Useful websites for LGBT Africa: http://www.mask.org.za/
by Niels Teunis1,2
Received May 24, 2000; revised November 9, 2000; accepted November 29, 2000
This case study from Dakar, Senegal, suggests that gender and sexual identities in Africa reveal more diversity than typically suggested in the literature on sexuality and AIDS in Africa. Furthermore, this flexibility indicates a greater variety of sexual behaviors than the extensive prior work on heterosexual transmission of HIV suggests. Secrecy is a key to understanding the variation; much diversity is not obvious because it is kept from public scrutiny. Long-term
ethnographic investigations of sexual identities and behavior are invaluable to discovering and interpreting this diversity in African societies.
Fall 2004 – OutTraveler.com
Surprising Senegal, France meets Africa in this land of music and mysticism
by Matthew Link; photos by Beryl Goldberg
The dry winds of the Sahel blow all the way through Dakar. The Sahara may be hundreds of miles away, but its taste is in the air as I gaze over the Atlantic to the pastel colonial edifices of Gorée Island. This slave fortress, an abode to so much human pain over the centuries, looks nearly cheerful in the insistent Senegalese sunshine. "African-Americans break down and weep when they see where people were piled up in the holding bins," my guide Baboo says as we stroll over cobblestones. "It’s a hard history."
But this French-speaking West African nation of 10 million is far from seeing itself as a victim. In fact, Senegal is nothing short of an African success story. Its stable government has never experienced a coup d’état, and it’s one of the most prosperous countries in the region. Women saunter down the streets of the capital, Dakar, in dazzling fashions; nightclubs pump with a thriving local music scene; restaurants in French-style buildings serve coq au vin and cappuccinos. Dakar is galaxies away from the war-and-famine Africa that seems to be the only one shown on CNN. But mysticism bubbles beneath the surface. Bearded men in robes play strange twangs on gourd guitars, and woman pound grain with log poles in perfect rhythm on the city’s outskirts. And the dry, dusty African breezes continually speak of the continent’s long and intricate life span.
A Shining Example
The lion’s share of the world’s HIV-positive people–about 70%–live in Africa, but some countries like Senegal have made significant progress in dealing with the disease. Less than 5% of its population is HIV-positive (some sources say less than 1%), where in parts of southern Africa it’s up to 40%. Why the difference? Simple proactiveness. In 1986 the government developed a national system of blood screening for transfusions and other education programs. Senegal was also the first African nation to successfully negotiate a 90% reduction in the inflated cost of anti-HIV drugs purchased from international pharmaceutical firms. In 2003 on Gorée Island, just off Dakar, President Bush said in a speech, "In the face of spreading disease, we will join with you in turning the tide against AIDS in Africa. We know that these challenges can be overcome because history moves in the direction of justice." Senegal is determined to prove him right.
The Long Road to Gay Identity
Senegal is one of the most tolerant Muslim societies on earth, with wide religious freedoms, a taste for sexy fashions, and even legal prostitution. But when Senegal’s first gay organization, Groupe Andligeey (the latter word translates as "walking together"), tried to arrange a meeting of some of its 400 members in 2001 at a Dakar hotel, the nation’s Interior Ministry immediately moved to thwart the gathering "so that such a demonstration is not organized on national territory," the ministry said in a statement. When I talked to the soft-spoken president of Andligeey (who didn’t want his name published), he told me about a law that makes homosexuality illegal in Senegal, even though gay sex is very common for married men. "As long as Andligeey sticks to AIDS education, we stay out of trouble." Although gay foreigners are rarely harassed, problems for local gays occurred again in 2002 at a party on Dakar’s Monaco Beach, when six men were arrested and thrown in jail for six months. No gays are imprisoned now, and Andligeey encourages gay and lesbian tourists to come to Senegal. "It’s the only way for people to understand that there are two very different gay worlds: the one in the Western world and the one in developing countries."
