African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC) welcomes the crucial report released this month by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) countering the notions that underpin homophobia and the criminalization of LGBTI people in Africa and the impact on HIV. It is hoped that this report will be used to influence policy on these issues.
With great thanks to the 11 respected experts, mostly academic scientists, we now have a report that expressly proves that laws criminalizing homosexuality, not only have no basis in science, but also cause serious harm to the prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
At this time at least 38 countries in Africa criminalize homosexuality, either through draconian penal codes, remnants of Colonization, or ramped up more recent anti-homosexuality legislation.
Five countries in particular have received much publicized criticism in recent years for what LGBTI activists on the continent and abroad view as state sanctioned homophobic legislation as well as political rhetoric, which have served to persecute and victimize LGBT people. These countries include Nigeria, Uganda, The Gambia, Cameroon and Zimbabwe. Persecution against gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender and intersex occur through being ostracized, public and press exposure, evictions, firings, banishment, blackmail, long prison terms, detention without trial, police brutality, torture, assault, mob justice, stoning, murder, and threats of such.
The authors, of whom 11 work in South Africa, 1 in Uganda and 1 in the United States, were able to use their expertise in the fields of medicine, anthropology, psychology and philosophy to counter arguments used to justify the criminalization of homosexuality.
“The authors reference a review of literature dating back to the late nineteenth century that documents homosexuality in Africa (see go.nature.com/7un5vx), including woman-to-woman marriage on the Slave Coast (in present-day Togo, Benin and Nigeria), homosexual relations between shepherd boys in Ethiopia, and cross-dressing male prostitutes in Senegal. “
“The report also counters the notion that homosexuality is unnatural, citing evidence for a strong biological role in sexual orientation. And it tears down the ideas that homosexuality is ‘socially contagious’, promotes the spread of HIV or encourages paedophilia, citing papers that have disproved these, or similar, claims.”
“The report warns that criminalizing homosexuality is the real threat to public health. This was illustrated in Uganda when a staff member of a US–Ugandan research project at Makerere University was arrested on charges of recruiting homosexuals and carrying out ‘unethical research’: the US funder suspended the project because of fears about staff safety.”
When the now defunct Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed in 2013 and signed back in 2014, President Museveni requested a scientific report from the Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS), which declined to produce a report on the scientific basis of homosexuality supposedly because of insufficient time. However a group of scientists, with clear political leanings and pressure, hastily produced one that was later misquoted by members of parliament who supported the bill.
In my capacity as the Executive Director for African Human Rights Coalition, it is my hope that this comprehensive, and timely report will now have the desired impact - to thwart new anti-Homosexuality legislation in Uganda and other countries and possibly trigger the repeal of old penal codes. However while it ought to influence politicians to steer clear of that which is now proven to harm citizens, I have little hope. I believe for as long as religious fundamentalists continue to rile up a desperate populace, politicians will continue to use gays as a scape-goat tool to distract constituents from corruption and the real failures of government.
Juliet Kiguli, an anthropologist at Makerere University and the only Ugandan on the expert panel, is more optimistic than I am. She is quoted in Nature.com: “The majority of Ugandans think this is not part of our culture. But culture is not static,” she says. If policy-makers take a lead in forging a more tolerant society, public opinion will follow, she says.
I believe Kiguli is underestimating the harm caused by U.S. Evangelicals and the religious community in Uganda, which spent years pushing for the Bill, and what it will still take to counter the harm done. Indeed this report is a crucial tool for activists to use in their local lobbying efforts. It is now time for local activists and advocates on the ground to ensure that parliamentarians read and understand the science.
Here is the list of the authors of the Report: (please read the report for more details on each participant)
Prof Hoosen (Jerry) Coovadia is currently a Director at MatCH Health Systems (Maternal, Adolescent and Child Health). MatCH Health Systems with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funding (through United States Agency for International Development-USAID) supports the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Health in their provision of HIV, TB and related diseases treatment, prevention and care services in the eThekwini and uMkhanyakude districts. Prof Coovadia is also the the Chairperson of the Board of the KZN Children’s Hospital Trust and a Commissioner for the National Planning Commission for the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa. He also holds the title of Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics and Child Health and Emeritus Victor Daitz Professor of HIV/Aids Research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He was the Scientific Director at the Doris Duke Medical Research Centre at the University of Natal and the Director of BioMed HIV/AIDS Research at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine. He also held the International Vice-Chair of the International Maternal Paediatric and Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials Group (IMPAACT), the Deputy Chair of Transitional National Development Trust, Co-chair of the Advisory Board to the Artists for a New South Africa’s Amandla AIDS Fund and is a Member of the South African Academy of Science. He has also been a member of a number of UN Committees. He holds Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal and the Witwatersrand; a Master of Science from the University of Birmingham, UK; a Fellowship of the College of Physicians (FCP) from the College of Medicine of South Africa; and a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Bombay, India. He has published more than 338 papers on factors causing morbidity, disability and mortality among Africa’s children. He has re- ceived a number of awards including the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights (co-recipient with Judge Edwin Cameron), The Order of the Star of SA for Contributions to Democracy and Health presented by former President Nelson Mandela, the 2013 Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the HIV Congress in India, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and most recently, the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) President’s Award for Exceptional Contributions to Medical Research.
