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U.S. cites 3 tough countries for south African LGBTs

U.S. cites 3 tough countries for south African LGBTs

The gays and lesbians of southern Africa face the most extreme harassment in Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to the U.S. State Department’s newly released report on human rights.

Below is what the report had to say about the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in each of those countries.

This post is the third in a series about the state department’s account of some of the 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Swaziland's location in southern Africa
Swaziland’s location in southern Africa

Swaziland — Societal discrimination against the LGBT community was prevalent last year in Swaziland, and LGBT persons generally concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity. Colonial-era legislation against sodomy remains on the books; however, it has not been used to arrest gay men. Gay men and lesbians who were open about their sexual orientation and relationships faced censure and exclusion from the chiefdom-based patronage system, which could result in eviction from one’s home. Chiefs, pastors, and members of government criticized same-sex sexual conduct as neither Swazi nor Christian. Societal discrimination exists against gay men and lesbians, and LGBT advocacy organizations had trouble registering with the government. One such organization, House of Pride, was affiliated with another organization dealing with HIV/AIDS. It is difficult to know the extent of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation because victims are not likely to come forward, and most gay men and lesbians are not open about their sexual orientation.

Zambia's location in southern Africa
Zambia’s location in southern Africa

Zambia — The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity and provides penalties of 15 years to life imprisonment for individuals who engage in “unnatural” acts. A lesser charge of “gross indecency” carries penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment. The government enforced the law against same-sex sexual activity and did not respond to societal discrimination. Societal violence against gay men occurred, as did societal discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education or health care. Some groups actively promoted the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, but none was formally registered. Groups held social gatherings but did not participate in open demonstrations or marches, due to societal discrimination against LGBT persons.

On March 17, Magistrate Mwaka Mikalile convicted three male students at Kabulonga Boys High School in Lusaka of committing indecent practices against other male students and sentenced them to 12 months in a reformatory school with counseling. Two other students were acquitted.

Zimbabwe's location in southern Africa
Zimbabwe’s location in southern Africa

Zimbabwe — The criminal code’s definition of sodomy includes “any act involving physical contact between males that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act.” Sodomy in Zimbabwe carries a penalty of up to one year in prison or a fine up to $5,000. There were no known cases of sodomy charges being used to prosecute consensual same-sex sexual activity. Common law prevents gay men, and to a lesser extent lesbians, from fully expressing their sexual orientation and, in some cases, criminalizes the display of affection between men.

Leadership in both ZANU-PF and MDC-T, including President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai, publicly denounced the LGBT community and warned against the inclusion of LGBT rights in the constitution. Mugabe publicly blamed the LGBT community for Africa’s ills and declared its members to be worse than “pigs and dogs.” However, in an apparent shift of position, Tsvangirai declared in an October 24 press interview that LGBT rights were a human right that should be enshrined in the country’s new constitution.

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Members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), the sole organization dedicated to advancing the rights of the LGBT community in the country, experienced assault, harassment, and discrimination.

For example, on September 2, at a bar in Harare, two individuals assaulted a GALZ member with a beer bottle after making discriminatory statements regarding her sexual orientation. She and her partner reported the incident to the police, who took no action.

GALZ employees Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Muhambi, who were arrested in May 2010 for possession of pornographic materials, were not summoned to court during the year. Chademana and Muhambi, whom police beat in the face and knees during an interrogation, were released five days after their arrest and subsequently acquitted of the pornography charge. However, both still faced a charge of undermining the president at year’s end.

Members of the LGBT community reported widespread societal discrimination based on sexual orientation. In response to social pressure, some families reportedly subjected their LGBT members to “corrective” rape and forced marriages to encourage heterosexual conduct. Such crimes were rarely reported to police. Women, in particular, were subjected to rape by male members of their own families. LGBT members often left school at an early age due to discrimination and had higher rates of unemployment and homelessness. Many persons who identified with the LGBT community did not seek medical care for sexually transmitted diseases or other health issues due to fear that health providers would shun them.

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