Queerying development planning

Recognizing needs and identifying vulnerable populations in Africa

Authored by: Corinne L. Mason

Routledge Handbook of Queer Development Studies

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  January  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138693753
eBook ISBN: 9781315529530
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The issue of global lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) populations and planning in the context of international development planning and institutions has not been well explored. The broader field of development studies has taken up this challenge, but planning continues to lag behind. There has been considerable discussion of the place of LGBTQ issues within the field of human rights and donor agencies are beginning to consider how best to provide assistance to these vulnerable populations. This chapter explores some of the resistance to more inclusive LGBTQ approaches from within donors influenced by the evangelical community in the United States. The chapter then explores resistance to LGBTQ inclusion by religious and political leaders in some sub-Saharan nations, using the cases of Uganda and South Africa as examples. Finally, the chapter considers the difficulties of planning for a vulnerable sub-population when identity categories are not stable and are colored by evolving understanding and expressions of sexuality and gender identity.

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Queerying development planning

The issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) populations in the context of international development planning and institutions has not been well explored. The broader field of development studies has taken up this challenge, but planning continues to lag behind. This chapter aims to fill that gap by examining several examples from sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, the chapter explores some of the resistance to adopting more inclusive LGBTQ approaches to development planning from within the Western donor nations, and in particular from the evangelical community in the United States. In addition, the chapter considers the ways this resistance to LGBTQ inclusion is echoed in part by religious and political leaders in some sub-Saharan nations. Finally, the chapter considers the difficulties of planning for a vulnerable sub-population when identity categories are not stable and are colored by evolving understanding and expressions of sexuality and gender identity.

Two working papers (Anyamele et al. 2005; Jolly 2010a) have provided an important glimpse into shifting donor policy vis-à-vis the importance of recognizing the presence of and differential needs of LGBTQ populations. The first argued that it was essential to address the issue of men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women in order to get a handle on the HIV/AIDS problem. Both papers recognized that the marginalized status of LGBTQ people in many countries of the Global South made it urgent to provide development assistance to ameliorate their situation. Joseph (2010) also argued that HIV/AIDS work is essential to urban planning because much of the infected population lives and works under conditions of informality in the South African context.

In addition, two books have opened the door to a wider discussion of the place of LGBTQ issues within the field of human rights and development (Cornwall et al. 2008; Lind 2010). Cornwall et al. highlighted the fact that much development activity and policy has occurred in a highly heteronormative context, which has for the most part effaced sexuality from nearly all discussions of development policy. They maintained that “for mainstream development sex is treated as a health issue, to be dealt with by experts in disease prevention and health promotion” ignoring the pleasure and intimacy components of sexuality that are why most people engage in sexual relationships (5). Accordingly it is necessary to shift the conceptualization of sexuality from that of a negative problem to that of a positive force that makes some people’s lives quite frankly bearable. Jolly (2010b) argued forcefully that development agencies need to get over their obsession with sex as negative (women as victims of bad sex and men as perpetrators of bad sex) and face the reality that sex is often about pleasure for people who are terribly marginalized. Lind (2010) suggested that development agencies too often view the family as a heteronormative construction and fail to consider the wide range of living situations in which non-normative people in the Global South are found. Development policy that has ignored these situations has often gone awry.

Several recent high-level policy statements have signaled broader recognition of LGBTQ issues. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has recently adopted a policy document that explicitly incorporates LGBTQ populations under the human rights umbrella, further adding to international support for sexual minorities (see UNHRC Report of November 2012). In the US context, former President Barack Obama issued a memorandum to all heads of agencies and departments emphasizing the importance of international initiatives to advance LGBTQ human rights (Obama 2011). In response, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement in December 2011 that LGBTQ rights are human rights. These statements marked a definitive shift in US foreign policy regarding the importance of considering LGBTQ populations. While on the surface such high visibility support is a huge step forward, the realities on the ground are much more complex. This chapter uses a queer theory perspective to ask whether institutions (the UN) and governments (the US and other Western powers) who are themselves supported by the heteropatriarchy (Elder 1995) can ever implement development policies that address the needs of the vast array of sexual minorities and gender identities across the globe. A queer lens necessarily critiques the notion that progress in terms of legislative recognition is sufficient. Rather Oswin (2014) suggests that queer theory

interrogates heteronormativity beyond the heterosexual–homosexual binary and points out that the march of progress always entails the pitting of the properly domestic against the queer, even when gays and lesbians make it in from the margins. It details queerness as a stranding in a state of arrested development, as a constitutive casting out from the normal, the natural and the national.

