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African Academics Challenge Homophobic Laws

African academics have used scientific evidence to argue against such laws and to urge African nations to abandon them. In a report published on 10 June by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF), the academics, most of whom are scientists, make the case that laws criminalizing homosexuality have no basis in science and hamper efforts to prevent and treat HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Human-rights activists and many people working in health care welcome the report, which comes in response to a slew of homo­phobic laws in several African countries, in particular Uganda. “It opens up a new outlook about homosexuality seen through the lens of science,” says Thomas Egwang, a Ugandan immunologist who was not involved in producing the report.

The report’s authors, of whom 11 work in South Africa, 1 in Uganda and 1 in the United States, drew on medicine, anthropology, psychology and philosophy to counter arguments used to justify the criminalization of homosexuality. The authors reference a review of literature dating back to the late nineteenth century that documents homosexuality in Africa, including woman-to-woman marriage on the Slave Coast (in present-day Togo, Benin and Nigeria), homosexual relations between shepherd boys in Ethiopia, and cross-dressing male prostitutes in Senegal. The authors cite a 2008 review that calculated the prevalence of MSM in Africa to be at least 2%. This is in line with a global finding that at least 1.5% of men of any given population are exclusively attracted to members of their own sex.

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Culture Stats & Facts

  • Black African MSM appear twice as likely to contract HIV as other ethnic groups

    (Sigma Research, 2011)

  • BAME MSM make up 0.1% of the total population in the UK, but 13% of MSM diagnosed with HIV.

    (Nastal-3, PHE, 2013)

  • Black MSM are also twice as likely to report homophobic attacks in their local area compared to the white population - 13% compared to 6% respectively

    (Stonewall, 2013)