Hirschfeld-Eddy-Stiftung Projekte Veranstaltungen

Fighting for LGBTIQ+ inclusion in Rwanda’s deeply religious society


Over the past few months, across East Africa, there has been an increased crackdown on the rights and freedoms of LGBTIQ+ communities. Countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, and Ethiopia have successfully passed repressive legislation and/or witnessed an increased number of arrests of LGBTIQ+ persons.

While LGBTIQ+ persons and communities in Rwanda, another East African country, enjoy certain legal protections (largely due to the country’s Constitution prohibiting any form of discrimination), the country’s sexual and gender minorities are still subjected to various forms of discrimination and are often vilified and scapegoated by the religious leaders and some non-informed persons about sexual diversity from the society (Majority have limited information).

In a recently held webtalk put together by the Hirschfeld-Eddy-Foundation, Reverend with the Inclusive Mission for Health and Hope (IMHH), said that “religions, through public opinion, feed the inherent abuses of human rights in the social and political life of the country”.

By way of example, the Reverend noted that, in 2007, the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda said: “Sexuality can only be expressed within the limits of marriage between a man and a woman”.

The Reverend added that “LGBTIQ+ people are often considered like bearers of misfortune, without morals and without ties to Rwandan culture”.

This culture and false Bible teachings have been embedded in the minds of people. To the extent that they do not consider [LGBT] people as human beings,” he said.

Added to this, he said, activists and organisations who campaign for LGBTIQ+ rights are “frequently labelled as ungodly and ‘un-African’”.

It is within this religiously conservative context that IMHH is functioning

A non-governmental organisation, IMHH was founded in 2018 by people made up of “sexual minorities, pastors and others” who are passionate about redressing the challenges faced by people living with HIV, sexual and gender minorities and other marginalised people.

The organisation’s work focuses on capacity-building of its members in LGBTIQ+ rights (and human rights more broadly), advocacy among clergy and broader society of the rights of LGBTIQ+ persons, health insurance payment, and economic empowerment of marginalised people.

Although the organisation started its activities in Rwanda, it has extended its work to other East African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Burundi, and Uganda. According to the Reverend, the organisation now has more than 180 members across the five countries.

Despite the organisation’s reach, it has to contend with everyday challenges such as limited financial capacity, having to function within a largely queerphobic society which, generally, had limited knowledge on human rights and the rights of LGBTIQ+ people, the continued spread of false Biblical teachings which vilified LGBTIQ+ people, and a lack of safehouses for LGBTIQ+ people rendered homeless due to family rejection.

All people are of sacred worth and are equally valuable in the sight of God

The Reverend explained that he belonged to the United Methodist Church (UMC), which “affirms that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons”. But, based on false Bible teachings some church members do not accept LGBTQI+ persons.

The Church affirms that all people are of sacred worth and are equally valuable in the sight of God. It is committed to be in ministry with all people. The Church implores families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends,” he added.

Although the Church deplores acts of hate and violence against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and believes human rights and civil liberties are due to all people, regardless of sexual orientation, it supports “laws that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

In 2019, a special session of the church’s General Conference met specifically to address ongoing, unresolved divisions regarding homosexuality.

Impasse over homosexuality leads to uncertainty about the Church’s future

The Reverend conceded that “the impasse over homosexuality has led to uncertainty about the Church’s future. Calls for separating the denomination have increased. The delay of the 2020 General Conference to 2024, caused by the pandemic and the difficulty it created to obtain visas for many delegates, has led to one of these groups, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, to announce it would launch a new denomination, the Global Methodist Church.”

During the next General Conference (which will convene from April 23 to May 3, 2024) the legislative proposals to alter existing church policies and whether or not to divide or restructure the denomination — as a result of differences on these and other issues — will be addressed.

Here, in my country, based on Rwandan society, culture and Biblical interpretations, the church leaders are reluctant to make a decision about LGBTIQ+ [inclusion]. I am not representing my Church [when I say this], but what I see is that some of them are beginning to understand the existence of the LGBTIQ+ community,” the Reverend said.

He added that IMHH was an independent organisation, which was not affiliated to UMC, although some of its members belonged to the church.

What is needed now

He added that, in order to assist the organisation in its drive to foster greater inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people, certain actions need “quick support” through project funding that directly involves the community. These include dialogues with clergy with the aim of changing their views of, and behaviour toward, LGBTIQ+ people; the securing of a physical address for the organisation where people could meet regularly to “share their thoughts and challenges”; and the creation of a website, which would increase IMHH’s visibility.

The Reverend noted that, although the organisation enjoys cooperative relationships in other East African countries, it wished to connect with South African organisations.

Ecclesia De Lange, the director of the South African organisation, Inclusive and Affirming Ministries, who attended the webtalk, offered the organisation’s support in either online or in-person training of IMHH members, as well as the sharing of relevant resources.

The Reverend ended the webtalk noting his deep appreciation for the support given — and offered — to IMHH in their continued fight for greater acceptance of Rwanda’s LGBTIQ+ people.

It is a process,” he said. “Let us believe in change. God is on our side.”

Carl Collison*

*Carl Collison is a freelance journalist, photographer and film-maker, who focuses specifically on producing LGBTIQ-related content from across Africa.

Background Information:



An event for the Hirschfeld Eddy Foundation project “We believe in change”: Human rights, freedom of religion or belief, and non-discrimination. All publications for the project can be found under the tag WBIC-2023 (some content in English).


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