For those of us living in the affluent, established democracies of the North, we too easily think only in terms of those in similar circumstances. When our thoughts do turn to Africa, it is likely that we think first of the high-profile disaster stories: famine in East Africa, or the political melt-down in Zimbabwe. Few of us ever think of the African success stories. Who had ever heard of Botswana, until Alexander McCall Smith’s stories of Mme Precious Ramoletswe and the No 1 Ladies Detective agency hit the best-seller lists ? You would probably be surprised to learn that Botswana has had, over a period now approaching half a century, one of the fastest rates of growth in GDP in the world. (When I was looking at the figures professionally, back in the early ’90’s, the average rate of growth exceeded even that of China. ) How often do you get to read of the political stability in Tanzania, or of the remarkable transition to democracy, some years ago, of Benin? Sadly, it is only the bad news from Africa that hits the headlines, so unless we actively seek out a more complete picture, we develop some very distorted views.
So it is, too, with LGBT issues. Many gay activists will be aware that South Africa was the first country in the world to build protection from discrimination on the grounds of orientation into the country’s constitution. The extreme measures proposed in Uganda have also drawn a lot of attention (but there is less attention given to the opposition of the country’s president to the measure), as has Robert Mugabe’s regular homophobic rants, in a clear attempt to distract attention from his own manifest incompetence and corruption. but beyond that – almost nothing. However, there are lesbians, gay men and cross-dressers in Africa, as there are everywhere, and as there have been throughout African history. (It is a complete myth that homosexuality was “imported” from outside. Variations on this argument have been heard throughout the world, always without foundation). As in every other continent, there are some traditional societies which have in the past recognised same sex unions, or given special status to other sexual non-conformists.
Gay Christians, too, deal with he same issues as the rest of us: recognizing and dealing with the plain facts of their sexuality, and with the formal opposition of their churches, while getting on with their lives in the knowledge that this opposition comes from human institutions, not from God.
Large numbers of gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians in east Africa are accepting their sexuality while continuing to live out their faith, according to the Other Sheep network, which supports gay Christians around the world.
The network’s comments follow a campaign launched by Noah Litu Kellum, a former Quaker pastor in Kenya, who was excommunicated after he came out as gay to his congregation.
“Noah’s story is representative of what we see again and again in Africa”, said Steve Parelli, executive director of the Other Sheep network, “Gay Christians devoutly holding to their faith while embracing their sexual orientation”.
Kellum is using the Facebook website to urge international support for gay Quakers in east Africa. He was rejected by his family as well as his church after he openly identified himself as gay just over a year ago, but he insists that “none of this can change my calling, especially knowing that Jesus does not discriminate”.
He says that he believes that God is still calling him to be a pastor.
“At age 14 I had my first same-sex encounter”, explained Kellum, who is now 31, “From that time forward, I knew that I was normal and accepted myself that I am gay”.
Most Quakers in Kenya continue to oppose homosexuality, while Quakers in Britain recently became the first major faith group in the country to decide to carry out same-sex marriages.