Being Gay In Africa: Exploring The Cultural & Legal Barriers


It is never easy to be a member of a minority group. Presently, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are receiving the most scrutiny worldwide. As societies advance and begin to more liberally accept diversity, many people do not agree or wish to alter their own individual viewpoints. The LGBT community is often ostracized as a community of sinners, and one of the continents that’s most difficult for gay people to live in is Africa.

African Laws on Homosexual Activities

In the majority of African countries, it is illegal to engage in sexual activities with a member of the same sex. There are very few countries in which homosexaual activity is legal, and some of those countries include Rwanda, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Niger, and the Canary Islands, which is a territory of Spain. Punishments generally include anything from a fine to life in prison. Many countries give prison terms of several years, but not all countries enforce their laws.

In Mauritania, the punishment is death. The death penalty for homosexual activities exists in Nigeria, in the Sudan for a third offence, and in a few other countries. In the Sudan and a small number of other countries, corporal punishment, like whippings, is a possible sentence.

African Laws on Same-Sex Marriage

In South Africa and the Canary Islands, same-sex marriage is permitted, but it is illegal everywhere else. In countries in the Middle region of Africa, there is the most acceptance of the LGBT community, but widespread acceptance is far from the norm.

Being Gay in South Africa

South Africa is the most liberal African country when it comes to gay rights and acceptance, and in fact one of the more liberal in the world when it comes to its laws. However, that doesn’t mean that gays have it easy there. Africa is a country that’s predominantly religious and has very rigid views on gender roles. In Cape Town, there is a robust gay scene, but there have been shocking cases of murder and rape across South Africa, especially for black lesbian women.

Being Gay in Uganda

Uganda is one of the African countries that is least tolerant of the LGBT community, and one of the countries where it is actually very dangerous to be out as a homosexual. Outed gays in Uganda face harsh punishments, and they are often beat, raped, or killed. They can be fired and ostracized from their jobs. In Uganda – and in as many as 38 African countries – it is normal for the government to have a policy of persecuting homosexuals and for them to actively seek to out and punish those who are gay.

Pervasive Fear

The outed and closeted members of the LGBT community often live in outright fear of what the government or their community members may do to them. They live in fear of losing their dignity, being disgraced, and of being injured or killed. It is no way for anyone to live. We can only hope that the future will bring more acceptance in Africa, but at this point such hope seems nearly lost

Author Byline: Marcus Smith is a professor of African studies and is currently helping a few students learn Igbo in preparation for a fellowship in Nigeria.

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