Homosexuality is a crime in Zambia. In fact, right now, two men are facing 14 years in prison for “having carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, and another is on trial for discussing gay people and HIV on TV. The country’s tabloids have recently taken to outing suspected gay men, who then face harassment in their neighborhoods. In Zambia, even speaking of being gay can be dangerous.
A few months ago, Edgar Lungu, Zambian’s Home Affairs Minister made this memorable pronouncement:
‘Those advocating gay rights should go to hell, that is not an issue we will tolerate. There will be no such discussion on gay rights. That issue is foreign to this country.’
In Zambia, like in Russia, the level of homophobia has been moving in the wrong direction. At least until now.
This week, an extraordinary thing happened; an event so unexpected LGBT activists all over Africa are calling it “a miracle.” At a reception hosted by UNAIDS in Lasaka, Zambia’s capitol, First Lady Christine Kaseba-Sata called for an end to discrimination against sexual minorities.
“Silence around issues of men who have sex with men should be stopped,” said Dr. Kaseba-Sata. “And no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
All Africa called the First Lady’s remarks “astonishing”, “remarkable”, and a “game changer”. But the First Lady didn’t stop at announcing her own support. She told the audience that in matters of public health issues, (like HIV) the gay community has the support of her husband, President Michael Sata.
First Lady Christine Kaseba-Sata’s pronouncement may carry more weight that the average political wife, as she is a medical doctor, specializing in obstetrics and gynaecology. Before she became first lady in 2011, Dr. Kaseba-Sata practiced at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka for more than 25 years.
Richard Lee, an activist with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, said of the First Lady’s surprise announcement:
‘It is hard to overestimate the importance of what the first lady said, in a country where the vast majority of people are opposed to gay rights.’
Dr. Kaseba-Sata will have many opportunities to spread her anti-discrimination message, since she serves as a Goodwill Ambassador Against Gender Based Violence and as chairperson of the Forum of African First Ladies Against Cervical and Breast Cancer.
One interesting note: Dr. Kaseba-Sata statement came a few days after another respected physician, Dr. Manase Phiri, championed gay rights at Zambia’s Evelyn Hone College. Could medical doctors be the way to change minds in Africa?
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