Reportedly, for example, the Fellowship was instrumental to the redirection of millions of dollars in US aid to Uganda from sex education to abstinence programs, thereby causing an evangelical revival, which included condom burnings.

Lively is presently being sued in Massachusetts federal court for crimes against humanity by Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, because of his inciting, aiding and abetting the prosecution of LGBT Ugandans. Although Lively has labeled the lawsuit “frivolous” and dismissed the notion that a white American could be responsible for anything that in Uganda is “racist,” in August 2013, the judge in the case denied Lively’s motion to dismiss, stating that the plaintiffs had provided “detailed factual allegations supporting the claim” that Lively “bears individual liability for aiding and abetting the commission of crimes against humanity.” Lively is being represented by Liberty Counsel, a group affiliated with the Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell.

The LGBT movement is not monolithic as it includes organizations and activists whose political, social and economic views range across the political spectrum, from left to right.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, describing itself as “a servant ministry building an alliance to keep the door open for the spread of the gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanity of life, and marriage and the family,” has an annual budget of $30 million, a staff of 44 lawyers and 2,200 allied lawyers, and claims that it works in 31 countries. Founded by Pat Robinson as a counter to the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Center for Law and Justice reportedly has an annual budget of nearly $18 million and affiliated offices in Israel, Russia, Kenya, France, Pakistan, South Korea and Zimbabwe that, among other efforts, combat LGBT rights.

Similar to the Black movement, the LGBT movement is not monolithic as it includes organizations and activists whose political, social and economic views range across the political spectrum, from left to right. Or in other words, broadly speaking, the political beliefs of LGBT people in the US range from those who seek assimilation into US society as it is, albeit with the amendment of existing federal laws or enactment of new federal civil rights laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, identity or gender in employment, housing and public accommodations, to those who seek to reject the existing US status quo and to dismantle it. Consequently, there are disagreements as to what, if anything, should be done in response to the persecution of African LGBTI persons.

Broadly speaking, two positions exist with permutations in between. On the one hand there are those who say that LGBT activists should be guided by African LGBT organizations, and only respond to specific requests for support or assistance by them. On the other, invoking the specter of “social” or “cultural imperialism” and the possibility of fuelling a backlash against African LGBT, some LGBT activists say that the LGBT activists in the US should essentially “mind our own business” as there is still much work to be done in the US. Needless to say, similar to Black people, most LGBT people are not involved in the LGBT movement, aware of, concerned about or working on this particular issue.

Moreover, the loudest and most visible LGBT voices are usually white, and whether lesbian, gay male, bisexual or transgender, middle, if not upper class. Typically, these voices are located within or connected to well-funded LGBT or non-LGBT non-governmental organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign or Human Rights Watch, NGOs that have historically, in my opinion, at best paid scant attention to struggles for racial justice in the US or in the academy. None of this should be surprising in light of the US histories of African enslavement, Jim Crow, their continuing legacies, and the fact that the US is a capitalist society where the voices as well as the needs of working class and poor people generally go unheard, and un-responded, oftentimes by even some of those purporting to working in their interest.

While I generally agree that solidarity activists in the US should follow the lead of organizations working on the ground, one of the many lessons that I learned from working in solidarity movements is that solidarity activists must independently, individually and collectively, study the histories of the countries and movements that we work in solidarity with in order to be able to critically evaluate, and discuss proposed calls to actions. In other words, solidarity activists need to thoroughly understand the programs, strategies, tactics of the movements or organization that they are working solidarity with, and when and if necessary be prepared to challenge organizations working on the ground. This may be even more important today than in past in light of the advances in technology, particularly the advent and popularity of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and the relative ease in constructing websites and blogs, which have made if oftentimes difficult, if not possible, to identify or determine who the legitimate organizations and activists are.

The loudest and most visible LGBT voices are usually white, and whether lesbian, gay male, bisexual or transgender, middle, if not upper class.”

