Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 February 2008, 17:46 GMT

Africa’s lesbians demand change  Anti-gay protest in Kampala

 Lesbians from across Africa have called on African governments to stop treating homosexuals like criminals.

The demand came as about 75 activists gathered at a conference in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

The Coalition of African Lesbians called the conference to highlight discrimination across the continent.

Conference spokeswoman Fikile Vilakazi told the BBC that action was needed to respond to homophobia which, she said, was rife in Africa.

South Africa holds the most liberal attitude towards homosexuality on the continent

She said her main goal was to stop governments treating homosexuality as a criminal offence.

According to the International Gay and Lesbian Association, homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries.

One participant said the conference was helping to provide support for lesbians across Africa.

Homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African nations, and legal (or unmentioned in the statute book) in at least 13
In Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigerian states, homosexuality may be punished by death
In Uganda, offenders may receive life imprisonment, and in countries including Gambia, Kenya, and Tanzania, homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in jail
South Africa is the only country in the world which guarantees gay and lesbian rights in the constitution – but discrimination remains in practice
In Zimbabwe, even same-sex displays of affection may be a criminal offence
Sources: IGLA and Behind the Mask

“We might be seemingly a bit lost right now on the African continent, but there’s positive talk,” said the delegate. “As Christians we realise that the Bible doesn’t discriminate, it embraces us in our diversity.”

Another participant, Nahlahla Mukize, said being a lesbian in Africa was a negative experience.

“I’m finding myself as an individual who is every day trying to get the people that I identify with… everyday having to educate them about who I am, but finding it difficult for them to open their minds and their hearts,” she told the BBC.

“I haven’t found myself being attacked or kicked out of home but it’s just the discourse, how people talk about lesbian issues or how our government… how they tend to sideline people like myself.”

Mugabe attack

Many traditional African societies view same-sex relationships as abhorrent and activists accuse some African governments of state-sponsored discrimination and persecution.

In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe, has attacked homosexuality as a Western import – describing gays as “worse than dogs and pigs”.

In Senegal, the recent publication of photos from a gay wedding provoked violent demonstrations.

In contrast, South Africa holds the most liberal attitude towards homosexuality on the continent.

The South African constitution bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and the government legalised same-sex marriages in 2006.

But even here, activists say, openly gay and lesbian people have been threatened, detained and arrested.

BBC News

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