10/02/2013 10:15 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

LGBT Rights in Africa: A Step Forward?

The culture in Africa is stifled with hostility, with respect to the realities of the LGBT community. This culture of hostility seeps into the political, social, and judicial realities of various countries in Africa. It translates to the blatantly hateful demagoguery that the politicians within Africa use to get votes, and to distract people from their political, social, and economic failings. It translates to the violence, ostracism, and oppression that LGBT people have to face on a daily basis. It translates to the draconian laws that criminalize LGBT people; some even go so far as to try to legislate laws that would lead to the death penalty of the LGBT people in their countries.

It is within this context of hostility that I have to acknowledge the progressiveness, no matter how infinitesimal, of the views held by the president of Ghana, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama. He made these views clear, when he visited the campus of Kennesaw State University (KSU). When President Mahama was asked about gay rights and if he supported it, he replied by saying, "It's controversial. And it's the same, it's controversial everywhere else, especially in Africa. It's a difficult situation. People have a certain cultural hostility towards it, but I believe that laws must prevail. For instance, people must not be beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation."

Now, even though President Mahama does not directly affirm his support for gay rights, he does concede that people within the LGBT community ought not to be harmed. This statement might not seem that progressive, and it is not, but when put in the context of the African society, this statement pushed political and social boundaries. Whenever someone from the LGBT community in Africa is beaten, raped, or killed, the government of the states they belong in, do not condemn the acts, so for a president in Africa to condemn these acts as unlawful, is something that cannot and must not be taken lightly.

The LGBT community in Africa is socially ostracized to a third space, and made to feel as though they do not belong, because according to the ignorant chants of a majority of people, their way of life is supposedly 'Un-African.' They are not included as part of the community, and when these acts of violence are perpetrated against them; people do not see them as wrong, because, to them, the LGBT people in Africa just don't belong in Africa.

The LGBT community in Africa has time and time again demanded their space and place in society, be respected, and they have been turned down more times than one could possibly keep count of. 'Who are you to reduce me to my orientation', 'Who are you to tell me I do not belong', 'Who are you to judge me'; their chants echo on, and yet, nothing, no change. But, finally, an influential president condemns the acts of violence that the LGBT community is forced to face on a daily basis.

Now, there might be underlying political factors that caused him to speak up, and his views do not accomplish much, if they are not translated into legislative policy, due to the state that the LGBT community has to live in, but, it is nevertheless a start. But, we can't stop there, we need to push cultural boundaries more and more, we need to allow for progressiveness to trickle in and shatter the cave of discriminatory tradition, we need to stand up for equity and allow for the LGBT community in Africa to live with integrity, and be respected. We need to support the LGBT community in Africa, as they demand their space, their right to be themselves, and their rights to not be criminalized for the persons that they are.

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