Although I am concerned about “social,” “cultural imperialism” and fuelling a backlash against African LGBT persons, doing nothing is simply not an option for me. The prosecution of African LGBT persons is growing in Africa, and seems to be spreading to countries in which same sex acts are not criminalized. In the Ivory Coast, where same sex relationships are not illegal, for example, in late January 2014, after several days of anti-gay protests, a mob of reportedly nearly 200 people stormed the offices of the country’s most prominent LGBT rights organization, Alternative Cote d’Ivori, in Abidjan, ransacking and pelting it with stones. Signs left on the wall proclaimed “Stop the Homos” and “Pedes get out.” In an interview with Aljazerra, the executive director of Alternative Cote d’Ivori , Claver Toure stated: “Everything they could take was taken, and the rest was broken.” Toure also stated that a private security guard was taken to the hospital after sustaining wounds to his face.

That said, I am troubled by some of the calls for actions, particularly those related to the U.S. diplomatic relations with and aid to the Africa countries. These proposals, in my opinion are at best premature and at worst unwise. Prior to the enactment of the Same-Sex Marriage Law in Nigeria and the Anti-Homosexuality Law in Uganda same sex acts were already unlawful in both Nigeria and Uganda pursuant to laws enacted during the colonial period. Of Africa’s fifty-five countries, same sex acts are criminal in thirty-eight. The seventeen countries in which they are not are: Burkina Faso, Benin, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Rwanda and South Africa. Should the US cut or reduce the aid or sever its relationships with Nigeria and Liberia but not other countries in Africa, and elsewhere, that criminalize homosexuality with similar or even more punitive laws? Cutting or reducing aid, calling up debts, and the imposition of sanctions on countries in Africa, in my opinion, that criminalize homosexuality would do more harm than good as the chief impact of these actions would be on African working class and poor people, and not rulers of these countries.

Of Africa’s fifty-five countries, same sex acts are criminal in thirty-eight.”

Moreover, it is unlikely, in my opinion, that Obama will follow through on his threats with respect to Nigeria and Liberia. Both Nigeria and Uganda are allies of the U.S. Nigeria is one of the US’s most important trading partners. Reportedly the US purchases seventy per cent of Nigeria’s oil. Nigeria is also a major recipient of US aid, annually receiving in recent years over $600 million.

Uganda is an important ally of the U.S. in the so-called “war on terrorism.” During his first term in office, Obama sent more than 100 troops to Uganda purportedly to hunt down the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in and around Uganda. Uganda has also played an important role in the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Somalia. In 2013, the US reportedly provided Uganda with over $300 million in aid.

In short, building a US movement in solidarity with African LGBTI people is a difficult task as it requires nuanced, planned interventions that are sensitive to the differing histories and cultures that exist among African countries. Because of this, the knowledge, experiences, and voices of those of us who have been and are involved in solidarity movements, particularly around Africa, are sorely needed in the emerging campaigns against the persecution of African LGBTI persons. In particular, LGBTI activists in the US could greatly benefit from our experiences in developing educational programs, call to actions, and effective strategies and tactics to implement them. With this in mind, I urge you to study this issue, hold discussions of it within your organizations and with other comrades, friends and family members, and when and where feasible lend your support to actions challenging the persecution, of LGBTI activists in Africa. In so doing, you will be contributing not only to fight for LGBT rights in Africa but in the US as well. Our failure to intervene in the emerging campaigns in opposition to the persecution of African LGBT persons, in my opinion, could have deleterious effect on the on-going struggles in Africa for genuine, as opposed to flag, independence as well as the struggle for racial justice in the United States. I look forward to receiving your responses.

You can write to me at [email protected] or private message me on Facebook.

In Solidarity and Struggle,


Joan P. Gibbs is a long-time activist, attorney and writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York where she is the General Counsel for the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, and the Project Director of CLSJ’s Immigration Law Program which provides free legal counseling and representation to immigrants seeking to adjust their status, become naturalized, or secure some other immigrations related legal service.



Western imperialism of sexual identities

Your confusion of homophobia and being anti-gay, gays being a white, western imperial social construct, revolts me. I am also offended by the inclusion of a photo with a sign saying "gay sex," implying that I cannot have intimate relations with my male partner without it being "gay sex." To say that makes me angry is a massive understatement. 

