Sexual stigma and symbolic violence experienced, enacted, and counteracted in young Africans' writing about same-sex attraction.Soc Sci Med 2016; 161:143-50SS
There is growing recognition of the health disparities faced by sexual minority populations and the critical role played by sexual stigma in increasing their vulnerability. Experienced, anticipated, and internalized, stigma based on sexual orientation reduces access to HIV/STI prevention and treatment services among African men who have sex with men and has been linked to compromised mental health, risk-taking, and HIV status. It is likely that similar processes undermine the health of sexual minority African women and transgender and non-binary people. There is a need for increased understanding of both the contextual factors and the cultural meanings, or symbolic violence, that inform sexual stigma and harmful stigma management strategies in contexts that are culturally and socio-politically oppressive for sexual and gender minorities. Using thematic data analysis and narrative-based methodologies, we analyzed narratives and essays on same-sex attraction contributed by young people aged 13-24 from ten African countries to a Spring 2013 scriptwriting competition on HIV, sexuality, and related themes. Submitted by 27 male and 29 female authors, the texts were written in response to a prompt inviting participants to "Tell a story about someone who is attracted to people of the same sex". We analyzed the ways in which sexual stigma and its effects are described, enacted, and counteracted in the texts. The data provide insights into the social and symbolic processes that create and sustain sexual stigma in the context of broader transnational discourses. The data shed light on psychosocial challenges faced by sexual minority youth and identify both rhetoric, stereotypes, and discourse that devalue them and representations that counteract this symbolic violence. We share our findings in the hope they may inform education and communication programming as part of multi-level efforts to improve the health and human rights of sexual minority populations in sub-Saharan Africa.