Editorial: Science rebuts homophobes
Gay rights are human rights! So ran a chant in the early days of South Africa’s own fight for equal rights for LGBTI people – those now lumbered with the longest, and still not entirely settled, acronym for any group demanding its rights.
LGBTI now replaces gay, and stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex(ed); in some parts of the world, a Q has been added for queer, an A for asexual and there has even been a suggestion that an asterisk might appropriately be added to stand for any categories of nonheteronormative gender and sexual identity yet to emerge. That is rather like the old Greek temples, as noted in the Book of Acts, that had a spare plinth or statue for the Unknown God. What it shows, however, is the way the movement for LGBTI rights is about inclusion. It’s saying: “We want in on the benefits of human rights; we want in on society.”
It is tragic that all over Africa people still have to be saying this to their leaders. It is horrifying that some countries on the continent have promulgated new laws, on top of the old colonial laws they kept, to suppress any kind of same-sex behaviour or expression. Seven of the nine countries that impose the death penalty for people convicted of such crimes are African.
South Africa, at least, can hold its head high for the way its Constitution expressly disallows discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, alongside the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race. This forcefully shows that gay rights are simply human rights – the right not to be persecuted, oppressed, raped or killed for who you are.
South Africa can also be proud of the Academy of Sciences report released this week, and reported on in this edition, which gives a very solid scientific refutation of the kinds of arguments used to whip up homophobia and hatred in some African countries, Uganda especially. Obviously politicians are doing this for reasons of their own, as is clear in the case of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, and it seems unlikely that such men (they are all men) will listen to reason on the matter. They are too busy clinging to power, and manipulating public opinion and beliefs to do it. Museveni rejected the report on homosexuality by his own team of experts, which came to conclusions similar to those of the new report, and it is noteworthy that the Ugandan Academy of Sciences has now endorsed the South African academy’s report.
Hopefully the scientific evidence presented in the report will filter through from the academy and intellectual circles to politicians and policymakers, even perhaps eventually helping to change the social attitudes that give rise to homophobia and the persecution of anyone not seen as a “normal” heterosexual person. Leaders promoting such hatred are no better than those leading xenophobic attacks, and they should at least know that their arguments have been scientifically refuted.