Same-Sex Marriage Legalized in the U.S.

As most readers have no doubt already heard, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the country.

As the New York Times notes, this landmark decision was the culmination of a rapid arc of progress that first came to the fore back in the early 1990s, when the first states began explicitly banning gay marriage. Only in 2003 did a sole state, Massachusetts, allow for gay and lesbian couples to marry. 2015-06-26 13-13-16

This rise in marriage equality was the result in a rapid turnaround in public opinion: from only 27 percent public approval in 1996, according to Gallup, to 60 percent as of this year. As The Washington Post observes, this is far more rapid and dramatic a change than most social issues (such as abortion and capital punishment).

The decision was based primarily on the Fourteenth Amendment, namely its Equal Protection Clause, which requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction.  Continue reading

The Cruelty and Inanity of LGBT Discrimination

From Daniel Fincke’s Camels With Hammers column on Patheos:

[LGBT people] do not want to be praised or blamed on account of the accident of their sexual orientation but want the same dignity to be treated based on the content of their character as expressed in deeds. Even if you had a good reason to say that that homosexual acts were immoral, this does not justify the sorts of conformity enforcing brutality that even non-sexually active homosexually oriented gays have routinely received from bullies—including policemen, including legislators exploiting the vulnerability of this unpopular minority to gin up support for themselves as George Wallace (initially relatively indifferent to segregation) did.

Even were being gay like being an alcoholic, which it’s not, would that justify losing one’s job and one’s family’s approval and being harassed by bullies and policemen even when one’s behavior does not intrude on anyone else’s lives? Unlike the alcoholic who says and does rude, thoughtless, and physically reckless things which endanger others bodily and mentally, the gay person merely being gay in your presence does no harm to you. Why justify the abuse meted out to such people?

And if you think that being gay is a genetic disorder, does this mean you promote disownment of children with gentic disorders? Should mayors who have genetic disorders be assassinated for their disorders as Harvey Milk was for what you think was his? That would not be evidence of any “real” discrimination as I imagine you think Harvey Milk’s murder wasn’t anything “real”?


Gays exist. Just because they cannot naturally and directly reproduce with their sexual/romantic love partners as you and I could, does not mean that they cannot love, that they could not raise children with as much love and wisdom as any straight person, does not mean they can not contribute to society morally and creatively as much as anyone else, does not mean they cannot successfully use IVF technology to create genetic children even where some heterosexual couples never are able to.

But you won’t “celebrate” these real human beings who number in the tens or possibly hundreds of millions worldwide finding ways to live as full lives as possible, simply because doing so involves a few extra-circuitous routes to overcome a genetic dilemma. That’s it. So, I guess you close your arms and spit when you see the Special Olympics because, goddamn it, we can’t promote people in wheel chairs playing sports or else people will think of breaking their legs! We cannot approve of access for wheel chairs or more braille in public places lest people think blindness itself or inoperative legs themselves are great things. No one is saying that gays’ inabilities to directly reproduce is what makes being gay a good thing. What we are saying is that this is only one obstacle that can no more “handicap” gays from as loving, as fully excellent lives, including as parents, as you and me and any other straight person is capable of. Just as being in a wheel chair does not stop you from racing and shooting baskets impressively and just as people should be assessed for how they flourish in the conditions in which they actually find themselves rather than according to standards they have no control over (being white, being straight, being able to reproduce, being male, being American, being young, being old, etc.).

This is not just an “alternative lifestyle” this is people’s lives. As full, equal, dignified, loving, creating, morally excellent people. These people do not need your denigration of their entire love lives over the biological obstacles to their directly reproducing. They don’t need your self-centered contempt for and dismissal for the ways that they are routinely marginalized and abused—even by your own language about them. They don’t need to be blamed for being vulnerable to a virus. We all are, it’s part of being an animal, as we all are.

And they don’t need to be offered wholly impracticable choices like “be celibate or marry someone you’re not actually sexually oriented towards”. They don’t need to be reduced to just getting your pity and no affirmation for their pursuit of full, equal, dignified lives because you have arbitrarily decided that an action’s not being able to lead directly to reproduction makes it fully evil or makes those who have that trait fully defective.

