Challenges faced by LGBTQ young individuals in Tanzania

This week, we will delve into the numerous challenges faced by LGBT young individuals in Tanzania, a situation that is fraught with difficulties. One of the most distressing aspects is the rejection they experience from their own families, leaving them feeling isolated and abandoned. This rejection often leads to them being disowned, with their families cutting all ties and refusing to provide any support or assistance. As a result, these young individuals are left to navigate life on their own, which can be an incredibly daunting task.

A hostile environment within educational institutions

LGBTQ+ youth in Tanzania face a daunting obstacle: the threat of being expelled from their schools. Sadly, members of the LGBTQ+ community are often subjected to prejudice and discrimination, resulting in a hostile environment within educational institutions. Consequently, these students are unjustly expelled, depriving them of their fundamental right to education. The denial of educational opportunities not only hampers their personal and professional growth but also exacerbates the already challenging circumstances they face.

The situation is becoming increasingly alarming, as evidenced by the growing number of requests we have received. In the month of January alone, we received four appeals from LGBTQ+ individuals who have been forced to halt their education due to their sexual orientation. This trend is deeply concerning and demands immediate attention and action.

To illustrate the magnitude of this issue, let’s consider the case of Jackline, a university student. After bravely coming out to her family, she was disowned, leaving her without any financial support for her tuition fees and accommodation. This heart-wrenching example highlights the devastating consequences that LGBTQ+ individuals in Tanzania often endure simply for expressing their sexual orientation.

The denial of education not only robs these individuals of knowledge and skills but also limits their future prospects. It denies them the opportunity to acquire the necessary tools to thrive in society, hindering their personal and professional growth. By excluding LGBTQ+ youth from educational institutions, we are perpetuating a cycle of discrimination and marginalization, making it even more challenging for them to overcome the obstacles they already face.

The expulsion of LGBTQ+ youth from schools in Tanzania is a grave injustice that must be addressed urgently. The denial of education not only deprives these individuals of knowledge and opportunities but also perpetuates discrimination and inequality. It is imperative for the Tanzanian government and educational institutions to take proactive measures to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students and provide them with the support they need to pursue their education. Only through inclusive policies and collective action can we pave the way for a more equal and just society.

The consequences of familial rejection

The far-reaching consequences of familial rejection have a profound and lasting impact on the lives of LGBT youth in Tanzania. This rejection often leads to a cascade of challenges, one of which is the alarming rate of homelessness among this vulnerable population. Without a support system or a safety net, many of these young people are left without a place they can truly call home. This lack of stable housing exposes them to numerous dangers, such as violence, exploitation, and mistreatment.

These LGBTQ youth face a multitude of hardships on the streets. They are at a heightened risk of physical and sexual violence, with studies showing that a significant percentage of homeless LGBT youth have experienced assault or harassment. Furthermore, without a reliable place to sleep, they are more susceptible to illness and disease. The lack of access to proper healthcare exacerbates their vulnerability and puts their overall well-being at risk.

In addition to the immediate dangers they face, the absence of secure housing also has long-term implications. Without a stable environment, these young individuals struggle to pursue education and employment opportunities, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and limited prospects. This not only hampers their personal growth and development but also perpetuates the marginalization and exclusion they face in society.

In the face of such overwhelming challenges, it is not surprising that many LGBT youth in Tanzania turn to harmful coping mechanisms. One such mechanism is drug abuse, which provides a temporary escape from their harsh realities. The absence of acceptance and understanding often drives these individuals to seek solace in substances, further exacerbating their already precarious situations. Addressing the root causes of drug abuse among LGBT youth is essential to ensuring their overall well-being and offering them healthier alternatives.

The lack of economic opportunities and social support

The lack of economic opportunities and social support for LGBT youth in Tanzania can have dire consequences, pushing them into engaging in commercial sex work as a means of survival. These young individuals find themselves desperate to meet their basic needs, and as a result, they may resort to selling their bodies. This unfortunate reality exposes them to significant risks and vulnerabilities, further exacerbating the cycle of marginalization and exploitation they are already trapped in.

One devastating consequence of this exploitative practice is the increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Without access to proper healthcare and education about safe sex practices, these vulnerable individuals are more likely to be exposed to diseases such as HIV/AIDS. The lack of protection and support leaves them susceptible to exploitation by clients who may refuse to use condoms, further endangering their health.

