Angola: Another African nation nixes colonial masters’ anti-gay law

Another African country has turned away from the homophobic laws originally imposed by European colonial powers. Recognizing its anti-gay law as an evil remnant of colonialism, the former Portuguese colony of Angola on Jan. 23 not only repealed its anti-gay law dating back to 1886, but also made anti-LGBT discrimination illegal.

From the African Human Rights Media Network

An LGBT rights demonstration in Angola. The Angola LGBT advocacy group Iris, founded in 2015 and granted government recognition in 2018, now has about 200 members.
Rejecting the remaining evils of colonialism, LGBT Angolans demonstrate for their rights. The Angola LGBT advocacy group Iris Angola, founded in 2015 and granted government recognition in 2018, now has about 200 members.

Human Rights Watch reported:

Angola Decriminalizes Same-Sex Conduct

Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation Banned

Angola has finally shed the divisive “vices against nature” provision in its law, widely interpreted to be a ban on homosexual conduct.

Taking things one step further, the government has also prohibited discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation. And so anyone refusing to employ or provide services to individuals based on their sexual orientation may face up to two years in prison.

The changes came on January 23 as Angola’s parliament adopted its first new penal code since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975 and removed the provision, inherited from its Portuguese colonizers. [Clarification: The change in the penal code that Angola’s parliament approved in January 2019 was not published in the official government journal until November 2020 and would not take effect until February 2021.]

While there have been no known prosecutions under the law, provisions like this one curtail the rights and freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, subjecting their intimate lives to unwarranted scrutiny.

Carlos Fernandes, coordinator of Iris Angola (K. Ndomba photo courtesy of
Carlos Fernandes, coordinator of Iris Angola (K. Ndomba photo courtesy of

Colonial-era laws outlawing same-sex conduct give tacit state support to discrimination against gender and sexual minorities, contributing to a climate of impunity. Iris Angola, the country’s only gay rights lobby group, has often complained that its members face discrimination when accessing health care and education.

Last year Angola gave legal status to Iris Angola, which was established in 2013 – a move that can now be seen as a forerunner for this latest step toward equality. The group called the decision an “historic moment” allowing the organization to defend the rights of sexual minorities in Angola. In contrast, Mozambique, another former Portuguese colony, decriminalized homosexuality in 2015, when it too adopted a new penal code, but declined to register the country’s biggest LGBT group, Lambda, leaving it to operate freely, but not legally.

While countries such as India have been compelled by court rulings to strike anti-homosexuality laws from the books, others have done so through legislative reform. Recent examples include Sao Tome and Principe (2012) and Cape Verde (2004) – two other former Portuguese colonies – as well as Lesotho (2012) and Seychelles (2016) in Africa, and Palau (2014) and Nauru (2016) in Oceania.

In casting aside this archaic and insidious relic of the colonial past, Angola has eschewed discrimination and embraced equality. The 69 other countries around the world that still criminalize consensual same-sex conduct should follow its lead.

This blog keeps a running tally of nations still clinging to anti-gay laws. Without Angola, our list currently totals 73 nations with such laws, not including countries such as Russia with laws against “gay propaganda.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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