Giving Voice to LGBTQI+ Africans at the Upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

Starting on December 13, the Biden Administration will host leaders from across Africa at a Washington, D.C. summit to promote diplomatic and economic cooperation. The framing of the summit recognizes that Africa is a continent long neglected but teeming with a large and vibrant youth population, where both opportunities and challenges are abundant.

In hosting the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the Biden Administration plainly states that “Africa will shape the future — not just the future of the African people, but of the world. Africa will make the difference in tackling the most urgent challenges and seizing the opportunities we all face.”

One of those challenges, both for the United States and for Africa’s 54 countries, is to recognize that governments are failing their LGBTQI+ citizens.

Legal protections for LGBTQI+ individuals are deficient in all corners of the world, as demonstrated by the Franklin & Marshall College Global Barometers (FMGB), which tracks human rights protections for LGBTQI+ persons in 204 countries and regions. Here in the United States, more than 200 bills were introduced at the state and local level just this year to deny rights to LGBTQI+ individuals. Many of these bills have sought to deny transgender youth access to gender-affirming healthcare or to prevent LGBTQI+ topics from being discussed in public schools. And now, just weeks after a violent attack that left five people dead and dozens injured at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, the Supreme Court will decide if anti-discrimination laws are at odds with the First Amendment.

Our efforts to protect our LGBTQI+ citizens must then be tied with the rest of the world’s and guided by humility. So, as the U.S. prepares to welcome African heads of state, we must remind all parties that the legal reality on the African continent is stark. Every country in North Africa and more than half of those in Sub-Saharan Africa criminalize LGBTQI+ relationships; Mauritania, along with several northern Nigeria states that use shariah law, proscribes the death penalty for same-sex relations. And now, ominously, several more countries are currently debating new laws that would add additional penalties or further deny LGBTQI+ citizens their basic rights to freedoms of association and expression.

There have been recent bright spots to be sure, including a successful court challenge that struck down Botswana’s sodomy law in 2019 as an unconstitutional relic of colonialism. But in many parts of Africa, intolerance is increasing, and new laws designed to further persecute LGBTQI+ individuals are proliferating.

Earlier this year, the Council for Global Equality and the Franklin & Marshall College Global Barometers teamed up to create the Global Barometers LGBTQI+ Perception Index (GBPI)* and measure the lived realities of LGBTQI+ individuals around the world by asking six simple questions about how safe and secure they feel and whether they have experienced discrimination and violence. The results are calculated on a grading scale from 0-100%, with A being the highest and F the lowest.

These results were deeply concerning. No country received an A grade, with Iceland scoring the highest grade of B (86%). The United States scored a C (70%) on our scale. No African country scored above a D, and most African countries scored well within our F range. It must be noted that we were not able to reach enough members of the LGBTQI+ community in several African countries to make the data statistically meaningful, but what data we do have in those countries paints an equally bleak picture.

The GBPI data for Africa reinforce what we’ve long suspected. The African countries with the highest scores on the GBPI, meaning LGBTQI+ citizens in those countries report the highest levels of safety and inclusion, are countries that have decriminalized LGBTQI+ expression: Angola, Botswana, and South Africa. Mauritius comes next, and while homosexuality remains criminalized on the island nation, there is currently an active case challenging the sodomy law before the country’s supreme court. South Africa, which has Africa’s most protective legal landscape and even enshrines in its constitution rights based on sexual orientation, has the continent’s highest perception scores.

It is not a surprise, then, that the reverse also seems to be true. Countries with the worst perception scores — that is, those where LGBTQI+ citizens report the lowest levels of safety and inclusion — are also the countries with recently passed or currently pending laws that increase penalties and further limit the basic rights of LGBTQI+ individuals. These include:

  • Ghana, which is debating a draconian new law to criminalize organizations and even average citizens who defend or in any way support LGBTQI+ persons;
  • Nigeria, which passed a bill in 2013 that criminalizes LGBTQI+ associations and human rights advocacy as part of a sweeping assault on same-sex marriage; and
  • Uganda, which adopted one of the continent’s harshest anti-LGBTQI+ bills in 2014, only to have it struck down by the constitutional court on a technicality. Ugandan authorities then adopted another harsh anti-LGBTQI+ law as part of the Sexual Offences Bill of 2019, and more recently, have banned one of the leading LGBTQI+ organizations in the country and are rumored to be considering a new version of the 2014 “anti-homosexuality” bill.

These recent anti-LGBTQI+ bills pile on new restrictions and harsher sentences in countries that already criminalized their LGBTQI+ citizens. They are, in a sense, recriminalizing already harshly penalized LGBTQI+ communities for domestic political theater.

The case of Ghana is particularly concerning. Ghana scores high marks on most democracy indicators, which usually correlates to a better legal framework for LGBTQI+ communities. But in the case of Ghana, we see the opposite. Anti-LGBTQI+ forces are exploiting a vibrant democratic system to introduce draconian laws that scapegoat LGBTQI+ minorities. If the LGBTQI+ community really is the canary in the coal mine, the future of human rights and democracy in Ghana must surely be questioned.

At next week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, it’s essential to talk about the rights of the continent’s LGBTQI+ citizens. We know how much the words of heads of state matter: whether explicit or implicit, such elite cues play a key role in framing a political culture that either protects or persecutes members of marginalized groups.

So, will LGBTQI+ Africans be embraced as full citizens, fully able to contribute to the social and economic life of their communities? Will their dignity, human potential, and economic contributions be recognized? Or will LGBTQI+ Africans continue to serve as political scapegoats, attacked as convenient cover for the broader assault on democracy and civil society? Will they remain criminalized — or even be recriminalized — under cruel laws grounded in the continent’s colonial past and in the modern-day anti-rights movement?

The answer to these questions will likely be a powerful indicator of the future of Africa — and of the world.

One future leads to a safer and more prosperous continent that is integrated into a global society. The other entrenches dangerous autocracies and democratic decline that will gradually but systematically undermine the rights and opportunities of all citizens, heterosexual and LGBTQI+ alike.

To embrace prosperity and equality, the United States and the 49 African governments that are participating in the Summit  all have a long way to go in providing full citizenship to their LGBTQI+ citizens. This begins by rescinding existing anti-LGBTQI+ laws and preventing the enactment of new ones. But just as importantly, we must listen to the voices of LGBTQI+ persons if we are to build inclusive societies where LGBTQI+ citizens are embraced and encouraged to contribute to vibrant and prosperous democracies.

*The full results of the Global Barometers Perception Index (GBPI) are forthcoming in early 2023 and will be available on To view the Global Barometers of Gay Rights (GBGR) and the Global Barometer of Transgender Rights (GBTR), visit For questions about the F&M Global Barometers, please contact

The above graph illustrates the LGBTQI+ lived realities based on Questions 1, 3, and 4 of the Global Barometers LGBTQI+ Perception Index (GBPI) survey. The survey was open for three months from June to September 2022. Specifically, the questions asked LGBTQI+ people how safe they felt living as an LGBTQI+ person in their country; how fearful they felt of being arrested, harassed, or blackmailed by security forces/police because of their LGBTQI+ status; and how likely they were to be a victim of violence due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This graph displays the lowest and highest scoring African countries on the Global Barometers Perception Index (GBPI) in comparison with the scores from the Global Barometer of Gay Rights (GBGR) (2020), the Global Barometer of Transgender Rights (GBTR) (2020) and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy Index (2021). For the GBPI, countries with a response size under 30 were omitted from the data. To learn more about the EIU’s Democracy Index, visit

©F&M Global Barometers

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