Focus on Africa: Responding to Moral Panic and “Family Protection” Bills
In June Funders Concerned About AIDS (FCAA) hosted a webinar with civil society and other experts to learn how funders can respond to anti-LGBTQI policies that are gaining traction in East and West Africa. New laws, such as Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, are threatening the rights of LGBTQI individuals and putting the HIV response at risk, while countries like Ghana and Kenya are now considering their own anti-LGBTQI legislation.
To keep funders updated on the evolving status of these so-called “family protection” policies, FCAA hosted a follow-up webinar in September. Experts from the continent came together to share more details about the potential impact of these laws on civil society organizations and communities most impacted by HIV.
Due to safety concerns, we are not sharing the presentations or speaker names and affiliations. However, we do want to share the valuable context and important recommendations that they provided. We believe this information will be especially valuable to donors mobilizing resources to and within Africa.
Where do anti-LGBTQI policies currently stand in Africa?
In 2023, at least six countries (Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Niger, Tanzania, and Uganda) have taken steps to intensify a new wave of anti-LGBTQI laws, and others could follow suit. Anti-homosexuality legislation is being backed by populist leaders who argue that these policies will help preserve “African values” and protect the region from the “colonial imposition” of LGBTQI rights; however, extremistgroups in the U.S. are channeling money to political leaders in West and East African countries to push these attacks.
Conservative Evangelical networks have exported the tactic of using “family values” to justify anti-homosexuality legislation to countries like Uganda and Nigeria. For example, Ugandan state media and politicians are using familiar rhetoric—such as “groomer,” “pedophile,” and “protecting the children”—that mirrors the language being used to justify LGBTQI discrimination in the United States.
“What we see is a really well funded movement of religious extremist groups,” says one panelist. “They are getting way more coordinated from what we have seen in the past. They are posing new threats to the HIV response and the UNAIDS 10-10-10 targets.”
The African Union is said to be pushing for a new “African Charter on Family Values,” while the East African Community (EAC) is rumored to be in support of an “East African Charter on Family Values.” On the individual country level, many harmful laws are already in place, and a number of bills are poised to ramp up LGBTQI discrimination.
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act went into effect in May 2023. Uganda’s penal code already punished same-sex conduct with life imprisonment—a criminal offense that is rarely prosecuted—but the new law also criminalizes “promotion of homosexuality;” introduces the death penalty for several acts labeled “aggravated homosexuality,” including HIV transmission; and increases the prison sentence for attempted same-sex conduct to 10 years.
In July and August of 2023, the Human Rights Awareness and Protection Forum (HRAPF) handled 155 cases related to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. A new report by a committee of the Convening for Equality (CFE) coalition documents a wave of rights abuses against LGBTQI people in the country since the passage of the law. Meanwhile, healthcare providers report a marked decline in the utilization of HIV prevention and treatment services due to fear of arrests.
Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act has been in place since 2014. The law forbids cohabitation between same-sex sexual partners and bans public displays of same-sex affection. Punishments are severe, ranging from 10 to 14 years in prison. Even those who support or participate in LGBTQI organizations can face up to 10 years in prison. In August of 2023, 67 people were arrested for conducting and/or attending a purported gay wedding in Delta State in Nigeria.
Ghana is currently considering a bill that would introduce wide-ranging restrictions on LGBTQI rights. Among other things, the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill would:
- Punish same-sex intercourse with up to 3 years in prison.
- Punish anyone who produces, procures, or distributes material deemed to be promoting LGBTQI activities with 6-10 years in prison.
- Ban transgender marriage and transgender healthcare.
- Disband all LGBTQI associations in Ghana, along with 6-10 years of imprisonment for anyone taking part in such an association.
- Ban potential LGBTQI parents from adopting or fostering children.
The bill has worked its way through Ghana’s parliament for two years and is now in its final stages. Critics have said the bill risks criminalizing anti-HIV/AIDS efforts in the country.
Kenya is currently considering a Family Protection Bill, which would have far-reaching implications for LGBTQI rights. If passed, the bill could threaten gender affirming healthcare, prohibit comprehensive sex education in schools, and lead to the expulsion of LGBTQI refugees from the country, in addition to limiting other fundamental rights and freedoms. Like the current law in Uganda, sexual transmission of HIV to a member of the same sex would be considered “aggravated homosexuality”and subject to the death penalty.
Experts are also closely monitoring the LGBTQI policy landscape in Namibia, Malawi, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Burundi. “If you look at countries like Tanzania and Burundi, while they are not pushing for laws to be changed, they are using the old archaic or colonial laws at the ground level,” explained one panelist. “They are arresting and jailing community members, and it’s very difficult for people to live in these countries.”
What do these anti-LGBTQI policies mean for funders?
Panelists warned that funders and their partners could risk criminalization in countries where it is illegal to financially support LGBTQI-affiliated organizations. “Even if they’re doing HIV-related work, once you fund organizations that are targeting [the LGBTQI community], then it is a criminal offense, and you will be shut down,” explained a panelist. “For example, in Kenya, the penalty is that you would be fined 1 million shillings ($6,600 USD) for the organization and 1 million shillings for each of the principal officers of that organization.” Security risks to staff and funders are also a concern.
With Constitutional Court cases beginning in Uganda in October, experts say now is the time for funders to speak up. “We need to push back. We need to … put pressure on the on the Constitutional Court, so they make the right decision,” said one panelist.
(Funders are invited to join weekly virtual meetings on Uganda solidarity every Thursday from 9-10am EST. Email [email protected] for details on how to join).
Panelists also urged funders not to wait for anti-LGBTQI bills in Kenya and Ghana to become law to speak out in opposition. They recommend that advocates work to exert economic pressure, such as withholding Millennium Challenge Corporation grants and demanding that all U.S.-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) talks stop unless President Ruto commits to vetoing any anti-LGBTQI laws.
Additionally, funders can join advocacy organizations in demanding that PEPFAR publicly opposes anti-queer laws and pushes for decriminalization of LGBTQI people in African countries. Speakers also stressed the importance of funding advocacy, so community organizations have the resources to push back against harmful LGBTQI laws.
“It is doable to push back on these laws. We just need to be a lot more coordinated,” said one panelist. “We need more resources to support the advocacy work that is going on and to support people to feel safe enough to come forward.”
For more suggestions on how grantmakers can respond to the hate movement, see our earlier post covering this topic.