As a homosexual [adjective] man in North America living and struggling under the increasingly oppressive white, western hegemonic gay discourse of sexual identity, not only am I not in solidarity with you, I am absolutely opposed to your cultural variant of western imperialism. If you sought support for opposing punishment for intimate practices without invoking the discourse of western sexual identities that might inspire "solidarity" but that's not your goal. What Joseph Massad says in the context of the Arab world is equally applicable to your agenda respecting Africa: 

The Gay International and this small minority of same-sex practitioners who adopt its discourse have embarked on a project that can only be described as incitement to discourse. As same-sex contact between modern men has not been a topic of government or journalistic discourse in the Arab world of the last two centuries (the atypical and exceptional 1950s books and articles by Salamah Musa notwithstanding), the Gay International’s campaign since the early 1980s to universalize itself has incited such discourse. The fact that the incited discourse is characterized by negativity toward the mission of the Gay International is immaterial. By inciting discourse on homosexual and gay and lesbian rights and identities, the epistemology, nay, the very ontology of gayness is instituted in such discourse, which could only have two reactions to the claims of universal gayness—support them or oppose them without ever questioning their epistemological underpinnings. Indeed it is exactly these reactions that anchor and strengthen and drive the Gay International’s universal agenda. In a world where no one questions its identifications, gay epistemology and ontology can institute themselves safely. The Gay International’s fight is therefore not an epistemological one but rather a simple political struggle that divides the world into those who support and those who oppose “gay rights.”

(Joseph A. Massad from the chapter ‘Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World’ in his book Desiring Arabs.)

I am homosexual [adjective], supporter of the liberation of practices of intimacy, determined enemy of the cult of the gays and its hegemonic discourse of  "gay rights."  I choose to oppose your cultural imperialism. 

Then what are "straights"?

Or more to the point, what are "heterosexual supremacists"?  If a single individual or collection of individuals choose to live in an ongoing "gay" identity is a western, white impirialist construct, then what is "straight" or "hetersosexual"?  Is "straight" a white impirialist construct?  Regardless, there are laws and norms on the ground that benefit or harm.

The truth is that these laws are open for whitch hunts and human rights violations based on rumor and unfounded speculation.  Even you in your non-sexual same-sex attractedness can be accused of acts and punished, lose your job, home, family-of-choice (because the mob will come for them too). 

So lets get off our horses and academic divisonal psy-ops and stand with each other wether we are actively in an on-going identity of gay or not.  We can do this simply because we are fellow humans.

Closet Case

...meh - sounds like an extended academic justification for staying in the closet, which is a universal phenomenon.  Massad may be a progressive hero on Palestine but he represents some of the most lazy trends in academia - a "vulgure" foucauldianism and "textual fundamentalism" that obscures other methods of cultural construction.

Rant all you want about the evils of "Gay Inc." but it pails in comparison to the forces of fundamentalist religion.  Luckily, you have the privilege of living in a society where LGBT activists fought and died for the cultural shift you now deplore.  If you really pine for the "good old days" before the "imposition of sexual binary" that you find so oppressive, there are plenty of countries where pre-modern conditions prevail and fundamentalist religion thrives - have at it. 

While Uganda's Anti-Homosexual Law May Be Draconian...

IMO Museveni's role in Congo's Genocide & mass rapes is much more troubling. 

A recent statement from Uganda's Ministry of Health on Homosexualism: } Homosexual behavior has existed throughout human history including in Africa. Judeo-Christian religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) condemn it but not all religions of the world condemn it. Different cultures practice their sexualities differently and these practices have often changed with times.... - Homosexuality existed in Africa way before the coming of the white man. However, most African cultures controlled sexual practices, be they heterosexual or homosexual, and never allowed exhibitionistic sexual behavior. Almost universally, they contained homosexual practices to such a point that overt homosexuality was almost unheard of... {

Now certainly I don't support a 'Gay' Edgar Hoover / McCarthy style witch-hunt vs LGBT people in Africa, but IMO that's a long way from legalizing 'queer' marriage across Africa.

And IMO should also be acknowledged that, according to the WHO, Uganda is a rare success story RE: the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Where thru its ABC [ABC: Abstinence, be faithful, use a condom {if you won't do A or B} - IMO the 'C' should also include encouraging circumcision in Uganda & all of Africa] has helped cut its rate of AIDS from an estimated 30% of adults in the later 1980s to only about 6% now. Compared to S.Africa [which has legalized 'queer' marriage & whose Cape-Town beach is world-renowned as a top LGBT tourist spot] where adults estimated rate of AIDS went from less than 1% in the early 1990s to 20% - 30% now [18% - 20% of all adults -&- 29% - 30% of pregnant women]. 