A Very Homo Past
Although it may not seem like a gay mecca today, Dakar has quite the homo history. In the 1930s French anthropologists observed among the Wolof tribe "men-women" called gor-digen, who "do their best to deserve the epithet by their mannerisms, their dress and their makeup; some even dress their hair like women. They do not suffer in any way socially, though the Mohammedans refuse them religious burial." (The word gor-digen is still widely used today to mean gay men in Senegal.) In 1958, writer Michael Davidson described visiting special brothels on the outskirts of Dakar that were filled with boys in drag. Due to the establishments’ remote locations, these were evidently not for foreigners but for local Senegalese themselves. Today, griots (musician-singers who keep alive the region’s oral history tradition) are often gay, and recently there have been vague rumors of male same-sex weddings by Senegalese, and married men who take on other men as their second or third "wives." All very queer indeed. (Source: Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexuality, edited by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe)
To take a private tour of Senegal, booking through gay-owned 2AFRIKA (877-200-5610, www.2afrika.com) is recommended–especially if you don’t speak French. 2AFRIKA can organize whole trips including excursions to villages, beaches, the famous Pink Lake, and more–complete with a guide-translator and private driver. Weeklong packages with airfare from New York City start at around $1,400.
Accommodations (Dial 011 before all numbers)
Inexpensive: On atmospheric Gorée Island, stay at the Hostellerie du Chevalier de Boufflers (221-822-5364; $30-$45), located right off the main dock. It’s a charming red pastel building with a handful of African-decorated rooms and a good restaurant overlooking the ocean. Dakar’s La Voile d’Or beach is popular with both gays and the military, and day use of the beach costs you a buck; or stay the night here at the simple but comfy Monaco Plage Bel Air (221-832-2260; $30-$50) housed in a bright-yellow building.
Moderate/Expensive: The Lagon II (Route de la Corniche Est, Dakar; 221-889-2525; $160-$230) is a funky orange geometric-shaped hotel, built over the water on a cliff. The gaudy decor is pure early 1970s, but the place is spotless. Or try the four-star Hotel la Croix du Sud (20 Ave. Albert Sarraut; 221-889-7878; $75-$200), a classy and chic hotel with renovated rooms and a sophisticated lounge in a 1951 building in the center of Dakar.
For a taste of Dakar go to the pleasant two-story Casa Créole (21 Blvd. Dijily Mbaye at Pinet Laprade; 221-823-4081; $8-$15), serving international cuisine with a French slant. The interior has a balcony eating area, a waterfall, and stained glass. At the arts and crafts marketplace Village Artisanal in Soumbédioune, check out the La Jeté de Soumbédioune Restaurant (221-566-4535; $8-$13). They have live Senegalese music on the weekends, and it’s a great place to watch the fishermen bring in their catch on brightly painted boats.
The nightclub Kilimanjaro (221-566-7820) at the Village Artisanal is a real hoot, with a checkerboard dance floor, a fake bus, a mirrored ceiling, and lots of sparkles; at times it draws a queer crowd on Friday nights (the club’s owner is said to be bisexual). A must is the small gay-owned nightclub the Iguane Café (26 Rue Jules Ferry; 221-822-6553 or 221-575-7838), with a Cuban interior dedicated to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, complete with camouflaged sofas. It’s popular with French military personnel and local gays.
If you’d like to support the local (French-speaking) gay group Andligeey, e-mail email@example.com or call 221-646-2687.
The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any new information.
21 January 2005 – Reuters
Senegal: Gay community plays it quietly in face of social taboos
Dakar – The meeting-place was at a noisy down-market street café where the waiter as well the clients were gay, but where everyone was staunchly pretending not to be. Senegal’s homosexual men are peeping out from behind the mask, but social and religious taboos run strong. "We are always pretending," said one of a couple of the leaders of the country’s underground movement who had agreed to come out of the woodwork to talk to IRIN on condition of anonymity. "Sometimes we feel sick of the lies."
Hit by a spate of deaths and disease in the community five years ago, a group of gays got together "to find out whether it was HIV/AIDS and what to do about it," said 27-year-old Mamadou (not his real name). "There were no free tests available, people wondered if it was malaria."
