Your Basic Little Paradise

Sao Tome and Principe is a tiny two island African nation, near the equator, off the coast of Equatorial Guinea. Luis has lived and worked there for several years and finds that the ‘live and let live’ attitude of the country means that while there are no facilities for gay people, there is little to bother them either.

A former slave trading outpost, under Portuguese colonial rule the country turned to sugar cane and cacao production. Upon independence from Portugal in 1975 the small nation (the second smallest in Africa after the Seychelles) was left with little by way of infrastructure or trained personnel. Nowadays there is widespread poverty but hope, and trepidation, on the horizon in the form of newly discovered oil fields. “The politics are very peaceful, despite a bloodless coup last July,” says Luis. “It’s your basic little paradise.”

Luis is committed to the country and its development and works for an NGO there. I asked him about life for gay people in STP? “If you can imagine a time warp of about 100 years when LGBT issues weren’t yet issues, then you’ve captured STP. The issues simply aren’t there – well, of course they’re there, just like they were for Oscar Wilde – but they’re not there because no one discusses them. They do exist, but they’re not part of public – or even private – discourse. Several people here know I’m gay, and it has NO bearing on my daily life. The overall philosophy being ‘Live and let live’, no one seems to care. I was approached once by a local and that relationship lasted a while. People knew – or at least suspected – what was going on, and it affected no one’s life, in or outside the bedroom.”

Luis told me that there is no organising around LGBT issues as a result of the “non-issue” of gay and lesbian people. There are no support groups and LGBT people stay largely in the closet. As for a social scene? “If you are gay, there are no places, at least that I’m aware of – and I’ve lived here for 8 years – to meet or socialise. We’re all ‘main-streamed’ here!”

While there is little or no discussion of the topic in the media Luis revealed that when the topic does come up it usually concerns foreign news. “Like the New Hampshire gay bishop.” He illustrated. “And true to form, I haven’t heard a single criticism of his ordination.” Luis, who is a white American, continued. “The closest is perhaps: ‘My, you folks do things differently, don’t you?’ – much as if your sweet old grandma asked you why you got a punk haircut. Interested and curious, up to a point – judgemental, not at all.”

Source – Behind The Mask