Zimbabwean gays have troubles

In 2001, the former British colony tightened a law against dual citizenship, forcing some white Zimbabweans like Goddard to either renounce their British passports or leave. Thousands left, but Goddard stayed.

Not many in southern Africa would agree. But there are some signs of change.

Goddard is a rare campaigner for gay rights in a region where hostility to homosexuality is embedded in law and where few gays dare to go public.

Many of the 500 members of Goddard's Gay and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe have been routinely arrested and intimidated, he says.

In Zimbabwe, sex between men is outlawed as an "aggravated indecent assault," mandating a one-year prison sentence for offenses. President Robert Mugabe once called homosexuals "lower than dogs and pigs."

Zimbabwe's first ceremonial president, Canaan Banana, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 1998 on charges of sodomy, though he was released after six months on medical grounds.

Homosexuality is banned in most African countries. In Cameroon, it is punishable by up to five years in jail. Nigerian law has a 14-year prison sentence for homosexuals, but in Muslim northern Nigeria, where Islamic Sharia law is in force, it is punishable by death.

South Africa, Mali and Burkina Faso are considered gay-friendly countries.

Anti-gay laws in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya and Mozambique don't proscribe same-sex acts between women. "Women are not thought of as possessing a sexuality," especially in rural Africa, said Goddard, and most are forced into marriage regardless of their inclinations.

Except in South Africa, which has openly gay bars, meeting places for gays in several African countries are kept secret, and gay society is concealed well underground.

The Harare government has banned a daily radio program aimed at promoting gay rights and has blocked efforts to "educate the black majority that homosexuality is not a white man's disease," Goddard said. In the last five years, gay presenters have lost their jobs on state radio, the AP reports.