Rwanda’s gays allege silent discrimination

Friday May 16 2014

By Gilbert Mwijuke Special Correspondent

Rwanda may not have an outright anti-gay law, but this does not mean local homosexuals and lesbians live open happy lives. A majority of Rwandans consider gay orientation a taboo.

This is despite the country’s law being silent on homosexuality and lesbianism.

“Very many Rwandans think homosexuality is not human,” said a 24-year-old homosexual who did not want his name to published for fear of reprisal. “There are those who cannot even sit near you, let alone talk to you, when they realise that you are gay.”

Perhaps this explains why the soft-spoken young man, who works as a film director and actor, has a girlfriend with whom he moves around so that those close to him do not find a reason to question his sexual orientation.

“She also doesn’t even know that I am gay,” he added. “In fact, I am not sure anyone in my family knows that I am gay but I know that they will find out one day if they haven’t known already.


“But that does not concern me,” he says.

He confessed to having a sexual relationship with another man and during the interview the young man looked and acted feminine.

He however said that, despite being discriminated against by society, local authorities treat homosexuals just like any other Rwandan. The government prohibits any form of discrimination — be it by gender, ethnicity, race, religion or otherwise.

“I don’t know anyone who has been arrested or intimidated because of his or her sexual orientation,” the young man told Rwanda Today. “That is why no Rwandan can claim to have gone into exile for being gay.

“We are not persecuted at all; our only problem is being discriminated against by some people who don’t understand what it means to be gay.”

It is as well that the issue of discrimination against gays and lesbians was top of the agenda when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) groups converged at the Goethe Institut in Kiyovu, Kigali, on Friday to discuss their future in the country.

Friday was the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.

A few years ago, there were media reports that Members of Parliament wanted homosexuality criminalised on grounds that the country has a family law that states that; “A person may only get married to another of the opposite sex.”

However, the then minister for justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, downplayed the reports, saying the government believed that sexual orientation was a private matter and that there were no plans to criminalise homosexuality.

But Rwanda’s Anglican Church has no kind words for homosexuals, as it once bluntly declared the act un-Godly.

“Our church will not accept it,” declared Rev Emmanuel Kolini in 2009 when he was the archbishop, arguing: “Man was meant to reproduce and something contrary to that is destruction.”