(Oswin, 2014, 416)

A variety of questions about development planning follow from this queer perspective. Does international recognition of LGBTQ rights as human rights really change the climate for planning at the local level, improving the lives of people whose various identities have resulted in their marginalization from mainstream society? Can such sweeping statements of “rights” really countermand the bias and oppression embedded in Western Judeo-Christian culture, as well as in post-colonial regimes in Africa? When hateful and discriminatory legislation has been adopted or is under consideration in places like Uganda, is it helpful for Western diplomats to use the “bully pulpit” to lecture sovereign nations about domestic policy? Does the adoption of constitutional protections for LGBTQ people in South Africa really provide protection for groups working at ground level to change conditions that enable LGBTQ people to live more openly and free from discrimination?

The consequences of lack of support for LGBTQ people in the Global South are clearly high. A recent World Bank report (Anyamele et al. 2005) noted that LGBTQ populations faced severe discrimination in most of these countries. Specific consequences include eviction from family homes and neighborhoods, loss of jobs, discrimination in health care, and high levels of violence including violence perpetrated by the police. These are familiar lists to LGBTQ activists and scholars working in Western contexts but it is rare to hear development agencies addressing these kinds of problems explicitly, though this trend may be shifting (Jolly 2011). For example, a recent report by consultants to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted that full social inclusion of transgender individuals is sorely lacking and yet must be seen as a critical element in the global fight against HIV/AIDS (Divan et al. 2016).

The queer theory perspective permits us to identify the struggles for full inclusion as a form of disciplinary discourse that Michel Foucault (1978) would clearly recognize. In the context of planning issues within the United States, there are real issues linked to heteronormative resistance to recognizing and protecting LGBTQ spaces (Doan 2011). For example, in Atlanta planners and municipal officials failed to identify and plan for the presence of a gay neighborhood, resulting in the redevelopment of the area and the loss of many LGBTQ businesses (Doan and Higgins 2011). In North America there is an ongoing struggle to find ways to plan for inclusive LGBTQ spaces (Doan 2015).

In the Global South the problem is further complicated by the need to unpack both long-standing colonial as well as neo-colonial and neo-liberal influences. The anti-LGBTQ policies that some scholars and development practitioners in the West find so hateful are frequently a result of colonial regimes that attempted to discipline sexuality as a means of controlling “native” populations. Colonial administrators often used urban planning to create a “cordon sanitaire” around the administrative hub of the city to protect themselves from being infected by the “dangerous customs” and “perverse behaviors” of the long time inhabitants of these countries (King 1990; Njoh 2009; Beeckmans 2013). Stoler (1989) describes the set of racist and class specific values that drove “colonial distinctions of difference, linking fears of sexual contamination, physical danger, climatic incompatibility, and moral breakdown” (636) of European colonizers. These same regimes colluded with evangelical missionaries to “civilize” and bring religion to the heathens in the hopes of saving their souls, but also disciplining their behaviors.

Sub-Saharan Africa has been much in the news in the past few years regarding issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and, as such, it provides a useful lens through which to examine this delicate problem of how to make development planning more inclusive of LGBTQ populations, thereby ensuring basic justice, social welfare, and economic opportunity of this marginalized community. The question that will be addressed in this chapter is what are the implications of these changes for development planning efforts around the globe, but especially in the Global South?

The practical realities of developing more inclusive policies and programs must be cognizant of the deep-seated resistance to this change and take note of the very real constraints to progress in this area. These constraints can be divided into three general areas: 1) resistance to LGBTQ-inclusive policies on the part of conservative forces in the United States, 2) resistance to LGBTQ-inclusive policies from conservative forces in the Global South, and 3) difficulties in identifying LGBTQ populations in the context of overt hostility, violence, and evolving identities. The intent here is not to dissuade development practitioners from engaging with these issues, but in keeping with good planning processes it is essential to survey the threats to moving forward before developing a clear plan for improvement.

Resistance to LGBTQ-inclusive policies within the United States

One reason for the failure of development agencies to embrace issues of non-normative sexuality and gender is that there are still very intense levels of resistance to LGBTQ issues within social conservatives in the West, and especially in the United States. Since development agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are ultimately dependent upon the largesse of governments and charitable donors, they inevitably shy away from controversy, enabling a kind of difficult silencing of development workers around this issue. For instance, in November 2012 I participated in a panel on LGBTQ issues in development planning that occurred just prior to the US general election in the state of Ohio. Unfortunately one of the panelists was unable to join the panel because her superiors at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) decided that talking about LGBTQ issues in development planning was too sensitive. At the last minute she was told that she could not present her work on building networks and strengthening LGBTQ civil society in Africa. Perhaps the closely contested national election in 2012 triggered this decision to “silence” a senior staff member because the conference was held in the key swing state of Ohio. Whatever the reason for the rescinded travel permission, this situation is one example of the kind of silencing that constrains wider debate and discussion within the US context. The election of Donald Trump in November 2016 makes the issue of support for LGBTQ rights even more fraught.

Although polls show a majority of Americans now are in support of LGBTQ people and the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage, there are still many people for whom LGBTQ issues remain a hot button issue. In other Western countries development organizations and NGOs face similar pressure, creating a kind of collective silencing of discussion about policies to address the discrimination and violence faced by LGBTQ people in the Global South.

Resistance to LGBTQ-inclusive policies within the Global South

Another challenging component of resistance to LGBTQ development policies is from anti-LGBTQ groups within the Global South. These groups include government officials, church leaders, and some local NGOs whose pronouncements about the venality of gays and lesbians are often quite shocking. The Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, is perhaps the most outspoken opponent of gays and lesbians on the continent. A recent Zimbabwean newspaper article provides the following quote:

In 1995, government shut down a book exhibit by Galz [Gays and Lesbians Zimbabwe] at the Harare International Book Fair after which Mugabe declared: “Homosexuals are worse than dogs and pigs; dogs and pigs will never engage in homosexual madness; even insects won’t do it.”

(Zhangazha 2015)

While this is the most visible and often repeated quote from an African leader, it exemplifies resistance to LGBTQ inclusion from a range of other perspectives. Scholars who have looked at these claims find them deeply flawed. Epprecht (2008) provides a closer reading of anthropological reports and field notes, suggesting that sexuality is as diverse in Africa as in any other continent and that the claim that homosexuality does not exist in Africa is patently false.

What is the source of this resistance? It is very important for development planners wishing to engage with this issue to reflect on this discourse. The history of colonial interventions with regard to the sexuality of African peoples has been extremely negative. Tamale (2011) argues that colonial powers used misconceptions about primitive African sexuality to “other” and subjugate African women and men. “Through religion and its proselytizing activities, Africans were encouraged to reject their previous beliefs and values and adopt the ‘civilised ways’ of the whites” (16). Tamale goes on to describe Western researchers with “a voyeuristic, ethno-pornographic obsession with what they perceived as exotic (read perverse) African sexual cultures … The standard approach was to view these sexual cultures as primitive, bizarre and dangerous and apply a knee-jerk reflex to ‘fix’ them” (19).

