When Prejudices are exposed: “The ‘gay’ problem”

Some call it the gay problem I call it intolerance of difference. The topic on LGBTQA is one that is always avoided by many at any cost. I remember very well attending the African Union Summit on children’s rights and when we were discussing the multiple discriminations faced by different groups of children I mentioned the LGBTQA children and the multiple untold discriminations that they encounter on a day to day basis. I must say it was as if I had taken my clothes off because of the response that was given. I guess for fear of engaging deeper into the conversation the facilitator evaded from engaging in an open discussion on the issue.


One old woman just outrightly said ‘we cannot discuss this issue here’. Being in this space where already I had been labelled a ‘lesbian’ I coiled glad that even though people were not ready to engage they had heard the point that I had raised. After the session I was so relieved when one of the facilitators came to me and thanked me for raising that issue in that meeting as they said, ‘it was about time’. In a split of a second I had been made to feel like an outcast, speaking obscenities. A few months later I find myself in America with a number of my colleagues from different African countries. We are confronted with the issue and we have to talk about the issue of sexual orientation in a way that many are not comfortable to talk about as to many there is just one set of human beings, the heterosexual beings.

The discussions starts with the screening of Milk which shows the story of Harvey Milk who struggled as a gay activist and his perseverance after years of persecution saw him being elected as the first openly gay elected official. As the documentary starts playing, the initial scenes unsettle many, I look around the room when there is scene when 2 gay guys are being intimate. Most faces could not hide the disgust and during a break many talk about how they were repelled by the intimate scene.  After the screening of the documentary the questions that are put forward to the facilitator of the session expose the deep seated prejudices. One of the issues that strongly come out is that anyone who is queer chooses to be queer and should not then force people to accept them or to ‘tolerate’ them. This raises the critical, frequently asked question, ‘Is homosexuality a choice?’  Usually two responses are proffered. One is that YES IT IS and this leads to the conclusion that well those that choose to be homosexual are making an immoral choice and it is the government and society’s duty to discourage it. The other could be NO IT ISNT, a response indicating that sexual preference is biologically determined. But what if both answers are not correct? Because in as much as we want to fit people in neatly packed boxes it is not necessarily a correct reflection of how life plays out. Maybe sexuality is fluid and so does sexual preference and maybe we do not necessarily have an exact answer to it but as human beings can we not respect people as they are even if it does not align with our moral compass especially if they have not harmed anyone.

In all this we tend to forget that even the heterosexuals choose their sexual preferences either as a way to conform to society or because that is genuinely how they feel. To imagine that a society can punish someone for making a choice different from theirs is morally unimaginable. It’s ok to acknowledge that it’s not every time that we should have an explanation for something; it is ok to have none. There is no black and white in life as we are made to believe, there is purple, green and all the in-betweens…

I have had an opportunity to have a discussion with my male counterparts who are disgusted by this whole notion of homosexuality and yet they are adulterers. It is appalling how they simply justify their acts over homosexuality by saying, ‘atleast it is natural,’ and again it reminds me of the biblical teachings I got as I grew up that before I point at the twig in someone’s eye I must remove the log in mine’.

Religion and specifically the bible has been used as a tool of oppression in this regard. It is also funny and an irony to see how the same bible was used years ago to justify slavery and even the slaves themselves saw sense in the biblical passages that were spelt out that showed that slavery was sanctioned by ‘God’. If ‘god’ is love then indeed those that are believers should never be found to discriminate, condemn and victimise homosexuals on the basis of the ‘bible’. Prejudices are so real and if we do not acknowledge the deeply seated prejudices we have we could hurt many people in the process.

It is not even about tolerating or empathising with homosexuals but society just has to respect and accept that indeed human beings are different. In the same vein one’s sexual orientation does not essentially define them as we are all more than our sexual orientation. We never hear when one is being introduced that , ‘This is so and so and they are heterosexual’, labels victimise certain groups in society and if we are to experience and enjoy equity we should be able to embrace difference and know that we might be different but indeed we are equal.

Again this last week I asked myself the question that as a humanist I always ask myself what is it that I can humanly do to make the world a better place for those that make different choices from me and I am inclined to say RESPECT and LOVE does it all. I keep learning and unlearning…


#YALI2016 Fellows