Why resistance to war is a central and important part of a 
queer struggle

A common sight: police monitoring  the Milton park neighborhood; GALZ offices are in this area. (Photo by Miles Tanhira)A common sight: police monitoring the Milton park neighborhood; GALZ offices are in this area. (Photo by Miles Tanhira)

Steve Biko, an anti-apartheid activist, once said the oppressed aspire to be the oppressor. This is true when it comes to the effects of war on minorities such as LGBTI people. In most African countries for instance, the issue of homosexuality has been used by power hungry politicians to hoodwink people into believing that homosexuality is the cause of their misery.

For example in Zimbabwe, whenever the chips are down for politicians they find a social issue that is highly emotive and try to use it to prosecute their private wars, that’s why people are not interested in understanding LGBT people, they are interested in the existence of the issue and meting out instant justice. Politicians feel the urge to keep society at an emotional level so that whenever things are not going right for them or their political parties they invoke the issue of homosexuality, because people share the same hatred and fears as them.

Politicians and some religious leaders pick on an issue that brings numerical advantage, meanwhile the minority of homosexual people become a perfect field for those prosecuting personal wars. So by bringing in an issue that many people do not fully understand, and blocking any avenues for people to access information, these politicians hope to get people to rally to them.

There is no doubt that war breeds untold misery for those who are in positions of less power, as the power dynamics come into play. When people are polarised along political, racial, and gender lines, the weakest link, in this case LGBTI people, bear the brunt of war. The media, especially the state-owned, is at the forefront of churning out homophobic rhetoric and sensationalising stories involving LGBTI people. Most of the reports are meant to incite hatred and violence.

Hate speech against LGBT people fuels the flame of homophobia, making them a target of frustrated people who feel they have carte blanche to harm minorities. In such a scenario there is no redress even if LGBTI people were to report cases to the police.

War leads to oppression and injustices being perpetrated against people. All forms of war contribute to human rights abuses and the curtailing of constitutional liberties such as freedom of association and freedom of expression. During war situations people find it difficult to get access to basic rights like food, water and health. State-instigated homophobia fuels wider homophobia and has negative effects on the lives and living conditions of LGBTI people. When it comes to accessing health services for instance, they are driven underground and most die in silence because of a system which criminalises their conduct.

Fundamentalism gains momentum in war situations as people become guarded over the things that they believe in; any diversity is treated with suspicion and is oppressed. Those people with dissenting voices become a target. This affects activists who try to do their work in such a volatile environment. As Africa witnesses a spate of activity in the Global Culture wars being influenced by some American conservatives pushing an anti-homosexuality agenda in churches, Zimbabwe has not been spared. Some religious fundamentalists who were advocating the death penalty for homosexuals in Uganda have also been to Zimbabwean churches preaching the gospel of hate.

Not to be outdone, traditional leaders also deride homosexuality as a western disease and un-African. This homophobia – deeply ingrained in cultural practices – leads to family and urban violence against LGBTI people and their allies.

Zimbabwe has been described by many as a military state: the heavy presence of gun-wielding police officers and soldiers on street corners, coupled with the recruiting of youths into national youths service camps, bears clear testimony to this. Most of the youths who undergo the military training are appendages of the ruling party and are trained to unleash terror on anyone with dissenting opinions. Being given credit for “work” carried out gives them carte blanche to attack LGBTI people as an act of patriotism. The ruling party ideology blames the opposition for inviting targeted sanctions on the country, hence bringing about suffering. This has managed to invoke anger in may people who view the opposition as the source of their misery and, because they are funded by the west, they are also seen as sympathetic to the LGBTI agenda. This link between the sanctions, the opposition and homosexuality has been made reference to so many times, making LGBTI people a target for hate and violence.

War and militarism reinforce gender norms and roles, and punish those 
who go beyond these, hence LGBTI people are ostracised and under attack. This is evidenced in the militarisation of sport, resulting in adverse effects on some LGBTI people who are into such disciplines. Young people are lured into joining sporting teams, which are supported by the army, and once they join they automatically have to be involved in the military forces. This is particularly true for young women into soccer. These women are forced to dress and behave in a societally accepted way, and those who cross the boundaries are pushed into line with harsh punishment or dismissal from both the team and army.

Aside from sexual and domestic violence, women also suffer other forms of gender-specific violence before, during and after conflicts. For example, women may not have access to adequate reproductive health services in times of crisis, and women and LGBT communities may experience a backlash against their sexual rights.

According to reports, one consequence of militarism is the use of sexual violence to assert power over others. Militarism tends to privilege a particular form of aggressive masculinity, and thus rape is often used as a tactic of war, to drive fear and to humiliate women and their communities. Sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations is used to reinforce gendered and political hierarchies. On a different level, intimate partner violence is another form of exerting control – particularly when the abusers experience a decrease in power in other aspects of their lives. Access to small arms, military training, or exposure to intense violence and trauma in conflict situations, may exacerbate intimate partner violence, with impunity for military personnel in cases of violence against women, violations committed by peace-keeping forces, and violence and abuse of women living and working around military bases. Militarised governments may also use force against their own civilians, suspend the rule of law in an “emergency” period, or use “anti-terrorism” laws to suppress pro-democracy movements or to silence human rights defenders. Institutions such as police forces, aid organisations, religious establishments, the media, schools, and the judiciary, can also be militarised so that the lines between military and civilian life are blurred.

As militarism rears its ugly head in Zimbabwe, the LGBTI community has been at the receiving end. The strategy to instill fear in the hearts and minds of the masses under the guise of maintaining peace and security is itself a threat to the peaceful existence of people as, it often leads to violation of minorities’ rights.

Miles Rutendo Tanhira

Miles Rutendo Tanhira is a journalist, human rights defender, LGBTI rights activist, peace activist and feminist. Miles also has a passion for photography and other creative ways of speaking out against injustices. Currently Miles is the Information and Communications Officer of WRI's affiliate Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ).