LGBTI in Tanzania:Sexual and Gender Identification Conflict
The mention of Lesbians, Gay,Bisexual, Transgender and Queer in Tanzania is either in whispers from LGBTQ community or as a national headline warning and threat.It has been a continuous brewing storm in that Tanzania as a country deny the LGBTQ community access to fundamental rights. Just like in many other societies, the LGBTQ community is perceived as nonconformists to which they assert their vulnerability is a result of sexual and gender identity.
This takes me aback, what’s are human rights and how do they link to sexual and reproductive health ? According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights are inherent to all individuals as a consequence of being human and they are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. More so, the Constitution of Tanzania guarantees the right to equality and prohibits any form of discrimination based on sex or gender.
The LGBTI Conversation-Different People, One Perceptions!
Not once have I brought up the conversation on LGBTQ or the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer amongst peers, family, aqquitances and strangers. I can’t but wonder of ridicule, fear and peculiarity it has manifested…different people, one perspective!According to Tanzanian’s LGBTQ is a non-conformity with the society norms, noting that same-sex marriages or sexual relationships are both taboo. Religion morality also depicts LGBTQ as detestable. Let’s not forget Tanzania is a Sub-Saharan country where 93% are either Muslims 30% and Christians 63%, making it Africa’s religious continent in the world. Their religious precepts shape their attitudes towards the LGBTQ community.
The book of Leviticus warns of homosexuality, I quote, “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman is a detestable sin. If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offence.” Because of the religious background, majority of Tanzanians promote a conservative agenda, and because LGBTQ community is minority, their sexual identity make Tanzania one of the hardest place to enjoy liberties, access opportunities and privileges.
LGBTQ promoted as Un-African Sexuality–Speaking in One Voice
From presidents, to religious leaders to celebrities and communities their voice have been one-LGBTQ is un-African. Times have never been so tough for the Tanzanian LGBTQ community as it was during the leadership of President John Pombe Magfuli. In his own words, the late President in a striking homophobic rant said, “those who teach such things do not like us, brothers. They brought us drugs and homosexual practices that even cows disapprove.”
Further, 2018, Tanzania made international headline when a regional official claimed to have established a task force to round up men suspected to gay in Dar es Salaam. The suspects were to be tested for homosexual conduct and be jailed for life.Shocking enough, he claimed to receive hundreds of text messages from the public. Against this background, the government issued warnings of arrest and deporting anyone campaigning for the rights LGBTQ community and shut down all the organizations working on awareness and advocacy programmes.
LGBTQ is a Taboo-The Tanzanian/ UnAfrican Culture
Leave out LGBTQ acceptance and mainstreaming, sexual conversation in most African backgrounds be it homes, schools or churched have been in whispers until recently. First, the LGBTQ community is ostrasized from the larger community for who they are according to the social and gender construction. Just recently, the rest of Africa got into shock during Kenya’s national census that saw the counting of intersex people. Did it change Tanzania’s perspective and attitude on the LGBTI community?
Zanzibar is and was known for Lesbianism but that does not stop the larger community define it a total taboo, and the best attitude is ignore lesbianism, at worst is death. Years back it was common in Zanzibar, an island off the Tanzania Coast to come across bars, clubs or cafes that were open for lesbians and gays where they could network. That was then, the recent war on the LGBTI community has left them relying on secrecy organizations and international internet platforms for information and support. More so, LGBTI is associated with mental sickness, witchcraft, devil worshiping, infidelity and risky lifestyle.
The LGBTQ Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights-The Puzzle in Human Rights
LGBTQ sexual and reproductive health and rights have an inextricable bond, noting they involve individuals’ autonomy in their most intimate state. Public out cry from the LBGTI community in Tanzania demonstrate a picture of historical failure progressing from one period to another. As human rights defender, I feel the LGTBI community in Tanzania is faced by intense discrimination compared to any other minority group, because their sexual and gender identities are used shape every other aspect of life. They are not pushing for any special right, nevertheless, what is provided and recognised by the Tanzanian Constitution.
What’s more, the new ground-breaking definition of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Right enable LGBTI people access sexual and reproductive health information and services. The report from Lancet and Guttmacher Institute Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights affirms that achieving sexual and reproductive health relies on people being able to realize their sexual and reproductive rights.Importantly, the new definition includes people’s right to freely define their own sexuality, including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The Commission also stresses the importance of people being able to have access over information, resources, services and support necessary to achieve this sexual and reproductive health and rights (SHRH) without discrimination, coercion, exploitation or violence.
Violation of LGBTQ Rights-The Bad Conviction!
The Tanzanian LGTI community can to some point celebrate strides. However, they have a long way to go. The discrimination and prejudice from family to the wider society is unexplainable. These are negative attitudes emboldened by political, cultural and religious sponsored homophobia and transphobia, consequently, they cannot effectively access education, housing, economic opportunities, health care and leadership positions leading to underrepresentation. Most society’s deeply believe it is perfectly okay that LGBTI are not worthy of integrity which makes them vulnerable to violent physical attacks such as bullying, sexual abuse not to mention the anal examinations, family rejection, overrepresentation in the criminal systems, bullying, unwarranted arrest and life imprisonment and death. It gets gloomier when the LGBTQ sexual and reproductive health and rights needs are not mainstreamed. Just like heterosexuals, LGBTQs experience mental health issues at a higher rate, a recent study found that 36 % have anxiety disorder, 61% have depression while 45% have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Ubuntu: I am Because We are!
My ears have been on the ground on this issue. I understand as much as Tanzania is intolerable of LGBTI community, its home to larger population from other countries such as Kenya and Uganda seeking LGBTI asylum. This leads me to wonder, is it as bad as they say, after-all? Recent reports from scholars and human rights organisations assert the movement for the rights of LGBTI are still fragmented and weak even in the midst of noted progress. It could get better if there’s enhanced understanding of LGBTI human rights especially education, adequate housing, sustainable livelihoods and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights information, services and products. There is a Kiswahili proverb that goes ” Tembo wawili wakipigana huumia ni nyasi” this should be a constant reminder for the LGBTI individuals and organisations that the Tanzania government is non-supportive of their advocacy and awareness struggles, and so avoid conflicts and backlashes.
I Am Because We are (IAWA)…meaning humanity; “A person is a person through other people.” South African phrase.