Moz lifts gay laws but queer fight goes on

Gay rights activists welcome the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Mozambique but said they still face a long struggle for full equality.

A penal code in force from last Monday erased Portuguese colonial laws dating back to 1886 that condemned anyone “who … engages in vices against nature” to three years’ hard labour. The move was largely symbolic: there have been no known prosecutions for homosexuality since Mozambique gained independence 40 years ago.

“We welcome it,” says Carina Capitine, spokesperson for Lambda, Mozambique’s only gay rights organisation that lobbied for the change. She said she doesn’t think it will bring real change for how LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people live in Mozambique. Lambda’s fought seven years for government recognition, which Capitine calls its next battle. “A lot of people ask about marriage or adoption but we can’t think about that yet. Our registration is key for us.”

Lambda has more than 40 members. It provides counselling, legal and health advice. Registration would mean access to funding and tax exemption status; it would be a step towards acceptance for Mozambique’s LGBT community. The country has a reputation for more relaxed social attitudes than many countries in Africa.

Describing Mozambican society as quite tolerant, Capitine adds: “The LGBT community is not targeted by violent acts as in some African countries. But we face discrimination.”

Public displays of same-sex affection are rare but not unknown. It depends on place and personality, says Capitine. “Some people are more open, some are more shy.”

‘We exist’

The mainstream media tend to ignore the subject but the internet has provided a platform to raise awareness. Leading activist and Mozambican blogger Dercio Tsandzana says it can’t be found in newspapers or local media, but “you can go to Facebook and find Lambda: ‘Look for us, we exist.’”

He added: “We can’t say the government is open-minded. It is one thing to open laws, another to give recognition to an organisation like Lambda. They don’t say ‘we don’t accept’; they don’t say ‘we accept’. This is about more than laws. It’s not easy – we must talk.”

Joaquim Chissano, a former Mozambican president, appealed for a change in attitudes in a letter to African leaders last year. “We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone,” he wrote.

“As an African who has been around a long time, I understand resistance to these ideas. But I can also step back and see the larger course of human history, especially of the past century, is one of expanding human rights and freedoms.”

Same-sex relations are illegal in 36 of the continent’s 54 countries, according to Amnesty International, and punishable by death in Sudan, Nigeria and Mauritania. Anti-gay statements from political leaders are common in Zambia and Zimbabwe. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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David Smith
David Smith is the Guardian's Washington DC bureau chief. From 2010 to 2015 Smith was the Africa correspondent for The Guardian for which he was based in Johannesburg, South Africa
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