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Ayo A. Coly, Guest Editor (bio)

An antigay propaganda bill is currently in the works in Russia. On January 25, 2013, the Russian Lower House of Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of legislation that would make punishable, by a fine of up to US $16,000, the dissemination of information and organization of public events about sexual minorities. 1 The bill is now awaiting final approval by the Parliament and president of Russia. I have been interested in the international attention (or lack thereof) to the proposed antigay propaganda bill in Russia and similar legislation projects in Ukraine. Anyone who has been following the spectacularization in the Euro-American media and the blogosphere of antigay vigilantism and legislation in Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Uganda knows where I am headed with this comparison. The international attention paid to the Ukrainian and Russian bills is at best tepid, especially when compared with Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill for which the bill's sponsor, David Bahati, received ample and prime airtime on major U.S. and British televisions shows, including MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, Voice of America's In Focus and Straight Talk Africa, Current TV's Vanguard, and ABC's Nightline. The international frenzy surrounding the Ugandan bill undergirds an existing difference in the discursive translations of African [End Page 21] and European homophobias. On the one hand lies the hypervisibility of homophobias in Africa as "African" homophobia. On the other hand is the tepid international attention to the violated rights of sexual minorities in Eastern Europe and the perception of homophobias in Eastern European nations as homophobias tout court.

This ASR Forum, entitled "Homophobic Africa?"—a deliberate echo of Marc Epprecht's Heterosexual Africa? (2008)—is concerned with the concept of African homophobia, as it prevails in non-African but also African engagements with LGBTI rights on the continent.2 In the columns of The Guardian Keguro Macharia has critiqued the discourses on homophobias in Africa, contending that "homophobia in Africa is not [the] single story" that some analysts are making it out to be. "Homophobia in Africa is a problem," he writes, "but not as African homophobia, a special class that requires special interventions. And certainly not the kinds of special interventions that reconsolidate old, ongoing and boring oppositions between a progressive west and an atavistic Africa" (2010). According to the French philosopher Michel Foucault, discourses are "practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak" (1972:54). This injunction to focus on the doings and not the sayings of discourses permeates Macharia's attention to the constitutive effects of the single story of African homophobia. Discourses prescribe ways of knowing, inscribe their objects of knowledge, and construct knowledge. Hence the kind of global shaming campaign that has been directed to Africa in the form of online petitions, calls for boycotts, or threats of political and economic sanctions has not been applied to Russia and Ukraine.3 Homophobic Europe cannot exist, because homophobia has become a conceptual cognate for Africa. There is homophobia in Europe—but Europe is not homophobic. There is homophobia in Africa—and Africa is homophobic.

African homophobia was the inevitable and indispensable framing narrative in the BBC's The World's Worst Place to Be Gay (2011), a documentary on homophobia in Uganda. In the early minutes of the film, a visual montage of antigay vigilantism and homophobic vitriol in various unspecified African countries fixes the predetermined notion of homophobia in Uganda as African homophobia. The documentary also illustrates, unwittingly, how the concept of African homophobia has its raison d'être in Western "homonationalism," a narrative of sexual exceptionalism championed by LGBTIs from the global North and consonant with the neo-imperial politics of their nation-states (see Puar 2007). Indeed, the BBC's story of homophobia in Uganda steadily refurbishes the old paradigm of advanced "us" versus backward "them" into a narrative of a European gay-heaven versus an African gay-deathtrap. As the end credits of the documentary roll, a programming announcement about BBC's forthcoming The World's Worst Place to Be a Woman, a documentary on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, puts homophobic Africa in context...