Given that religion was often the tool for colonial control, it is understandable that it also became a mechanism for maintaining the post-colonial status quo. Sadgrove et al. (2012) argue that homosexuality has been illegal in Uganda since the colonial period, under British legislation outlawing “carnal knowledge” that might undermine the colonialist order. Epprecht (2008) provides convincing evidence that the colonial regimes and the African elites who replaced them used a Foucaultian discourse of heteronormativity to try to efface any forms of deviant sexuality. Is it any wonder then that current African leadership now shies away from another group of Western “invaders” telling them what to do with regard to their intimate lives? But upon closer examination, much of the support for this anti-LGBTQ policy may in fact also have its roots in current Western homophobia. The Ugandan situation provides some useful insights.

The consequences of the Ugandan Anti-Gay Bill

The case of the Ugandan Anti-Gay Bill introduced in 2009 is a rich illustration of this process at work. Ugandan MP David Bahati introduced this bill to criminalize homosexuality and make serial homosexuality punishable by death (see Gettleman 2010; Sadgrove et al. 2012). When British Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both complained and threatened to reduce development assistance if such a law was passed, a Ugandan presidential advisor reported the government’s outrage at Western interference. “That fellow [Mr Cameron] said the same thing. Now this woman [Clinton] is interfering. If the Americans think they can tell us what to do, they can go to hell” (Chothia 2011). The bill has been subsequently amended to change the penalty to life in prison and the amended bill was passed in 2013 and signed into law in 2014.

There is a strong link between the US evangelical movement and the instigators of the “anti-gay bill” that was passed by the Ugandan legislature. A meeting including both US and Uganda evangelical leaders held in Uganda prior to the introduction of this bill in October 2009 was the stimulus for the passage of this bill. At this meeting US evangelicals described the “gay agenda” of sodomizing young boys to convert Ugandan children to homosexuality (Gettleman 2010). It appears that only those interest groups, such as these evangelicals, that align with themselves with local leadership are allowed to have such significant influence on domestic policy in Uganda.

A useful example is provided by Hoad’s (2007) description of the alliance forged between ultra-conservative US Anglicans and their African allies before the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops. The intent of this effort was to organize against what they saw as the “pro-gay” agenda of more liberal Anglicans. US Bishop Barbara Harris, the first black woman Bishop, suggested that one of the key differences resulting in divergent policy was the exercise of the near absolute authority wielded by African diocesan bishops. Harris goes on to say,

the vitriolic, fundamentalist rhetoric of some African, Asian and other bishops of color, who were in the majority, was in my opinion reflective of the European and North American missionary influence propounded in the Southern Hemisphere during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

(As cited in Hoad, 2007, 64)

Sadgrove et al. (2012) suggested that within the worldwide Anglican Community, African Bishops continued to hold a firm line against any movement that is more inclusive of gay ordination, refusing to allow openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson to be seated at the Lambeth Conference in 2008. Furthermore, Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria has the support of US churches opposed to the ordination of gay bishops and sent a letter highly critical of LGBTQ issues to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Kaoma 2012).

Returning to the case of Uganda, the central issue is that passage of the anti-gay bill has created a situation that remains critical for the LGBTQ population. Ugandan authorities appear bent on displaying a kind of necropolitics (Mbembe 2003) towards LGBTQ individuals to demonstrate their ability to control who lives and who dies. For example, the murder of David Kato (Rice 2011; BBC News 2011), one of the organizers of SMUG – Sexual Minorities Uganda – after he was outed as gay in the Ugandan tabloid press, was an egregious example of necropolitics. Furthermore, Peters (2016) described the ways that deeply embedded fears of being outed have had very serious consequences on Ugandan transgender women infected with HIV. In response, some LGBTQ Ugandans fled to Kenya (Igunza 2015), though their situation in that neighboring country was also precarious. In this highly charged atmosphere, it is extremely difficult to undertake rational planning of inclusive development measures. Clearly there is an urgent need for donor agencies to step up their work to provide assistance and support to this highly vulnerable population, but many LGBTQ Ugandans refused to stay in the initial refugee camp set up for them by the Kenyan authorities, further complicating the task of identifying the most vulnerable (Zomorodi 2016). Expectations of swift resettlement to more supportive Western countries have been deflated and many of this vulnerable community continue to wait both in camps and in Nairobi.