"There were active and passive gays, transvestites, queens, a whole mass of people who’re vilified and don’t dare go to hospital because they’re afraid of being blacklisted and marginalised. Many were illiterate too," he said. "Being gay means being shut out. We had to organise." From 56 card-carrying residents of Senegal’s fast-paced hip capital Dakar in 2000, group membership has leapt to more than 400 today, most of them aged between 18 and 40 and living in towns and villages across the land. A second group of MSMs – the acronym for men who have sex with men – claims to have signed up around the same number.
" Work with the gay community is beginning to bear fruit," said Alioune Badara Sow, head of projects at the National Alliance Against AIDS (ANCS), a leading NGO. "The number of activists is getting bigger by the day, attracting men from all walks of life, tailors, politicians, the sons of traditional healers." But the dilemna facing Senegal’s gays is the same as it was five years ago – whether to work quietly but efficiently underground, or come out of the closet and face the music.
"Sex is a taboo subject here," Sow told IRIN. "Public opinion wouldn’t understand if we talked about all this openly. People would think we were okaying homosexuality. "But we must support MSMs, focusing on their battle against HIV/AIDS in the interests of public health." At a downtown public hospital, where ceiling-fans whirred in poorly-lit corridors peopled by wan, dejected patients, the head of the HIV/AIDS and STI (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) department, Abdoulaye Sidibe Wade spoke out against discrimination in the public health sector.
" MSMs are part and parcel of the population, we consider them to be human beings, with rights and duties," he told IRIN.
Sociologists say the "gor jigeen" (which means "man-woman" in Wolof, the dominant language of Senegal) have long been an accepted part of society, on condition that they avoid open displays of their sexuality. However, gays appear to have a very long bridge to cross to join the the rest of the human race in Senegal.
As in most sub-Saharan African countries, homosexuality is illegal. Article 319 of the penal code bans same-sex relations as "un-natural". Strong conservative values, plus the preachings of the Koran in this 95 percent Moslem country, mean trouble for those breaching accepted sexual practice.
Mamadou, a quiet dresser who wears his hair in long plaits in a sole slight sign of non-conformity, spent three weeks in bed on one occasion recovering from a beating after the gutter press published his photo and address. The experience terrorised his mother, who with rare tolerance has accepted her "deviant" son. His friend Alain (not his real name) on the other hand, a highly-skilled 30-year-old sporting a mass of rings and cropped hair, would never dream of letting the family know he was gay. Like many MSMs who due to social pressure live life as married men, he has a child. "They take a man as a second wife," he joked, referring to the prevalent practice of polygamy.
" But more and more infected gays are making women pregnant. There’s a big transmission problem that’s broken the bounds of the community." Because of the ban on homosexuality, it took the group two years to legally register their association of MSMs. They chose a vague name for the group to avoid running into trouble with the authorities or the police: And Ligeey ("Let’s Work Together" in Wolof).
Step one was finding medical help, a Senegalese doctor willing to assist the outcasts. " They were afraid to visit doctors, afraid we’d judge them," said one of a group of medics who now helps the MSMs free of charge. "But we treated them like human beings. They needed health care, we dared look after them, and subsequently we came under verbal attack for assisting them." Working on a voluntary basis, three Dakar doctors and two in each of Senegal’s 11 administrative regions open their doors to MSMs seeking help for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and opportunistic infections.
The doctors, who provide drugs, treatment and even free transport when necessary, also organise information workshops to help MSMs help themselves by spreading awareness and know-how through the community. "It’s difficult to find doctors willing to work with the community," the medic admitted. "But I believe that the Senegalese are basically tolerant people and that in the long run the MSMs would be best off remaining underground and negotiating their health problems little by little. There’s no point in coming out and upsetting social sensitivities."
However, Sow, the head of projects at ANCS disagreed. "One day the community will be strong enough to come out of hiding. Until then we must support them. Some people are just plain scared of being associated with them publicly and of having to face a backlash." Sow said that although Senegal boasted one of Africa’s lowest HIV prevalence rates – 1.5 percent – vulnerable groups and far-flung corners of the country were far harder hit. Sexual workers in the southern region of Casamance, for example, suffered a prevalance rate of more than 30 percent, he noted.