Your idea of ethics offers nothing serious, nothing constructive, no real alternatives for gays. It demonizes, it vilifies, it marginalizes, and bullies. It demands alienation where affirmation and constructive thinking and living are possible. It is deeply prejudicial and self-absorbed.

The American Cities With The Most (And Fewest) L.G.B.T. People

The following chart comes from the New York Times, based on Gallup’s latest survey of where L.G.B.T. people live. (Click the image to make it larger.)

Areas With Largest and Smallest LGBT Populations

A summary of the results:

The Gallup analysis finds the largest concentrations in the West — and not just in the expected places like San Francisco and Portland, Ore. Among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, Denver and Salt Lake City are also in the top 10. How could Salt Lake be there, given its well-known social conservatism? It seems to be a kind of regional capital of gay life, attracting people from other parts of Utah and the Mormon West.

On the other hand, some of the East Coast places with famous gay neighborhoods, including in New York, Miami and Washington, have a smaller percentage of their population who identify as gay — roughly average for a big metropolitan area. The least gay urban areas are in the Midwest and South.

Significant as these differences are, the similarities are just as notable. Gay America, rather than being confined to a few places, spreads across every major region of the country. Nationwide, Gallup says, 3.6 percent of adults consider themselves gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And even the parts of the country outside the 50 biggest metropolitan areas have a gay population (about 3 percent) not so different from some big metropolitan areas. It’s a reflection in part of increasing tolerance and of social connections made possible by the Internet.

Frank Newport, the editor in chief of Gallup, notes that the regional variation in sexual orientation and identity is much smaller than the variation in many other categories. The share of San Francisco’s population that’s gay is only two and a half times larger than the share outside major metro areas. The regional gaps in political attitudes, religion and ethnic makeup are often much wider.

“For a generation, they all remember the moment they walked through their first gay bar,” said Paul Boneberg, executive director of the G.L.B.T. Historical Society in San Francisco. “But now they come out for the first time online, and that changes, for some people, the need to leave.”

As with any such research, there are also some caveats to keep in mind:

Before this Gallup analysis, the most detailed portrait of gay demography was the Census Bureau estimates of same-sex couples, including an analysis by the Williams Institute at U.C.L.A. Those estimates and Gallup’s new data show broadly similar patterns: Salt Lake City ranks high on both, and San Jose ranks low, for instance. But couples are clearly an imperfect proxy for a total population, which makes these Gallup numbers the most detailed yet to be released.

Gallup previously released estimates for the country as a whole and for each state. The estimates are based on the survey question, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?”

As with any survey, the data comes with limitations. Respondents are asked to place themselves in a single category — L.G.B.T. or not — even though some people consider sexuality to be more of a spectrum. The data also does not distinguish between center cities and outlying areas. Manhattan most likely has a larger percentage of gay and lesbian residents than the New York region as a whole.

And the data is affected by the federal government’s definition of metropolitan areas. Earlier, we mentioned that Raleigh’s percentage is low in part because its area does not include Durham and Chapel Hill. Boston’s percentage may be higher because its metropolitan area is relatively small, with fewer outlying areas. On the whole, however, there is no clear relationship between a metropolitan area’s size and the share of its population that’s gay.

What are your thoughts?

Spain: The Most LGBT-Friendly Country in the World

The results might be surprising, since — compared to the likes of the Netherlands or Scandinavia — Spain rarely comes to mind as being particularly pro-LGBT. But the conclusion comes from an extensive 40-country survey conducted by the reputable Pew Research Group which asked respondents to discuss the morality of various issues, ranging from marital infidelity and divorce, to gambling, premarital sex, and abortion.

Of the Spaniards interviewed, 55 percent said homosexuality was morally acceptable, compared with six percent who said it was unacceptable and 38 percent who answered that it’s “not a moral issue” to begin with. These results actually match with another Pew study from 2013, which similarly concluded Spain to be the most LGBT-tolerant country in the world on the percentage of participants who believed homosexuality should be accepted by society.

The following graph shows the results of the top ten countries to be pro-LGBT, followed by the U.S. and Chile (courtesy of PolicyMic and the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project).