The consequences of including LGBTQ equality in South Africa’s Constitution

South Africa illustrates a different situation where instead of legislation intended to harm LGBTQ people, the constitution contains an equality clause intended to protect them. However, as the following case illustrates, constitutional protection may not provide sufficient protection in the absence of more widespread support. The passage of South Africa’s 1994 Constitution with a progressive equality clause with the Bill of Rights that enshrined the right of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation provided hope to many LGBTQ people across Africa. Van Zyl (2005) argues that the adoption of South Africa’s Constitution validated the citizenship of queer South Africans and yet

has undoubtedly changed many people’s perceptions about themselves, and given them a possibility for “respectability”… However, apart from the creation of new black elites the dynamics of economic power have remained mostly unaltered for the majority of South Africans – whites (12% of the population) still earn more than half of the country’s income.

(Van Zyl, 2005, 26–27).

Just as inclusion in the constitution does not ensure full economic participation for black and colored people, it also does not fully protect LGBTQ people. Constitutional protections may provide a measure of legitimacy for LGBTQ individuals in South Africa, but the equality clause has done little to diminish homophobia in many areas of the country. There is considerable resistance from some policy-makers and government leaders to passing legislation that would protect South Africans from continuing anti-LGBTQ violence because some leaders accept that “homophobic victimization is an endemic part of the South African landscape” (Nel and Judge 2008, 19). Ratele (2006) suggests that violence against women and lesbians is linked to the ways that “power both defines and shields the transgressions of those who wield authority in society” (60). Furthermore, a report prepared for the Institute of Development Studies in the UK suggests that “the prejudice expressed by national leaders in South Africa towards those who do not follow the codes of hetero-normative patriarchy authorizes the violence of those who rape and murder lesbian women” (Lewin et al. 2013, 25). It is hardly surprising that corrective rapes still happen to lesbians in South Africa with alarming frequency (Fihlani 2011).

The gap between what is written in the constitution and the actual practice of homophobia by some individuals presents challenges to development planners seeking to ensure the safety of LGBTQ individuals. Van Zyl (2011) suggests that not all identities are recognized and therefore protected.

In this process of (re)fashioning heterosexual patriarchal “African” identities, collective identities relating to different gender and sexual norms are effectively erased from the equality clause—for example, queers, female-headed households, unmarried mothers, pregnant teenagers, and people living with HIV and AIDS—remaining at the margins of society and denied full citizenship.

(Van Zyll, 2011, 351)

The task of planning for these disparate groups in the South African context is in fact quite challenging. Tucker’s excellent monograph (2009) on visibility and invisibility among different racial groups within the queer community problematizes the notion that there is a single LGBTQ community. In her study of three organizations involved in marketing Cape Town as a queer vacation mecca, Oswin (2005) notes that the “link between visibility and tolerance is tempered by the recognition that these organizations have limited reach in a gay and lesbian community severely divided, particularly along class and race lines” (575). Western derived concepts frequently used in planning strategies for LGBTQ communities such as gayborhoods are also not very helpful since poor, black gay men are unlikely to find acceptance in what are usually considered “white leisure spaces” (Visser 2013). The situation in South Africa demonstrates the ongoing struggle to de-link homophobia and hetero-nationalism wrapped up in the post-colonial necropolitics described by Mbembe (2003). It is critical to recognize that even in South Africa, colonial and post-colonial homophobia are intricately linked making it essential to increase the visibility of the ways that “same-sex practices disturb and threaten gendered relations of reproduction, and systems of social regulation of reproduction” (van Zyl 2005, 32).

Difficulties in identifying LGBTQ stakeholders

Hillary Clinton’s announcement that LGBT rights are human rights was at once very welcome and very problematic. One commentator suggested that the $3 million in grants to advance LGBTQ rights on the African continent was taken by conservatives as proof positive of their argument that the West is imposing its own sexual values by investing huge sums of money (Kaoma 2012). Clearly, overt development assistance to LGBTQ groups will be subjected to attacks both from within donor countries and by groups within countries receiving foreign assistance, making LGBTQ-inclusive development policies very difficult to implement. Such difficulties do not mean that inclusive policies should be ignored, but development planners must recognize the conflicted nature of these efforts as they move forward.

Gender and sexuality in Africa, as everywhere, are highly contextual and spatially contingent. Simple categories are not terribly functional. Even the identities of gay and lesbian, which to most Americans seem quite clear, are Western constructions that are not always accepted in the African context. Not that men don’t have sex with men and women don’t have sex with women, but the Western-based identities are problematic. As previously noted, the long history of Westerners imposing gender and sexual regimes upon Africans makes this particularly difficult. For instance, Ifi Amadiume (1987) described the penetration of large parts of Africa by Christian missionaries under the protection and often outright sponsorship of colonial authorities that was incredibly destructive of traditional religious practice and undermined non-Western conceptions of gender and sexuality. Amadiume (1987) argues that missionaries among the Igbo people of Nigeria provided schools that only “Christians” could attend and used this mechanism to undermine traditional understandings of gender roles and religious practice. Furthermore, most of the children educated in these schools were men, further entrenching male dominance and eroding the long-standing status of women in the area, and especially gender roles which were not understood by Western Christians. Notable among these were the Ekwe title which enabled a woman to become a “female husband” and marry other women. Another key traditional gender role – a “male daughter” who in the absence of sons was able to inherit her father’s land and property – was also undermined.

While these non-normative gender roles (or non-normative within the Judeo-Christian tradition) are not described as what would today be termed sexual orientation, they do raise interesting questions about the nature of the relationship between these female husbands and their wives. Amadiume (1987) argues passionately that such women should not be understood as lesbian, but this appears to be another case of an African scholar refusing to label Africans with the Western identity of “lesbian” at the same time omitting any discussion of their sexual relations.

Another group of people in Nigeria that seem to be part of the queer community are the Yan Daudu whose non-normative sexuality transcends easy categorization (Gaudio 2009). These individuals exhibit feminine characteristics, call themselves by special women’s names, usually entertain men, and have sexual relations with men, but some also clearly identify as Muslim and have made the Haj to demonstrate their adherence to the tenets of their religion.

In the South African context, there are also very clear tensions over variations in gender identity. Schwenke (2010) suggests that in much of Africa trans people are frequently “disempowered victims of a society and a government that humiliates, ridicules, ignores, or all too commonly treats them with extreme violence and rejection” (187). Accordingly, many flee their native countries for the relative safety of places like South Africa where the Alternation of Sex Description and Sex Status Act of 2003 provides some legal benefits to transgender and intersex individuals. However, Sibusiso Kheswa (2014) notes that South Africa is not really a safe haven for gender non-conforming people from elsewhere in Africa, because they are unable to change their sex status given their immigrant non-citizen status. Furthermore, because of social stigma many transgender Africans are “currently invisible in epidemiological research, and they are almost certainly being ignored” (Jobson et al. 2012, 161). Some gender non-conforming individuals live in a place of in-between as shown by the following quote.

I am an in-between and a beyond. I exist between normalized binaries and beyond those binaries. An in-between: something that does not quite sit in very well and when it does sit, it is somewhere between a pair of shorts and a pair of trousers Too long to be shorts, not long enough to be trousers, like badly fitted harem pants. This is the in-between world of belonging and not quite belonging.

(Musang 2014, 49)

A key question for development planners and practitioners working in the area of LGBTQ rights is how do you identify a sub-population that is well hidden and is already experiencing severe discrimination? USAID’s recent project evaluation guidance document (USAID 2011) required all development project papers to explore the impacts of the projects on LGBTQ stakeholders. On the surface this new guidance seems an important step forward, but is enormously complicated in reality. In the US context, we do a very poor job of identifying LGBTQ stakeholders to urban development projects (see the previously cited Atlanta example in Doan and Higgins 2011). How then can we expect that temporary project consultants flown into a country to write a project proposal will have any understanding of the actual impacts on local LGBTQ populations in Africa?

The answer is clearly that without careful ties to local LGBTQ community groups this undertaking is simply not possible. Support for local LGBTQ networks is therefore essential to developing inclusive projects. Nyanzi (2013) argues that in spite of the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, activism among LGBTQ Ugandans is rising.

Swimming against the homophobic tide driven by African national and religious leaders, self-identified homosexual men, women and transgender people actively carve out new spaces and reclaim old terrains in which they enact non-heteronormative sexualities. They simultaneously claim their dual identities as African Ugandans and homosexual individuals.

(Nyanzi 2013, 963)

The task for development planners is to find ways of supporting these efforts.

Similarly, Theron and Kgositau (2015) provide a rich description of a new trans archive that is developing in South Africa that aims to document the history of trans people in Africa as well as their struggles to achieve legal recognition in the face of homophobic and transphobic attitudes. Both authors were associated for a time with a highly dynamic trans group (Gender DynamiX), and they note that since “the founding of Gender DynamiX, followed by the mushrooming of new organizations in 2008 and 2009, a number of gains have been accomplished” (581). Kheswa (2014) describes a more recent role of Gender DynamiX as helping asylum-seeking immigrants who have fled to South Africa because they were targeted for violence or imprisonment in their home countries because of their identity, but in reality they have woefully inadequate resources to undertake this work. Once again it seems hugely important for development planners to first identify and then listen to what these vulnerable groups see as the most critical issues for their communities. Once the issues are well understood, then specific measures to strengthen indigenous planning capacity and development policy-making might be useful.

Conclusions: urgency of finding and supporting queer African voices

Anyamele et al. (2005) suggest that strengthening LGBTQ groups in Africa is vital to the safety of this population. Currier (2010) suggests that local African groups like Behind the Mask in the South African context and elsewhere may be the way forward. Local LGBTQ groups exist but are inadequately funded and have been largely ignored as part of the plethora of civil society groups that often receive foreign assistance. This trend is changing, but levels of funding and overall support need to be dramatically increased. Such groups exist and are the best way of reaching groups that are otherwise virtually invisible. With effective support such groups also may be able to take counter-measures in what has become an ongoing struggle for autonomy. The suit by SMUG against David Lively, one of the pastors who attended the meeting in Uganda that incited the anti-gay bill (BBC News 2012), was recently remanded due to lack of standing although the judge found that considerable harm had been done by Lively to people in Uganda.

The increasing donor interest in supporting transgender programming may be partly responsible for the inclusion of transgender in LGBTQ organizing in Namibia and South Africa (Currier 2015). However, Currier cautions against dismissing the resulting programs since even “hastily assembled programs might be better than the alternative: no services or resources for transgender and gender-variant constituents” (110). In this case some intervention may be better than none, but still not sufficient. Husakouskaya (2017) argues that even with this increased attention the needs of transgender internal migrants within South Africa are not adequately addressed.

Development planners must be acutely aware that visibility can be extremely dangerous, as is made crystal clear by David Kato’s murder (BBC News 2011). Another meeting of Ugandan LGBTQ activists held in June 2012 at a local hotel was shut down by the police, and the government minister in charge of the raid announced that 38 Ugandan organizations would be banned for “promoting homosexual behavior” (Smith 2012).

So there remains a very real question about how development planners can move this agenda forward. It is indeed a very delicate path, but the fragility of this highly charged territory does not mean we should continue to silence ourselves about the needs on the ground. In other circumstances academics opposed to human rights policies in various difficult contexts have banded together to take action in support of colleagues who for a variety of reasons must work behind the scenes or “behind the mask.” Clearly greater emphasis on building international networks to support and sustain local LGBTQ activists would be helpful. Funding from development agencies to support institution building within individual countries and across continents is part of the picture, but unlikely to be sufficient. Support for networking among larger groupings of scholars and activists is also likely to be an important way of ensuring that conversations happen and this problem is not placed on the back burner or in some dark closet until the political atmosphere seems more conducive.


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