Rwandan LGBT+ worshippers have found a church that accepts them and makes them feel at home. But elsewhere in Africa, those who are openly gay or lesbian still face prejudice and harassment.
The new church, called the “Church of God in Africa in Rwanda,” is based in the capital, Kigali. It comes at a time when the LGBT+ community in Rwanda is gradually gaining acceptance and respect within a still largely conservative society.
While many mainstream houses of prayer have sent them away, or made them feel unwelcome in the past, today more and more Rwandans are feeling safe to come out as gay, lesbian or transgender.
The church also provides a place of comfort to those without support systems, or who are shunned by society and their families.
Jean D’amour Abijuja, an openly gay member of the church, was kicked out of a Pentecostal Church in Kigali after it’s senior members discovered his sexual orientation.
Now, Abijuja has found a place of comfort. “When this church opened, I came here because we worship God without any stigma,” he told DW “Even someone like me with dreadlocks is welcome. And now, I am singing again.”
Homophobia remains rife in Rwanda
Rwanda has neither legalized nor decriminalized same-sex relationships, but society still holds on to conservative attitudes towards homosexuality.
The ambiguity in the existing laws leaves members of the LGBT+ community in a state of limbo.
Abijuja says he sought solace from God and religion after feeling isolated by society. “We are faced with many challenges, but my advice to everyone is to come before God and pray to him for relief,” he explains, adding that isolation is particularly dangerous, as it could lead to depression or suicide.
Homophobia isn’t just common in religious communities in Rwanda, but also in the workplace.
Last year, famous Rwandan gospel singer, Albert Nabonibo, sent shockwaves through the country when he came out as gay. As a result, Nabonibo lost his job and was evicted from his apartment.
Pastor Jean de Dieu Uwiragiye, who is a member of the LGBT+ church, stresses his belief that God loves all people equally.
“We preach the good news, which does not discriminate against people,” he told DW. “Everyone is free to come here regardless of whether they are part of the LGBT+ community. What matters is preaching the love and salvation of God.”
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has, in the past, avoided questions about homophobia, claiming that the country was dealing with more important issues and that all Rwandans were equal before the constitution, despite the ambiguous laws.
With Deutsche Welle156