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Homophobia rears ugly head in Africa

Gays and lesbians across the African continent are increasingly fearful for their lives as anti-gay protests and police arrests intensify, and activists say the homophobia is being driven by U.S. evangelists bent on gaining converts.

In Uganda, thousands of protesters demonstrated last weekend in support of the so-called “Kill the Gays” bill. The proposed bill has been condemned globally, including by President Obama.

In Kenya, authorities recently arrested five men who were at an alleged gay marriage, including two who had wedding rings in their possession.

In Malawi, police have begun arresting high-profile members of the LGBT community. The roundup began after Malawi police arrested a 60-year-old man who had been accused of sodomy. After an investigation, police said they had uncovered evidence of a network of people involved in homosexual activity.

Malawi is also prosecuting two men who were arrested for conducting a gay wedding, according to numerous media reports. Both have been jailed since December and could be sentenced up to 14 years in prison if convicted of unnatural acts and gross indecency. The arrests have been criticized by international groups.

Also in Malawi, according to news reports, a 21-year-old man who put up pro-gay posters was sentenced to two months of community service and a senior minister exiled a woman from her hometown, even though she had been acquitted on charges of having sex with two girls.

Gay sex is illegal in 36 countries in Africa. South Africa has legalized same-sex marriage, but the issue is hardly settled there, as opponents have remained vocal and increasingly demanding that the law be overturned.

Phumi Mtetwa, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, based in South Africa, told The Guardian newspaper in England that the anti-gay sentiment is being fomented by certain American missionaries.

“It's very well calculated,” Mtetwa said. “It's exploding at the moment but it has been happening for a year and a half. We have proof of American evangelical churches driving the religious fundamentalism in Uganda."

Mtetwa fears for the LGBT community in Africa.

“In Malawi it's a complete witch-hunt that denies the people the right to self-determination," Mtetwa said. "We are deeply concerned about this spate of homophobia across the continent."

Ken Williams can be reached at ken@sdgln.com or by calling (877) 727-5446, Extension 713\i>.