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I had traveled across the entire vast green expanse of Tanzania–about a thousand miles–by way of enormous Lake Victoria (source of the Nile), the famous Serengeti Plain, the animal-filled Ngorongoro Crater and majestic snow-capped Mt.
Kilimanjaro (image above) to Dar on the Indian Ocean before I met Ashura and other activists.
At first they were not easy to find; my e-mails and text messages went unanswered and I was afraid I’d leave the country without seeing any LGBT folks here or gaining any understanding of the ‘scene’.
Finally Ashura came through by phone (Africans are very connected by cell phones) and we talked about her first meeting me alone to assure other LGBT people I was not a lawman or a spy.
The hesitation to trust a stranger is understandable.
Homosexuality in Tanzania is a crime punishable by 30 years to life imprisonment for ‘offenses against nature’.
(The law was revised upward from 14 years imprisonment in 2002.) In light of this draconian law, she asked her identity be kept confidential, using the pseudonym Ashura.) As well, nearly every day I read in the several English language newspapers (Kiswahili is the official language and English is the second language) about suspected thieves being lynched or clubbed or burned to death by local vigilante mobs of men taking the law into their own hands.
There have been no reports of anyone getting killed for being gay, but the impulsive readiness of mob violence evokes a steady cautiousness in LGBT people to maintain constant vigilance.
[Note: since this story was posted on Global Gayz in 2008 and revised in 2014 there is a more recent LGBT organization in Tanzania: LGBT Voice–LGBT Human Rights for Tanzanians; see their Website and Facebook page.] Ashura and ‘The Association‘ ‘The Association’ is a pseudonym for the one and only lesbian organization in the country.