" We have no exact statistics yet on MSMs and HIV/AIDS," Sow told IRIN. "But this is one of the potential carrier groups we need to target to ensure Senegal can continue to contain the pandemic. We must focus on MSMs." "There are more and more youngsters, 15 and 16-year-olds joining the community," he added. The ANCS started off by setting up a peer programme to boost the self-esteem of Senegal’s gay community. It then helped to organise workshops on safe sex, prevention, condom use, STIs, anal injury and the like.
But Sow said there was still much to be done, notably in persuading reluctant health workers to assist MSMs and providing them with the specialist training to do so. " Yet at the national level there is no overall plan to care for MSMs," Sow said, referring to a four-year programme drafted by the state-run National AIDS Council of Senegal (CNLS). CNLS officia Katy Cisse Wone acknowledged that there were thousands of MSMs in the country. "They are a public health concern," she assured IRIN.
Mamadou and Alain and their friends have asked the internationally funded CNLS for a grant of CFA francs 36 million (US $73,000) to finance a project to tackle AIDS in Senegal’s gay community, but they fear it is being blocked due to discrimination. The CNLS told IRIN their request would be considered once the organisation starts to assess a new round of project proposals in March. As the debate rages over whether or not the time is ripe for Senegal’s MSMs to rip off their mask, Mamadou and Alain are left mulling the even thornier and nore basic question of religious stigma against the gay community. " Only God can judge you. He judges the heart," said Mamadou.
17 February 2006 – IRIN
SenegalL: HIV-positive gays face double stigma
Dakar, (PlusNews) – Twenty-four-year old male sex worker Doudou (not his real name) was forced to turn to Senegal’s leading gay NGO when his family members threw him out for being a homosexual. When he discovered he was HIV-positive a year later, Doudou was faced with a double whammy: gay and HIV-positive in a predominantly Muslim country where homosexuality is illegal. "A serious car accident in May 2003, that claimed the life of my companion, was what started it all," he recalled. The accident caused multiple fractures to his legs, causing him to use crutches for nearly one year. Stuck and immobilized at home with his family, he realised that they would never accept his sexual orientation. "My half brothers and half sisters kicked me out of the house while I was still struggling with crutches … I could not bear their verbal daily abuse."
Gays Sidelined In HIV/AIDS Programes
Using his meagre savings, Doudou rented a room in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, and turned to an NGO called ‘And Ligeey’ (Work Together in Wolof a local dialect) – which offers support services for men who have sex with men (MSM) and regular information campaigns on HIV/AIDS. It was while attending a workshop for MSM that Doudou got tested for HIV. The workshop was part of a survey trying to assess the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate among MSM in the country. The study, undertaken between April and August 2004, revealed that 21.5 percent of MSM in Senegal were HIV positive. According to the 2005 National Survey on Demographic and Health, 0.7 percent of the country’s total population is living with HIV/AIDS. Senegal has one of Africa’s lowest HIV prevalence rates, thanks in part to efficient campaigning, testing and prevention encouraged by the government, but the gay community has been sidelined from AIDS programmes since homosexual sex is technically a crime.
Doudou has not told his family about his positive status. "With what my family made me go through only during the period that my legs were broken, I can only imagine how much worse it would be if bedridden with AIDS," he commented. Without an education, Doudou has never managed to have a permanent job. Before his car accident, he relied on his sexual partners for financial support. "I can say I was addicted to prostitution, I had no regular jobs but earned lots of money from my partners," he said.
His partner, who later got killed in the car accident, was married to a woman. "He used to say that he married her only to have children," explained Doudou. Because of the social stigma attached to homosexuality, some members of the gay community live a double life as married men with children. According to the 2004 study, more than 94 percent of men having sex with men in Senegal also have sexual relations with women.
Doudou admitted never having practiced safe sex before discovering his positive status. "Now that I know I am HIV positive, I protect myself by asking my partners to wear condoms because I cannot [afford to] contract the virus twice," he said. Since August 2005, Doudou has been receiving antiretrovirals (ARVs) from the Red Cross centre in Dakar free of charge.