During Obama's African tour last yr he found time to lecture the President of Senegal about accepting 'queer' marriage, instead of  OBomber begging for forgiveness for his role in in perpetrating that brutal FUK-US NATO 8 month bombing assault on Libya that unleashed that AL-CIAeda linked Racist Lynch mob on Black Libyans & African migrant workers there, -&- also for his role in backing Museveni & Rwanda's Kagame RE: Genocide in Congo [+7 MILLION dead & counting- including mass rapes of Congo's women & girls that's bound to spread HIV/ AIDS in Congo like wild-fire] while swearing to with-draw his support / military aid from them [& pulling out AFRICOM altogether],  -&- also for 'persuading' Kenya to attack Somalia. By comparison OBomber- in all of Africa there has NOT been any where near 7 million nor even close to 50,000 - 100,000 LGBT persons slaughtered like in Congo, Libya & else-where.

And before Obama's 'gay' lecture to Senegal's Pres, UN Chief Ban Ki Moon, also 'lectured' Africa about its over-all resistance to the 'queer' marriage agenda. Yet Mr 'Moon' ain't found time to lecture / chastise OBomber along w the UK & France [= FUK-US NATO + the Saudi-GCC cabal] for violating UN-Res 1973 & misusing it as cover to carry-out the US' NeoCONs' long-time regime-change agenda plans against Khadaffi [in the guise as a phony so-called 'R2P' / 'humanitarian' mission]! Nor has Moon lectured OBomber for giving the US' UNSC veto cover to Museveni & Kagame RE: their role in perpetrating Genocide in the Congo!  


PS: Then there's this Recent DN! interview w Black Bio-chemist Dr Tyrone Hayes to consider: [ see @  & also see: ]- Some Excerpts: } 'At Berkeley, I [Dr Tyrone Hayes] was studying the effects of chemicals that interfere with hormones on amphibian development. I was approached by [Novartis now owned by Syngenta] and asked to study the effects of the herbicide, atrazine, on frogs. After I discovered that it interfered with male development and caused males to turn into females, to develop eggs, the company tried to prevent me from publishing and from discussing that work with other scientists outside of their panel…. Further- they eventually asked me to manipulate &/or misrepresent the data… [because] The larynx [voice box] in exposed males [frogs] didn’t grow properly..., that indicated that the male hormone testosterone was not being produced at appropriate levels. We found that not only were these males demasculinized, or chemically castrated, but they also were starting to develop ovaries and eggs. And we discovered that these males didn’t breed properly, that some actually completely turned into FEMALES. So we had genetic males that were laying eggs and reproducing as females. And now we’re starting to show that some of these males actually show homosexual behavior. They actually prefer to mate with other males.

I’ve just published a paper with 22 scientists from 12 different countries, who've shown that atrazine causes [the same type of] sexual problems in mammals, birds, amphibians, and fish.... - And recent study has shown that male babies’ exposed in utero to atrazine, genitals don’t develop properly. Their penis doesn’t develop properly, they get microphallus. There are studies showing that sperm count goes down when you’re exposed to atrazine...' { - Mammals, amphibians, birds, fish & humans.., So what's left Dinosaurs [& we know what happened to them]???!! The fact is there's a myriad of gender-bending chemicals that we & the eco-sphere have been / are being exposed to [IE: in the food {especially meat, poultry & dairy}, water & plastic food-containers, etc...]- without our knowledge let alone consent. Also keep in mind that Syngenta is one of the World's main GMO crop Corps, which want to dump GMO crops in Africa- meaning they're bound to bring their gender-bending atrazine herbicide along as well. 

IMO its far easier to push a pro queer-marriage agenda rather than demanding that the SIN-Gentas & Mon-SATAN-Os of the World get rid of their gender-bending products & GMOs too!  

I Appreciate Your Balanced Perspective

Thank you for your comments.  I think your nuanced approach would help address the problems of the LGBT community in Africa without hypocritically demonizing Africans once again in the eyes of the world nor detracting from the problems that all Africans face.