LGBT Voice Tanzania
Homophobia against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and activists in Tanzania (LGBT) in Tanzania is well known. The challenges vary from everyday personal hardships to high-level factors such as hostility from civil society organizations, religious bodies, government, and law enforcement. In many cases, homophobia is perpetuated by policies that criminalize Homosexuality or neglect our basic human rights. Harassment, rejection, and violence lead many of us to actively hide our feelings and relationships, denying ourselves the social support that could improve our health and quality of life. As people come to know LGBT people and have better information about us, we may achieve common understanding that LGBT people are interested in the same rights and privileges as others in our society.
Section 1: History, causes and expressions of homophobia and discrimination in Tanzania
The root causes of Homophobia against LGBT are many and varied. Lack of knowledge about Homosexuality is an important factor, leading to misperceptions and fear of promotion of Homosexuality.
The Tanzanian Penal code section 154-157 criminalizes Homosexuality with a penalty of 30 years imprisonment, and in some cases life imprisonment. Facing such laws, we cannot disclose our sexual orientation to a health care provider, employer, and school teachers even family without risking criminal sanctions. This hinders provision of vital prevention information, testing, and care, threatens family and community support, may lead to loss of housing, employment and exclussion from school. There are no outreach workers providing HIV prevention information and services to LGBT due to the fear of being accused of supporting illegal activities, such as “promoting homosexuality.
Negative images of Homosexuals in the media and linking Homosexuality with illegal or “immoral” behavior increase Homophobia. The growing trend toward criminalizing Homosexuality heightens the homophobia which is realized through various forms of discrimination, including a statement made by Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Bernard Membe, on 3rd September 2011 excluding us from the Tanzanian family, the resulting isolation is devastating.
LGBT persons continue to experience oppression and violence that derive from:
- Archaic and barbaric colonial laws against adult consensual sex,
- Colonial Victorian ideas of morality disguised as African traditional values,
- Patriarchal notions of gender and gender expression,
- Religious fundamentalisms
- Strongly held social constructs that contradict the African values, acceptance, peace and shared co-existence.
Section 2: LGBT Voice
Until recently there was no voice for LGBT persons in Tanzania, and no venues for making connections, developing programs or advocacy. The need for such a voice led to the establishment of LGBT Voice in 2009 by a group of LGBT with a cause for other LGBT in Tanzania. LGBT Voice is a registered National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) organization with over 200 members, working to advance equality, diversity, education and justice. LGBT Voice works to advance recognition of human rights based of sexual orientation and gender identity at the national level and promote the articulation of clear national norms and mobilize international pressure because our government failed to live up to those standards.
Since 2009 LGBT Voice worked to amplify the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people during the review of the HIV/AIDS prevention and control policy review, development of Stigma reduction strategy. LGBT Voice is now the leading organization that works directly with the social media to ensure that our stories are heard – because as people get to know the LGBT community they come to understand that we simply seek and deserve the same things all Tanzanians do: to take care of each other and our families, to have good jobs, to support our neighborhoods and to publicly serve our local, national, and religious communities.
LGBT Voice is struggling to create a national network to ensure that groups and individuals working on these issues do so not in isolation but as part of an effective coordinated national movement, will strengthen mechanisms for monitoring, documenting and reporting human rights violations and create opportunities for leading national stake holders to work effectively together to advance clearly articulated strategic goals.
Section 3: Empirical findings on the lived experiences of LGBT persons in Tanzania
LGBT Voice`s findings show that LGBT who experience discrimination and harassment are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. Violence and threats from family members and other sources have been linked with heightened risk behaviors, such as unprotected anal sex. Hostile behaviors directed against gay men in Tanzania — including harassment from our families and the need to pretend to be heterosexual — have also been linked with high-risk sexual behavior.
The pressure to marry and have children is also placing enormous stress on LGBT people in Tanzania. When we Gay people succumb to pressure and enter into heterosexual marriage, we maintain sexual relationships with male partners and this result in unseen sexual networks, increasing HIV risk and making it difficult to reach us with prevention information.
LGBT Voice learned through members that expectations of rejection and actual events of discrimination and violence contribute to mental health problems. Gay men in Tanzania have been found to exhibit hopelessness, chronic worry, and hyper vigilance, and common psychological responses to perceived discrimination. Social discrimination directed at LGBT leads to a greater risk of street life, laziness, suicidal thoughts, risky sex, and substance use.
Hostile conditions push us underground, making us extremely difficult to reach. A recent survey by CDC on MSM in Dar es Salaam found that only about half used a condom the last time they had anal sex with another man, and less than a third had tested for HIV in the last year. Because HIV resources are often offered at sites that provide other health services, homophobia in these settings can make it particularly difficult for Gay men to get care. Even health care workers who declare acceptance of homosexuality have been known to display homophobic attitudes when providing services, breaching ethics standards and compromising the care of sexual minorities.
An HIV diagnosis in itself can lead to significant stigma and discrimination, even from the systems that deliver HIV care. Often health care resources are not available and misinformation is common. For example those who learn they are HIV positive may not be able to get the needed tests (e.g. CD-4 and viral load) or the required anti-retroviral treatments. However in the community they may hear that drinking battery acid will kill the virus. So in Tanzania, we Gay people living with HIV may medicate ourselves with battery acid rather than subjecting ourselves to stigma from seeking HIV treatment from the medical establishments.
Findings and Recommendations for the African and global social work communities
LGBT persons in Tanzania continually face stigma and discrimination, harassment and arbitrary arrests, alienation from family and faith, lack of access to social services including health, justice, housing, education and dignified livelihoods. All these, despite Tanzania being signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, particularly Article 2, and the AU values of equality and non-discrimination.
We as Tanzanian LGBT activists are not asking for any new or special rights, we urge you as African and the global, social work communities, to help us advance recognition of human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity at the national level and promote the articulation of clear national norms and mobilize international pressure because our government failed to live up to those standards.
Support us both financially and technically in the struggle to create a national network to ensure that groups and individuals working on these issues do so not in isolation but as part of an effective coordinated national movement. Our hope is to strengthen mechanisms for monitoring, documenting and reporting human rights violations and create opportunities for leading national stake holders to work effectively together to advance clearly articulated strategic goals.
Finally we call upon our government to end violence and discrimination against LGBT citizens, abolish all discriminatory laws in existence and also call upon our government to create legal and social environments conducive to the equal enjoyment of all rights for all citizens.