The famously LGBT-friendly nations of Northern Europe weren’t part of the survey, although I imagine they’d make up most of the top ten as well. Although a predominately Catholic country, Spain’s high ranking reflects a generally relaxed attitude towards homosexuality and other social mores, which coexists with a fairly high rate of Catholic identity (perhaps more culturally than piously nowadays). The country was among the first to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005, and hosts some of the largest pride parades in the world.

After the U.S. was Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Poland, and Greece. The fairly high ranks for Japan, Italy, and Argentina may seem surprising, given that these countries are generally viewed as being socially-conservative by developed-world standards (and of them only Argentina has legalized same-sex marriage, in 2010).

However, attitudes in these societies, as elsewhere, are changing — although viewing the rest of the countries polled would suggest they’re only high relative to the lowest-common denominators. Moreover, just because one doesn’t see homosexuality as immoral, doesn’t mean they don’t have stereotypical or negative views about it in some other sense (regarding gays as effeminate, lesbians as man-haters, etc). Of course, progress is progress even if there’s a ways to go.

The PolicyMic article makes the following assessment:

It’s important to note that the rankings are based on percentage of respondents who classified homosexuality as morally unacceptable. The United States had a surprisingly high number of respondents claim homosexuality was morally unacceptable — 37% — however, another 35% claimed it was “not a moral issue.”

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic had the highest overall percentage of respondents claim homosexuality was morally acceptable, edging out Spain with 56%. However, 14% of Czechs surveyed said it was unacceptable.

Countries with the lowest tolerance, according to the survey, included Ghana and Russia, where 98% and 72% of citizens replied that homosexuality was morally unacceptable, respectively.

The lowest-scoring countries after Ghana were Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Uganda, and Indonesia — none of which are entirely surprising, given the correlation between high rates of religiosity and negative perceptions towards LGBT people. However, relatively secular places (by global standards) such as China, South Korea, and Russia were also in the middle-to-bottom part of the list. Attitudes towards gays, lesbians, and other marginalized groups are influenced by many different factors beyond religion, some of which may be unique to the country in question.

There are many other caveats and observations that can be made, but I sadly do not have the time to offer them. As always, please weigh in at your leisure.


Karl Heinrich Ulrichs – The “Father of Gay Rights”

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, born in Germany in the 19th century, is considered the father of gay rights, as well as the first recorded person to publicly “come out” as a homosexual. Ulrichs recalled that as a young child he wore girls’ clothes, preferred playing with girls, and wanted to be a girl. He had his first homosexual experience at age 14 with a riding instructor, and subsequently struggled with the loneliness and guilt of his “deviancy.” Indeed, he was dismissed from his job as a legal adviser to a state court because of his homosexuality.

In 1862, a time when non-heterosexuality was very much tabooo, Ulrichs took the momentous step of telling his family and friends that he was, in his own words, an Urning, a term he coined to describe men who love other men. He began writing under the pseudonym of “Numa Numantius,” and his first five essays, “Researches on the Riddle of Male-Male Love,” explained such love as natural and biological, summed up with the Latin phrase anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa – “a female psyche confined in a male body.”

Throughout his life, Ulrichs continued to move around Germany (which was gradually unifying), continuing to write and publish, and getting into legal trouble for it. His books were confiscated and banned by police in Saxony and Berlin, and his works were eventually banned throughout Prussia.

Ulrichs stated: “Until my dying day I will look back with pride that I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the specter which for time immemorial has been injecting poison into me and into men of my nature. Many have been driven to suicide because all their happiness in life was tainted. Indeed, I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contempt.”

Daily News Wire 7/28/2012

GOP Rejects Anti-Bullying Legislation – For All the Wrong Reasons

Read the news here (fair warning, the writer’s language is a bit harsh).

Now, there are some reasonable arguments against anti-bullying laws, namely whether they could be effectively enforced, or whether a top-down approach to changing human behavior could actually work. I for one think that addressing the social and cultural factors that underpin bullying would be the better route, with laws delivering a power message at the very least.

But the Republicans weren’t raising any such respectable debate on the matter. Rather, they are their supporters were essentially defending the right of religious bigots to be religious bigots.

Opponents of the law claimed that it wasn’t actually an anti-bullying law at all, but rather a rule forcing kids to embrace homosexuality. The Illinois Family Institute (“family,” again, is code for “rally ‘round the heterosexual penis”) suggested that schools have an “opt out” provision that would have allowed religious kids to justify acting like little Romneys to other kids by saying that their religion compels it.

Bullying is pretty much acceptable if it means targeting those disordered and sinful homosexuals. With adults like these, it’s no wonder kids don’t know any better.

Insight on Human Sexuality from the Aka People

Sex is a difficult subject to discuss, especially here in the US. Though we’re viewed as being exceptionally prudish about the topic, most societies more or less treat it as an impolite or vulgar thing to talk about, especially in a frank or open way. This is very curious given how much sexuality pervades every aspect of our lives. Like it or not, we’re sexual beings, and all aspects of sex – relationships, self-pleasure, fetishes, fantasies, etc – occupy our minds and dreams at one point or another.

Unfortunately, this ambivalent and ambiguous approach leaves us ignorant to a comprehensive understanding of sexual issues, despite how much they concern us deep down. Much of what we do learn about sex tends to be novel and unscientific, or based on folk tales and mere intuition. This partly accounts for why Americans seem particularly more uncomfortable about homosexuality, transgender people, and other manifestations of so-called “abnormal” or “deviant” sexuality. We hardly know sex well enough in general to truly know what accounts for “acceptable” sexual behavior.

For all these reasons, I took great interest in a recent article in Slate that followed a very unique anthropological study of the subject (I’m a huge anthropology buff to boot). Even the basic introduction presents and intriguing claim:

A husband-and-wife team of anthropologists at Washington State University named Barry and Bonnie Hewlett believe that they’ve found a society without gay sex—and that there other societies, too, in which some presumably universal behaviors, such as homosexuality and masturbation, are nonexistent at all levels of analysis.

Almost immediately, many of you may believe that this would claim to validate the position held by religious conservatives thatf non-heterosexual copulation is aberrant. As it turns out, however, the conclusion of this study ends up, surprisingly, pointing to the opposite direction.

The Hewletts work amid a group of peaceful net-hunting foragers in central Africa known as the Aka, who live in migratory camps of about 25 to 35 individuals. Other ethnographic details, such as the Aka’s sociopolitical organization (minimal-control chiefdoms) and gender relations (men and women are relatively equal) certainly aren’t irrelevant to their sex lives, but in a report published last year in African Study Monographs, the researchers focused on the Aka’s bedroom behaviors. It was the Aka’s apparent hypersexuality that inspired the Hewletts’ research. “We decided to systematically study sexual behavior,” they explain, “after several campfire discussions with married middle-aged Aka men who mentioned in passing that they had sex three or four times during the night. At first we thought it was just men telling their stories, but we talked to women and they verified the men’s assertions.” That’s right—three or four times per night.

Indeed, these people are not as stuffy about sex as the initial impression may have suggested. They’re remarkably sexual, and that is reflected in more than just their rate of intercourse. It permeates throughout their very fabric of society.

The other important thing to note with the Aka and Ngandu is that, by Western standards, they are extremely open with respect to sexuality. Children mimic intercourse publicly and without being reproached by their parents, the lyrics to a popular Aka children’s song are the orgasmic vocalizations of two people having sex, and adults discuss sexual matters freely in camp.

Furthermore, the Aka are known for their extremely flexible gender roles and near absent gender stereotypes. The women are just as likely to hunt as are the men, and men are heavily involved in childrearing. (In fact, the Guardiandubbed Aka men “best fathers in the world” a few years ago.)

This is hardly an oppressive environment, which is why the apparent absence of homosexuality and masturbation in these societies came as a surprise to the Hewletts. “[These behaviors] are rare or nonexistent,” observe the authors, “not because they are frowned upon or punished, but because they are not part of the cultural models of sexuality in either group.”

Given this uniquely progressive attitude to both sexual expression and gender roles, it may seem contradictory to imagine that the Aka do not engage in many other kinds of sexual acts: oral and anal sex is absent, as is any notion of foreplay. As noted before, same-sex relationships are unknown to them: the Aka people don’t see homosexuality as taboo or unacceptable, because it is literally an alien concept to them. The same applies to “self-stimulation,” of which even the mechanics, as simple as they are, simply don’t translate.  In fact, no words remotely exist to describe these acts (and they’re not alone in this regard either).

Much of this stems from their attitudes towards sex, which isn’t as carnal as you might think.

To begin with, they’re having a lot of married sex. On average—and remember, this isn’t just newlywed teenagers, but also middle-aged couples we’re talking about—the Aka reported having sex three times per night, and the Ngandu twice per night. According to the Hewletts, these groups consider sex as being more like work than recreational activity. Given the importance placed on having many children—coupled with a high infant mortality rate—the Aka and Ngandu view sex as an exercise in gathering offspring, a form of nocturnal labor that is just as important as their subsistence activities during daylight. “The work of the penis is the work to find a child,” said one Aka informant. “I am now doing it five times a night to search for a child,” said another. “If I do not do it five times my wife will not be happy because she wants children quickly.” It’s not that sex isn’t pleasurable to these people, the Hewletts emphasize. Rather, pleasure just isn’t their primary motive.

It may seem unusual to imagine that such a hyper-sexual society would view pleasure as a secondary concern, if not merely a by-product, let alone see it as actual labor. But that’s just it: what is strange as far as sexual norms are concerned is largely a subjective and relativistic matter, something that wasn’t lost on the researchers, given that they’re anthropologists.

“One of our fears in writing this paper,” emphasize the Hewletts, “was that the Aka and Ngandu might be viewed as ‘others’ with unusual and exotic sexual practices … [but] overall, the Euro-American patterns are relatively unusual by cross-cultural standards.” In other words, although widespread Westernization creates the impression of a species-wide sexual homogeneity, when one takes the sheer number of living and extinct cultures into perspective, it’s us—not them—who are weird.

This is pretty much the crux of most anthropological studies. While some universal norms exist, the sheer diversity of human culture and experience leaves us with very little in the way of objective standards of what is “natural” or “normal.” Most of us unknowingly view the world through our own social and cultural prism, and construct our notions of what is “right” or “ideal” based on this benchmark. Every society does this, and even those of us that try to be conscious of this bias and overcome it have a difficult time doing so in practice (bear in mind that morality is a different matter for me entirely – I am not a moral relativist).

I think the article wraps it up rather well as far as attitudes to sex in particular, and views of different cultural mores in general.

In any event, the point is not to suggest that homosexuality and masturbation are unnatural and therefore wrong, but that “deviance” is a relative term. Let’s not forget there are certainly cultures for which homosexual behavior is the norm rather than the exception…The examples above should remind us that there are as many sexual differences between cultures as there are similarities. It may astonish Westerners to realize that societies with these practices exist elsewhere in the world, but just imagine all of the other variations in human sexuality that must have been lost through the ages. Even today, there really are societies in which homosexuality does not exist.

Basically, there’s a lot about our very nature we simply don’t know, and we should keep this in mind before we make any generalizations or assumptions concerning who we’re “supposed to be.”

A Brief Comment on the Gay Marriage Debate

It’s remarkable how much time, money, and energy is wasted obsessing over the ultimately trivial “problem” of gay marriage. With all the daunting problems we face in this country, we’re spending millions of dollars and investing all our efforts in a vitriolic campaign to deprive a minority from a right that the government has no constitutional prerogative to take a moral position on.

Despite the public narrative, I don’t think this should even be a partisan issue , but a common sense one. Do conservatives, claiming a libertarian view of government, want the state to tell people who they can marry? Do they not value the concept of liberty as it applies to all citizens? Even if you disagree with gay marriage, surely you could agree that it’s not your place – or especially that of the government – to use legislation to further a mostly religious and personal agenda that shouldn’t concern the state. I’m against all sorts of things I find immoral or otherwise disagreeable, but we can’t expect government to go beyond it’s mandate of public safety to enforce our opinions on these matters (it’d be completely unfeasible to do so anyway, given the diversity of beliefs on all sorts of issues).

This entire debate is a textbook example of why most of our founding fathers supported republicanism as opposed to direct democracy. They rightly feared the “tyranny of the majority” and it’s proclivity to overwhelm or even work directly against minority groups that are otherwise entitled to the same representation. We’ve seen this abuse play out throughout history, in various laws that disenfranchised Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics, immigrants, and other minority groups. Why does it matter if someone does something disagreeable, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone? Why does it matter if their beliefs personally conflict with your own, provided that they don’t impose them upon you or constrain your freedoms with them? It’s thus unsurprising, but very telling, how gay marriage opponents try to produce all sorts of dubious evidence for the harmful nature of homosexual relationships, claiming that somehow it’ll negatively impact society to point of requiring an explicit legal ban for the good of the public.

Even if this were true, which a considerable body of empirical and scientific evidence reveals otherwise, so what? Wouldn’t these self-styled conservatives prefer that government refrain from babying the population with laws and regulations meant to defend it from everything and anything perceived as a social ill? Aren’t they the ones that – in most cases, rightly – leave things up to the individual to worry about? Fast food, violent video games, too much internet and television, rock music – these are all things variously claimed to be detrimental to societal, familial, and psychological well-being. Should the government really get involved in restricting all of them? If not, than why should gay marriage be such an expensive and obsessed-over exception? Can’t heterosexual couples and parents fend for themselves against all the terrible ramifications of gays marrying? Do they really need the state to step in on their behalf?

To paraphrase one of my favorite axioms; a free society is defined by the rights granted  to it’s minorities and dissidents, not it’s conforming masses. Our republic was designed with all Americans in mind. I cannot understand how anyone could justify all the resources we’ve invested in this ugly, distracting, and constitutionally-dubious campaign. I can only hope that in the future, this inflamed culture war could be looked back on with the same bewilderment and shame that Jim Crow and other such endeavors are seen with today.

I have more to say on the matter, but as always time is short, so I’ll save it for another post. I’ll leave you with an interesting and poignant video that gets to the crux of my point.

The Death of David Kato and the Plight of LGBT People in Africa

I recently read the obituary of David Kato, a Ugandan gay rights activist who was murdered last month by a petty criminal. Not only was Kato brave enough to fight on behalf of LGBT rights in a horribly homophobic country (for which American evangelicals deserve some credit cultivating); but he had the courage to be openly gay himself, despite the considerable risks to his comfort and safety. Indeed, like nearly all of Uganda’s homosexuals (which are believed to number in the hundreds of thousands) Kato faced much persecution, not only from the usual religious authorities and elements of Ugandan society, but even from the political, legal, and media establishment.

In one chilling incident, a Ugandan tabloid known as Rolling Stone (no connection to the US-based publication), went so far as to list the country’s “top” 100 homosexuals, topped off with a bright banner that read “Hang Them” (Kato was among those listed). Most Ugandan police officers are known to harass and even beat homosexuals, at best behaving indifferently about their safety.

In fact, the Ugandan legal code, mostly a holdover from the British colonial era, actually goes so far as criminalize “homosexual acts” with an average of 14 years in prison. As if that weren’t enough,  Ugandan politicians have actually been mulling over a “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” since 2009, which would penalize “serial” homosexuals with the death penalty, and “homosexual acts” with life imprisonment.  Anyone found “helping, counselling, or encouraging another person to engage in a homosexual act” would receive seven years in prison.  As of this month, the bill still remains in discussion in parliament, amid domestic and international outcries. The actual document is linked here.

Needless to say, it’s not easy being a homosexual in a country where every institution seems to be out to get you. Most LGBT people have it hard enough even in relatively tolerant societies, given that almost every country has elements within it that remain publicly opposed to “alternative” sexualities” (to say nothing of the intrinsic disconnect most non-heterosexuals feel from most of the people around them).  So I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to be gay in a society where homophobia is ubiquitous, and one must actually fear for his or life and safety. Homosexuals have to choose between the discomfort  of living a lie, ever fearful of being found out; or the even greater discomfort of being open and having to regularly face the omnipresent disgust, suspicion, and outright hatred.

