May 19, 2011
Though Uganda's Parliament on Friday shelved a bill calling for the death penalty for homosexuals in certain cases, the situation for gays and lesbians there and in other areas of Africa remains precarious.
In January, well-known Ugandan gay activist and school teacher in Uganda David Kato was brutally murdered. Last year in Malawi, a gay couple was sentenced to 14 years hard labor after announcing their intention to marry. They were later released but ordered to have no further contact. Such incidents only help to prolong the continent's HIV/AIDS epidemic, say experts.
"Whether you're gay or straight, the odds of you going to get testing for HIV or seek care for HIV are very low because to do so might imply that you are a gay person," noted Regan Hoffman, editor in chief of POZ magazine. "And if that can land you in jail for life, or you could be beaten and killed, why in God's name would you go and seek your HIV status or seek care?"
David Kuria of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, who is featured in POZ, said gay men often must "either marry a woman or risk being killed." "In Kenya, it seems that men who lead double lives do so because they do not have a choice," he said.
According to Hoffman, Uganda's HIV/AIDS efforts have suffered due in part to public officials' homophobia. "Uganda was a role model for HIV prevention and care because they were aggressively treating it and treating people benevolently who had the disease," she said. "I'm not sure exactly sure what happened in terms of Uganda's reversal of rates. I know it had to do in some part with a change in public attitude and also governmental attitude about being open about sexuality and therefore sexually treated diseases."