Homophobia is not isolated to any singular country, state or city.
In some places, homophobia is contained by non-discrimination legislation, however, in countries such as Malawi, anti-gay discussion has a greater political influence.
This was the topic presented by Ashley Currior, an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies. She presented “The Politicization of Homosexuality” at the Taft Research Center’s 11th annual Research Symposium Week.
As she welcomed the crowd of professors and UC students, and joked on being the “first sacrificial victim,” Currior also concluded, “that will probably be the extent of smiles, given the nature of the topic I will be speaking today.”
The research presented drew from 130 interviews with Malawian activists, LGBT people and Malawian newspaper articles spanning over two decades.
The presentation was co-moderated by Ebenezer Obadare, a professor of sociology at the University of Kansas, whose research is focused on Pentecostal pastors, power and politics in Africa.
Currior’s current research and her first book, “Out in Africa: Organizing in Namibia and South Africa,” tap into the comparisons of many social movements.
“To regard [Currior’s research] as being exclusively about Africa or only about LGBT activism would be, I think, a big mistake,” said Obadare.
Currior has researched Malawi’s attitudes and policies regarding sexual discrimination dating back to 1995; however, the majority of negative public opinion toward homosexuality escalated after a recommendation made by Malawi Human Rights Resource Center in 2004.
“A fairly innocuous recommendation,” said Currior, ”to introduce a sexual orientation nondiscrimination clause into the constitution,” this clause would have also called for an amendment to Malawi’s constitution in order to decriminalize homosexuality.
“Public and political responses the MHRRC’s recommendation were almost uniformly negative. To this day the organization still has not taken a stance publicly on LGBT rights,” said Currior.
This instance of speaking out followed by outrage and then retraction, Currior found, is repeated in Malawi over 10 years later.
In Malawi today, homosexuality is considered a felony punishable for up to 14 years in prison according to the Library of Congress.
In cases where arrests are made, “It was often after family members discovered someone was in a same sex relationship and put pressure on that individual to report their partner to the police,” said Currior. “By trying to identify origins of political homophobia, we can find an ending to it, hopefully one created by Malawians themselves.”
Revolutions do not occur overnight and Currior emphasizes the importance of recognizing our role in other cultures’ social movements.
There is a gut reaction many Americans have when they hear about homophobia in Malawi, and across Africa, that Currior characterizes as viral arguments, “But in a way that completely undermines and erases any anti-homophobic resistance in Malwai, there are Malawians fighting the good fight,” said Currier.