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Rwanda's census: LGBTQ+ people just want to be counted

Alex Ngarambe
August 22, 2022

LGBTQ+ people in Rwanda want the government to collect data on them in the forthcoming national census in order for them to plan for their needs and end discrimination.

A person wearing a rainbow mask
Rwandan LGBTQ+ people criticize their government for not sufficiently protecting them from stigma and violenceImage: Dai Kurokawa/picture-alliance/dpa

Gasper Gashumba, a young gay Rwandan, had confided in his mother about his sexual orientation — hoping he would get the love and support he needed from his entire family.

But, with the exception of his mother, who stayed by his side, he got the opposite reaction from the rest of his loved ones. Gashumba won't be put down by that and is pushing further.

The 25-year-old wants the Rwandan government to consider other LGBTQ+ people during the country's August 16–30 national census exercise.

Questions about sexual and gender minorities have been excluded from previous national censuses, so Rwanda's government has no reliable data about what proportion of its population is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. 

"The government doesn't consider the LGBT+ community in its plans. That means we shall deal with the same struggles after ten years when the next census will occur," Gashumba told DW.

Members of Rwanda's LGBTQ+ community and civil society have already petitioned the government to collect data on the sexual and gender minorities in the forthcoming census.

Government acknowledges concerns

The government has acknowledged discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, but a lack of concrete information makes it difficult to plan for sexual and gender minorities — as well as fight discrimination against them.

Many LGBTQ+ people claim that those who have come out about their sexual orientation have been fired from their jobs, kicked out of their rented houses, excommunicated from their churches and shunned by family members. 

They want to be accepted by their peers in society and not have to put their homes, jobs and faith at risk by being true to themselves. 

Gospel singer Albert Nabonibo told DW that things need to change for the better when it comes to Rwandans' acceptance and tolerance of minority groups like the LGBTQ+ community.

"You know we have some articles and laws in our constitution, but I wish some articles would change where every Rwandan is feeling welcomed and living his life," Nabonibo said.

At risk

According to Gashumba, members of the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination in all spheres of life, and recognizing them and planning for their needs will make a huge difference.

"If we are counted as members of the LGBT+ like any Rwandan, it will make us proud, and we will feel appreciated by the country. But they exclude us; we get worried because we think the country does not care about us," he said.

Rights groups have always advocated that people are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation.

Sylvie Nsanga, a social justice activist and feminist, told DW that society must avoid marginalizing minority groups and this must be shown during exercises like the national census.

"For me, it would be really very good, because the very basic meaning of the census is to bring exactly what we have as a nation, different dynamics of the population so that it helps you plan for their needs," Nsaga said.

According to Nsaga, "If you don't include them [LGBTQ+ people], it means their needs, their challenges and their wishes are not accounted for."

Rwanda, the most densely populated country in Africa, is estimated to have a population of around 13 million. The upcoming census will help the government plan for the next ten years.

Edited by: Keith Walker

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