Southern Africa, like the rest of the African continent, is grappling with the increasingly visible reality of homosexual and bisexual women and men, as well as transgender and intersex people. Increasing numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organisations and openly LGBTI individuals populate both the public sphere and many people’s private lives.

Southern Africa is predominantly Christian. Although there are multiple manifestations of the faith, Christianity in the region is largely unreceptive to progress on social issues such as women’s empowerment, gender diversity and advances in the understanding of human sexuality. While some southern African Christians have opened their hearts to their LGBTI sisters and brothers in the spirit of an inclusive Gospel, most continue to act in an exclusionary way.

Homophobia in all its forms is a major challenge in the region. And many churches are hotbeds of homophobia.

Their hostility towards LGBTI people not only holds back long-overdue legal and policy reforms in southern African countries but also drives stigma, bullying and violence in the larger society. The resulting shame, social isolation, loneliness, alcoholism, drug abuse, family conflicts, unemployment, homelessness, relationship problems, higher rates of HIV infection, violence and sometimes suicide suffered by many LGBTI Africans damage countless lives.

Homophobic church leaders preach that God commands Christians to rebuke and exclude sexual minorities. Through the powerful influence they have on their congregations, they contribute strongly to the discrimination, hatred and violence faced by LGBTI people in the region.