My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
Homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries. In some countries offenders can be punished with death and in many more with harsh jail sentences. Recent developments in Uganda and Malawi have attracted international attention and once more underlined the precarious human rights situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people on the continent.
Fuelled by homophobic utterances of political and religious leaders, opposition to homosexuality is often embedded in tradition, religion and culture. Ignoring factual history, non-normative sexual orientations and gender identities are dismissed on the basis that they are Western imports and “un-African”.
The Heinrich Böll Foundation has aimed to empower LGBTI organisations to participate in public life and express the concerns of LGBTI people in the region for many years. It is hoped that this issue of Perspectives will help LGBTI activism in its struggle towards changing Africa into a continent where LGBTI people enjoy the full range of human rights.
What is clear from the articles gathered here is that despite the myriad of challenges and hostile environment there is an ongoing engagement and growing movement towards equality for LGBTI people throughout the continent. So while there may be a long journey ahead, we remain optimistic.