Zooming in on homosexuality

I DID not know what a homosexual was until my first year in a cosmopolitan university in Malaysia.

Enter Iskandar, a young Malay man with floppy black hair falling across his face. He wore his jeans tighter than everyone with an even tighter fitting white T-shirt that clung to his form.

He sashayed into class a few minutes later than everyone else, swinging from side to side amidst boisterous whistles. Iskandar was an amiable fellow who got along extremely well with women because, like us, he had a penchant for the men folk. As I progressed through my studies I would meet many Iskandars until such a time that homosexuality no longer shocked me and I viewed it as an alternative sexual orientation outside the “normal” channels.

I place normal in inverted commas because I was raised in a Catholic household and the Bible was clear and succinct about what constitutes normal sexual behaviour. I think most people are familiar with the fate of the men in Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis.

Furthermore there are two passages in the book of Leviticus which condemn homosexual acts. However, depending on which church you belong to, some religions are more permissive with regards to homosexuality.

Bishop Desmond Tutu is a strong advocate of gay and lesbian rights and he is famously quoted as saying he would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. The newly-elected Pope Francis I in an interview with La Civilta Cattolica candidly stated that while he was not a homosexual, he did not support the idea of it being “wrong” to be gay.

Homosexuality is defined as sexual preference of members of the same sex. Male homosexuals are usually referred to as “gays” and female homosexuals as “lesbians”.

Homosexuality has come to the forefront since December 2013 when a Ugandan Parliament passed the rather controversial Bill which criminalises sexual intercourse between same sex partners punishable with a lifetime in prison.

Hot on the heels of Uganda, Nigeria signed new legislation outlawing homosexuality and imposing prison terms of up to 14 years for people prosecuted under the new Act. Nigeria and Uganda are two of 38 African countries that have laws persecuting homosexuals as homosexuality has always been perceived to be an “un-African” practice.

Zimbabwe has often been in the forefront of anti-gay rhetoric with succinct laws criminalising homosexual behaviour. The new Constitution has further reinforced this banning of same sex marriage. In the Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh has called for homosexuals to be decapitated.

However, it’s not only Africa that has punitive anti-gay laws, Russian President Vladmir Putin has also signed into law an anti-gay Bill. South Africa is the only African country that recognises same sex marriages and became the fifth country in the world to do so.

However, South Africa still has one of the worst cases of homophobic violence with corrective rape being a constant feature.

In a recent statement, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni quashed the passing of the controversial Bill as he pointed out it was passed without a quorum.

He also made a valid assertion that even with legislation, many homosexuals would merely continue the practice underground which is often the case in many societies which impose anti-gay legislation. Furthermore, he went on to instigate that homosexuals are “abnormal” human beings because they went against the natural laws of attraction between the opposite sexes.

He, however, said there might be a method of rehabilitating and rescuing homosexuals from the abnormal behaviour as he cited many entered this practice for “mercenary” reasons which are largely economically driven.

This brings me to the argument of nature versus nurture. There have been many studies that have tried to prove that some people are inherently born with a homosexual orientation.

In the same vein other studies have gone to dispute that homosexuality is genetic, but rather, it is a learned disposition or inherited lifestyle. And so the contentious debate continues. Should homosexuals be denied the same rights as heterosexuals?

Is this not a form of bigotry and discrimination? Homosexuality might be considered immoral on religious grounds, but can entire nations be held to account on religious standards which might not be upheld by everyone?

Or maybe we should try and be tolerant of what we might not necessarily fit into our norms and belief systems. Or is it simply a case of when in Rome do as the Romans do?

 Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi

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