In addition to the physical risks, LGBT youth involved in commercial sex work also face emotional and psychological challenges. The constant objectification and dehumanization they experience can have severe consequences on their mental well-being. They may struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem, as society continues to stigmatize and discriminate against them.

Moreover, the cycle of marginalization and exploitation perpetuated by this situation often results in limited opportunities for these young individuals to escape their circumstances. The lack of economic prospects and social support systems leaves them trapped in a cycle of poverty and vulnerability. Without access to education and job opportunities, they are forced to continue engaging in sex work, further perpetuating their marginalization.

The distressing circumstances faced by LGBT youth in Tanzania also contribute to increased rates of self-harm. The overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness can push these individuals to inflict harm upon themselves as a way to cope with their emotional pain. This tragic manifestation of their struggles underscores the urgent need for comprehensive mental health support and resources tailored to the unique needs of LGBT youth.

In conclusion,

The challenges faced by LGBT young individuals in Tanzania are numerous and deeply entrenched. From familial rejection and expulsion from school to homelessness, drug abuse, engagement in commercial sex work, and self-harm, these hardships create a complex web of adversity that requires immediate attention and intervention. Addressing these challenges requires not only systemic changes but also a shift in societal attitudes towards acceptance, inclusivity, and support for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. By working together to create a more inclusive society, we can ensure that all young people have the opportunity to thrive and live their lives authentically, free from discrimination and prejudice


What does it mean to be gay in Tanzania?

The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) releases a map which shows gay rights by country. The countries with the most homophobic laws are shown in red and the countries with the most open laws are green. In between are various shades of orange, yellow and light green. Tanzania is colored a bright red, indicating that it has some of the harshest anti-gay laws in the world, short of the death penalty (those countries are shaded a dark red). The penalty in Tanzania is 14 years to life in prison for homosexuality.

But Tanzania rarely seems to make the headlines in the way that Uganda and other countries that have enacted harsh new anti-gay legislation have. There seems to be very little direct prosecution or sentences handed down to LGBT individuals in Tanzania. A new anti-gay law, similar to the one enacted in Uganda, had much less traction here in Tanzania. In many ways homosexuality seems like an issue that isn’t specifically discussed in the country, either positively or negatively.

But yet, the laws are still on the books and as a gay mzungu trying to find a sense of a gay community in Tanzania (Zanzibar specifically) it seems like either one doesn’t exist or it is so deeply hidden that there is no way for an outsider (and probably young LGBT Tanzanians) to access it. Additionally, there still is a great deal of homophobic violence and discrimination facing the LGBT community, even if it has not garnered the headlines that other countries recently have.

However, despite its lack of visibility, there is word of an active underground gay community, particularly in Zanzibar, that has filled in the void left by the strict control of male/female relations in the deeply Muslim culture on the island. One of the local nightclubs, Bwawani, famously has a gay night once a week and caused a furor in 2004 when they held a “gay marriage” on the premises.

Despite this, there are no typical signs of the “gay scene” or gay community that is found in many Western cultures. There isn’t much of a movement and it doesn’t seem to be discussed openly on very many levels. There is a strong connection between men and between women in Zanzibar that often probably turns into affection and occasionally into a physical relationship, but it doesn’t threaten the hetero-normative concept of traditional marriage; if men fool around in their youth, there is still no question that they will get married in the proper way. And often, married men also have homosexual extra-marital relations.

Every day, though, LGBT rights are increasingly an international conversation. It is an issue that is beginning to be discussed to a greater extent in Tanzania, and this discussion highlights the homophobic violence that does occur here, as well as the need to protect the concept of heterosexuality and “family values” as a core basis of society.

What does this mean for homosexual identity and rights in Tanzania and Zanzibar? What is the situation facing people who identify as LGBT or who are questioning their sexuality? How does this effect the process of “coming out” for LGBT individuals?

In this blog I will begin to explore these issues. It will look at LGBT rights in Tanzania and Zanzibar as well as a greater notion of LGBT identity in this country. I understand that as an outsider, I don’t have all of the specific answers and the direct connection to the local LGBT community, but hopefully through interviews and personal stories, this can become a rich picture of LGBT life and LGBT rights in an East African country.

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