Sadly, Uganda is hardly alone in it’s pervasive hostility to LGBT. Africa as a whole remains one of the most difficult places in the world to be homosexual, whether “in the closet” or out. At least 38 out of 53 African countries criminalize homosexuality in some way. Following Uganda’s debate on the it’s anti-gay bill, neighboring Rwanda and Burundi, also heavily Christianized, have been discussing their own legislation criminalizing homosexuality. Even South Africa, which has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and allows gay marriages, has disturbingly prevalent incidents of “corrective rape.”

While many religious leaders and institutions have admirably stood against this growing wave of legally and religiously sanctioned homophobia, there is an obvious linkage between the proselytizing activities of Western Evangelical organizations and the entrenchment of homophobia in African society. In fact, the MP that sponsored the Ugandan bill, David Bahati, has ties to the American  conservative religious organization, The Family. Several religious workshops and conferences have been held in Uganda with the explicit aim of countering the “gay agenda” and teaching such things as “the gay movement is an evil institution’ whose goal is ‘to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity'” and how “to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys.”

One particularly noxious organization, known as Exodus International, officially aims to promote “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ”. Prominent American Evangelicals such as Steven Lively and Rick Warren have been credited with shaping public perception and even policy towards homosexuals in several countries. The situation is no better or different in predominately Muslim African nations as well.

As in all other civilizations, homosexuality has a long history in Africa, with evidence presumably going as far back as Ancient Egypt in 2400 BCE (Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum have been proposed to be the first recorded homosexual couple in history, though it is disputed). As I alluded to earlier, much of the entrenched negativity towards homosexuality originates in 18th century during European imperialism, in which British, French, and other colonial nations imposed legal codes intended to ban abnormal sexual behavior among local Africans. In addition the growth of Islam, and especially  Christianity as of late, has further reinforced negative perceptions towards gays, lesbians, and trans-gendered people.

Ironically, despite the fact that homophobia has a largely foreign origin, many Africans believe – and have been taught to believe – that homosexuality is a foreign import: un-Christian, un-Islamic, and un-African. Homosexuals are to Africans what Jews had long been to Medieval Europe: some sort of alien and dehumanizing force that is attributed to all the problems in a given society, in particular to moral decay and HIV/AIDS. Politicians are even known to channel the frustrations of their constituents onto homosexuals, blaming them for economic problems, crime, unemployment, and other ills. How homosexuals lead to such terrible things is never really explained or discussed in detail. Rather, it’s often treated as common knowledge, though for all intents and purposes it superstition.

Personally, I see this as an almost inevitable phase in Africa’s history. As with the Western world (and to a lesser degree other developed countries outside of it), African nations are enduring their coming of age with respect to facing the many ethical, social, and moral questions that all civilizations eventually do. African perceptions of homosexuals are often no different than that once held by European and North American societies, which have since endured their debates and culture wars and largely (though not entirely) gotten over the issue (at least to the degree of not sanctioning legal punishment for it).

Unfortunately, such social progression takes time, and it certainly took the West centuries to reach it’s point of tolerance, during which many lives were ruined and destroyed. It’s hard to suggest to the African LGBT community that they basically need to wait it out and do the best they can to counter the misinformation campaign. Interestingly, Africa remains a proxy for the greater culture war concerning homosexuality, with foreign organizations from both sides campaigning their respective views throughout the continent. It’s pretty much becoming the central battle ground LGBT rights.

But Africa is far from alone in it’s intolerance of homosexuals. Bigotry and social persecution of “abnormal” sexual orientation remains widespread throughout the world. LGBT individuals are perhaps among the most universally maligned, misunderstood, and hated demographics in human history. My only consolation is the thought that, like so many other once universally prevalent unethical positions (think slavery, the treatment of women, etc), such views towards homosexuals will be similarly marginalized. Sadly, like the examples I listed, this vice will never be completely eradicated. But we can only hope to eventually (mostly) leave behind this petty human obsession with something as ultimately harmless and personal as one’s sexual identity, and to continue our progress towards ethical and social attitudes that are founded on empathy, compassion, and reason.