The British government’s threat to withhold aid from countries with homophobic policies has received critical responses from LGBT activists themselves. In a public statement, more than 150 African social justice activists argue that aid conditionality does not result – in and of itself – in improved protection of the rights of LGBT people.
The activists acknowledge that Prime Minister Cameroon’s statement may have been born out of a sincere will to use all available means to improve the situation of LGBT people in Commonwealth countries. However, they state that “They [these threatened sanctions] are often based on assumptions about African sexualities and the needs of African LGBTI people. They disregard the agency of African civil society movements and political leadership. They also tend, as has been evidenced in Malawi, to exacerbate the environment of intolerance in which political leadership scapegoat LGBTI people for donor sanctions in an attempt to retain and reinforce national state sovereignty.” (Read the full statement here).
Similarly, Akshay Khanna argues that rather than using the Western form of sexual politics as the only reference point, local struggles against homophobia should be much better understood and engaged with. He refers to the troubling development in countries such as the UK and the Netherlands where right wing nationalists easily appropriate the LGBT rights discourse as ‘our achievements’ which are being jeopardized by immigrant (and specifically Muslim) homophobics. A narrowly imagined way toward homo-emancipation – ignoring, for instance, the struggles of Muslim LGBT groups and the variety of traditions of homo-eroticism and gender diversity in Islam, can serve as an easy vehicle of Islamophobia, emphasizes Khanna.
“For activists and advocates of sexual rights, the very recognition of sexuality as a valid aspect of ‘development’ or of rights itself, has been a slow and thankless battle. As such, [Cameron’s] statement […] confirming that the British government will withhold aid from countries with homophobic policies might ostensibly be seen as a ‘victory’ of sorts. And yet there is something more fundamental at stake here – the idea of ‘sexuality’ as political object and the perpetration of a racialised discourse of difference that highlights the colonial continuities in ‘Development’.”