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Conference tackles gay rights issues in Africa

Nairobi was the setting for the the second Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, and 400 delegates gathered to address issues that for the most part, are discussed only with great difficulty in the many countries on the continent.

Being openly gay in many African countries makes you a target discrimination and violence, so speaking out at this level represents great progress. (IOL):

We are here in Africa. We live in the mainstream, we pay taxes like everybody else, we relate with people in the mainstream. We are a naturally occurring phenomenon in the universe,” said activist Donna Smith of gay people in Africa.

Smith represents the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, a Johannesburg-based black lesbian organization.

The host nation, Kenya, in fact, has repressive laws on the books. You can receive 14 years in the can for the “crime” of homosexuality.

Others spoke about the violence that still occurs.

Fikile Vilakazi, of the Coalition of African Lesbians, cited the example of Zoliswa Nkonyana, a 19-year-old lesbian who was killed by a mob in Cape Town earlier this year because of her sexual orientation.

Vilakazi said that matters were aggravated by officials’ attitudes towards gays. “A number of rape and assault cases have been reported to police stations. When one reports, the police respond by asking why one is a lesbian.”

South Africa, ironically, is a country with a constitution that specifically protects the rights of gay citizens. The Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled in 2005 that it was unconstitutional to prevent same-sex marriage. Yet the violence continues.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding