By Ann Daramola
The International Lesbian and Gay Association (IGLA) met in Johannesburg this past weekend for the first pan-African, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) conference.
Over a dozen LGBT organizations from Canada and Africa came together to plan the conference, including a Swedish LGBT organization â€“ RiksfÃ¶rbundet fÃ¶r sexuellt likaberÃ¤ttigande (RFSL) â€“ that supported the conference by contributing a generous grant.
According to Sokari Ekine, writer at BlackLooks.org, a website that addresses social and political rights affecting African women, 60 activists from all over Africa gathered to confront controversial issues facing Africans who identify as LGBT in their respective countries.
“In 2007, no less than 85 member states of the United Nations still criminalize consensual same sex acts among adults, thus institutionally promoting a culture of hatred,” Ekine wrote in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press. “Among those, 38 are African governments.”
The main goal of the regional conference was to provide ways for individual organizations to fight controversial legislation in their countries. The African region is represented by two activists â€“ Dorothy Aken’ova from Nigeria and Juliet Victor Mukusa from Uganda. Both are working to bring the resources of the decades-old ILGA to the African continent where human rights issues are not widely covered.
According to the website, the impact of the conference depends on grassroots organizing and a strong support network that spans the continent.
“The organisation of a regional conference of ILGA provides an opportunity for African activists to reflect on ways to consolidate their movement and further progress in self organising on a regional level,” a statement on the IGLA-Africa website. “ILGA is currently seeking funds to implement the workplan that will be decided at the conference.”
Paul Lindito, an American gay man currently residing in Cape Town, South Africa, believes that LGBT groups in Africa are addressing important issues that will affect human rights.
“LGBT groups in Africa have been organizing for the past 50 years,” Lindito said. “Not very many people listen to the government, so whatever laws they pass are inconsequential. Fundamental changes need to made and that’s what African LGBT groups are doing.”
The ILGA African regional conference created a space for the dispersed groups to come together, share resources and elect board representatives. Activists were encouraged to attend in numbers.
Ekine is among many national and international activists who have been using the Internet as a way to increase awareness of social injustices and human rights issues that she doesn’t see in popular media.
“I don’t think I’ve seen any major media sources cover this huge achievement,” she said.
UCSC alumna ShantÃ© Lewis, 22, studied abroad in Africa this past fall and saw the effects of anti-homosexual taboos.
“Homophobia was very prevalent there,” she said. “I think that the IGLA conference is beautiful because it will bring awareness and hopefully understanding to an issue that can no longer be ignored.”