Winds of Change

By: Lesego Tanaka

On June 28th 1969 in New York City, a five-day riot broke out between members of the LGBTQ+ community and police officials. The riots, known as the Stonewall riots, took place at the Stonewall Inn after the police came in and arrested the employees for selling alcohol without a licence and then roughing up members of the bar who mostly consisted of gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. It was in accordance with the New York criminal law to arrest anyone not wearing ‘’gender appropriate clothing’’.

Although such altercations with the law and members of the LGBTQ+ community were common, the arrests at Stonewall Inn lead to retaliation from members of the LGBTQ+ community who were ultimately fed-up by similar raids and oppressive laws that did not allow them to exist in peace. Protesters attacked law enforcement officials who at some stage, were barricaded inside the bar and enclosed by protestors from outside. Even though the riots were not the primary reason for the gay rights movement, they served as a clear catalyst for change.

In present day USA, homosexuality has since been removed as a mental disorder and the U.S Supreme Court has stripped down the ‘’homosexual conduct’’ law and many states legally permit same-sex marriages. The USA may be leading the way in the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community but is Africa really following suit?

Although homosexuality has been decriminalised in the Seychelles, South Africa, Botswana, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Mozambique and São Tomé, there are still countries in Africa where homosexuality is frowned upon, if not illegal. To paint a clearer picture, there are 54 countries in Africa and more than half are against the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community culturally, religiously and within their specific laws. In Sudan, Somaliland, Mauritania, and northern Nigeria, identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community is punishable by death. In Uganda, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, to name a few, members of the LGBTQ+ community can receive life imprisonment, and Nigeria also forbidding any support of the community by citizens, friends, colleagues or family members who do not identify as being a part of this community.

How do we hope to achieve unity as Africans while we continue to violate rights of Africans who do not fall under the societally acceptable sexuality spectrum? Protests throughout history have continuously proven that our continent will not turn a blind eye on countries that choose to continue oppressing their citizens on the basis of their identities.

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