Prof Glenda Gray [MBBCH, FCPaeds, DSc (honoris causa)] is the President of the MRC of South Africa and a National Research Foundation (NRF) A-rated scientist. Prof Gray trained as a medical doctor and paediatrician at the University of the Witwatersrand, co-founded and led the internationally renowned Perinatal HIV Research Unit, based at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa. Prof Gray has expertise in mother-to-child transmission of HIV, HIV vaccines and microbicides. She is the Co-Princi- pal Investigator of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network and Director of the HIV Vaccines Trial Network (HVTN) International Programmes. In 2002, she was awarded (together with Dr James McIntyre) the Nelson Mandela Health and Human Rights Award for pioneering work done in the field of mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1. She is a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, and chairs the Standing Committee on Health. She is a member of the United States Institute of Medicine, and serves on their Global Health Board. Additionally, in 2012 she was admitted as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. Prof Gray has also been awarded the Outstanding African Scientist Award and the International Association of Physicians against AIDS “Hero of Medicine” award for work done in the field of HIV treatment in children and adults. In 2009, Dr James McIntyre and Prof Gray received the N’Galy-Mann lectureship in recognition of their HIV research contribution in South Africa. In June 2012, she received a DSc (honoris causa) from the Simon Fraser University, Canada for her work in the field of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. In 2013, she received the country’s highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe granted by the President of South Africa.
Prof Chris Beyrer (MD, MPH) is Professor of Epidemiology, International Health, and Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Balti-more, USA. He serves as Director of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) HIV Training Program in Epidemiology and Prevention Science, and founded and directs the Johns Hopkins Centre for Public Health and Human Rights. He is Co-Principal Investigator of the JHU Centre for AIDS Research (CFAR) and directs the CFAR Developmental Core. He is a member of the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) MSM Working Group, and Protocol Chair for HPTN 078, a study of recruitment, linkage to care, and an enhanced treatment intervention for MSM living with HIV infection. He currently serves as Co-chair of the Epidemiology and Natural History Planning Group of the Office of AIDS Research of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). He has extensive experience in conducting international collaborative research and training programs in HIV/AIDS and other infectious disease epidemiology, in infectious disease prevention research, HIV vaccine preparedness, in HIV among key populations and in health and human rights. Prof Beyrer has done HIV re- search in Thailand, Burma, China, India, South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, Russia, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan and is the author of over 220 scientific papers. Prof Beyrer was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the US National Academies in 2014. He is the current President of the International AIDS Society.
Dr Derrick Higginbotham [BA (Honors) Dalhousie, MA Simon Fraser, MA, MPhil, PhD Columbia] is a lecturer in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Cape Town (UCT). He has hosted several events at UCT and in Cape Town about sexuality in Africa, and is editing a collection of essays with Dr Victoria Collis-Buthelezi called Contested Intimacies: Sexuality, Gender, and the Law in Africa, which will be published in May 2015. He also teaches queer theory and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) literature – most of it South African and some other African countries – along with early modern English literature. He has published several essays on early modern English theatrical texts and their depiction of gender, economics, and sexuality. His approach and specialization is in the socio-cultural history of sexuality on the African continent and in ‘The West’.
Dr Juliet Kiguli (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer, in the Department of Community Health and Behavioral Sciences at the College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, Uganda. She is an anthropologist and gender analyst, teaching and carrying out community-based research and is also a consultant on several bilateral and multilateral projects in gen- der, culture and health.
Prof Jerome Amir Singh (BA, LLB, LLM, MHSc, PhD) is Head of Ethics and Law at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). (see more in report)
Prof Michael Pepper is the Director of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine and a Professor in the Department of Immunology, Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria. (See more in report)
Dr Jason van Niekerk holds a BA and MA from Rhodes University, and completed his doctorate in philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is currently a postdoc- toral research Fellow in the Department of Jurisprudence at the University of Pretoria. (See more in report)
Prof Juan A Nel is a Professor of Psychology at the University of South Africa. A registered clinical and research psychologist, he completed his doctoral studies in 2007. Prof Nel’s expertise in sexuality and gender – in particular, LGBTI mental health and well-being, as well as in hate crimes and victim empowerment and support, more generally, is recog- nised. His related academic research, tuition, advocacy and community participation have contributed to improved theory, professional practice, policy changes and com- munity mobilisation. (See more in report)
Prof James McIntyre (MBChB, FRCOG) is the Chief Executive Officer of the Anova Health Institute, Honorary Professor in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of Cape Town and International Vice-Chair of the US NIH-funded IMPAACT Net- work, the leading global collaborative HIV research network in women and children. He previously worked for 25 years at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, where he was the co-founder and Executive Director of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) of the University of the Witwatersrand. He has been involved in research and programming on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV for more than 20 years. (See more in report)
Prof Beverley Kramer (BSc, BSc Hons, PhD) is Professor of Anatomy in the School of Anatomical Sciences, and Assistant Dean: Research and Postgraduate Support in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand. Prof Kramer’s main field of re- search is in embryology and developmental biology. She has published widely and has presented her research at numerous international and local congresses. (See more in report.)