Human rights campaigner LEO IGWE writes that religious forces have led the country down the path of discrimination and hatred

Twisted thinking that seeks to use religion to legitimise hatred and discrimination against gays was recently displayed in Chad as the country’s politicians voted to criminalise homosexuality. It is not clear what the lawmakers in this central African nation wanted to achieve with this legislative move.

At this stage, unless the country’s President Idriss Déby, right, changes his minds Chad is set to become the 73rd country to outlaw homosexuality.

Idriss Déby

As expected, this legislative process has been trailed by the mistaken claim that the homosexual practice was Western and unAfrican. As if to be “authentic”, African laws and policies must be categorically anti-West even when such laws end up harming Africans.

As in other African countries, religion is pervasive in Chad. About half the population are Muslims. The rest of the population professes Christianity and traditional religion. Although these religions have evidently different doctrines, these differences apparently disappear when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.

Religion plays a huge role in policy-making and legislative processes as shown in the reactions to the anti-gay legislation which the parliament had just passed. 

In fact. a former minister described the new law, which sanctioned a fine or a suspended prison sentence for homosexuals, as “a fair compromise”.

Fair compromise? He explained the basis of “fairness” in this legislation:

“Homosexuality is condemned by all religions. We do not have to forgive something that God himself rejects because Westerners have said this or that . . . The current provision of the Penal Code is a fair balance between conservative public opinion and an uncompromising international community on the protection of minorities.”

Now perhaps one may ask: In which way is this law fair? And to whom is it fair? To gays and lesbians in Chad? It is certainly not fair to homosexuals in Chad because they would henceforth be treated as criminals and not accorded the dignity which they are entitled to as human beings. So where lies the fairness?

As the minister noted, it may be the case that the teachings of Christianity and Islam disapprove of homosexual acts. But many Christian denominations are revising their doctrines and their positions on LGBT rights. Some Christian have ordained gay priests and bishops. Many religious organisations are beginning to realise that treating people as criminals because of whom they love is incompatible with the religious teachings of love and neighbourliness.

Condemning homosexuality is gradually becoming a thing of the past and Chadians should begin to adopt and embrace the new religious realities that respect the rights of homosexuals.
So what actually does this politician mean by saying that they could not forgive or condone what God himself rejected? Ah, okay, God is a male? And he rejected homosexuality and approved heterosexuality, right? So how did the former minister know which sexual orientation God ordained or rejected? Did God disclose his or her sexual preferences to this politician?

Where did God say so? In the Bible or in the Quran? Is it not human beings who codified these norms in the name of God? Why create the impression that upholding the rights of homosexuals is doing the bidding of the West? What makes treating gays with dignity an expression of western ideology?

Does that make treating gays and lesbians with indignity and disrespect African? Are Christian and Islamic religions, which most Africans profess today, not foreign faiths, introduced by missionaries and preachers from the east and west?

Is it not strange that Africans have embraced Christianity that was brought by Western missionaries and on the basis of this religion, they denounce homosexuality as a western lifestyle?
This latest move by lawmakers to criminalise homosexuality is a step backward and lacks any justification in terms of culture, religion and human rights. Chad cannot lay claim to protecting minorities on account of this homophobic legislation.

The Chadian president should ensure that this law does not come into force and that the country does not become the 73rd country to criminalise homosexuality. Chad stands to gain nothing but global condemnation and opprobrium from occupying this position of hate, discrimination and oppression. So in furtherance of a free, democratic and progressive Chad, I urge the country’s president, Idriss Déby, to veto this legislation.

• The ban on homosexuality was initially proposed in Chad in 2014, but as a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The new regulation, however, categorises homosexuality as a misdemeanor; violators, male or female, would face a fine or suspended prison sentence.