ADDIS ABABA: The legal status of men who have sex with men (MSM) and the criminalization of HIV transmission across Africa was discussed in several plenary sessions at the 16th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The trend was also the focus of several key sessions, including the standing room only "Key Populations on HIV/AIDS: LGBT."
The Tuesday, December 6 panel was moderated by Jim Pickett of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and Paul Perchal of Canada's of EngenderHealth. The panelists included South Africa's Zoe Duby of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation and Joel Nana of the African Men for Sexual Health and Rights—read our interview from AIDS 2010 in Vienna.
Duby is in charge of the Tutu Foundation's MSM Sensitivity Training for Health Care Workers. She presented an overview of the legal landscape for African MSM: "African is the continent with the harshest laws when it comes to homosexuality and other sexual minorities. Thirty-eighty African nations have laws criminalizing homosexuality. Four nations—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—boast the death penalty for same-sex activity."
Although a number of nations such as Burundi, Cameroon, Nigeria and Uganda have proposed harsher penalties for same-sex relations, there have been some improvements. "Fourteen nations have included MSM in national strategic HIV/AIDS plans," said Duby. "And there is an emerging MSM movement in almost every nation ... as well as regional movements such as AMSHeR.
AMSHer's Joel Nana welcomed support from American and European activitists—but reminded everyone that Africans should take the lead in addresing African problems. "As the African LGBT movement, we cannot work alone," said the attorney and human rights activist. "We have to work together. But when there is an issue with Nigeria, for instance, who usually issues the statements and protests? They are in London and New York. ... Why aren't African LGBTs consulted before these actions?"
Nana and several Nigerian MSM activists in the audience referenced recent anti-Nigerian protests in New York and London. "If anything, that's made the situation worse," said one African activist in the audience. "If those Nigerians in the diaspora feel so strongly, why not return to Nigeria and do something?"
As was the case at most MSM sessions throughout ICASA 2011, the Q&A session was interrupted several times by anti-gay and religious audience members.
Nana and AMSHeR organized a one-day MSM pre-conference on the eve of ICASA 2011. The meeting was forced to change its venue after Ethiopian religious leaders demanded its cancellation at ugly press conference. The MSM pre-con was re-scheduled to a secure location at one of the United Nations compounds. Christian and Islamic clergy and faithful demonstrated across the street from the new location.