Sex Work To Survive
Despite the free access to this service, Doudou has been finding it difficult to get by, especially after his accident and his family’s rejection. After having spent all his savings, he left his rented room and found temporary shelter with a friend in the suburbs of Dakar. He now lives in Mbour, a seaside locality 80 km south of the capital. "Doudou told me that a friend offered him a job in Mbour, but I found out later he was prostituting himself to live," noted a member of the ‘And Ligeey’ association.
According to Doudou, homosexual men find it difficult to get jobs, because "when people realize we are MSM, they will not employ us or make sure we are sacked from the job we have." Two years after his accident, Doudou continues to be plagued by his car-accident injuries, resulting in costly medical follow ups, well beyond his means even with the help from his ‘And Ligeey’ friends. "A week ago, Doudou asked me for 100 CFA (US $2) to pay for the trip to get his ARV treatment. He has nothing left, he even sold his cell phone," commented one of the members of ‘And Ligeey’, who asked not be named.
15 February 2007 – VoaNews.com
Hidden Homosexuality in Senegal Presents Challenge to HIV Prevention
Dakar – Across Africa, HIV infection is significantly higher in some groups. In Senegal, homosexual men are 10 times more likely to be HIV positive than the rest of the population. Phuong Tran reports from Dakar on the challenges of preventing HIV in a mostly hidden community. In Senegal, homosexuality is considered a moral crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $3,000 fine. Abdou Houdia Diop – a doctor at a sexually-transmitted disease clinic run by the Senegalese Ministry of Health – says societal, religious and legal disapproval of homosexuality drives many underground.
"Since homosexuals are a hidden group, it is difficult to treat them, and it makes it difficult to manage their treatment because they may not want to get tested or to come for their test results," he said. Serif is a 28-year-old homosexual man who works with health officials to get the word out about prevention services to other homosexual men, also known in the health field as MSM, or men having sex with men. "The life of a homosexual man in Senegal is difficult because he is always forced to hide his identity, his needs. He lives in perpetual fear, in hiding from his family, his colleagues, even health centers," said Serif. "If I were to make known that I am homosexual, I risk being physically attacked. It has already happened."
Dr. Diop recognizes the fear these men have when coming to his center, but says they should not be afraid. "Some men come in with anal problems, but they do not want to be open because they fear that a doctor will make the correlation between their condition and their sexual practice," he said. "But health professionals are here to treat them for whatever sexually transmitted diseases they may have, and their partners, to prevent a chain of infection."
Diop says there is a high risk the virus can jump from homosexuals to the general population because almost all his patients are bisexual, often because of pressure to appear heterosexual. "No one knows who is an MSM [men having sex with men]. Sometimes, people will be living with MSM’s without knowing their status," he said. "There are MSMs who are married, who have girlfriends and their partners will not know that they are MSM. If an MSM is sick, he can transfer it to his partner."
The director of Senegal’s Sexually-Transmitted Infection Division in the Ministry of Health, Abdoulaye Sidibe Wade, estimates his division treats about 2,000 male homosexuals, nationwide. Wade says this is only a small fraction of the actual homosexual population, because most do not seek HIV services.
20 November 2007 – The Monitor (Kampala)
Uganda: Help Africa’s Gay Men; You’ll Save Their Women Too
19 November 2007
Posted to the web 20 November 2007
Terrible, the news that came out this week as we marked World AIDS Day. Things are very bad in Africa, and the poorer parts of the world. Some folks even declared that Africa, where about 70 per cent of the 36 million people worldwide infected with HIV/AIDS live, is losing the war against the disease. AIDS killed a record number of people in the third world and Eastern Europe this year, but Sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst affected region with about 3.2 million new infections and 2.3 million deaths.
When one thinks of it, there is nothing new in those grim numbers. Nearly everything has been tried to deal with AIDS in Africa, but it seems not to have the dramatic effect it should in order to reverse the carnage. And the reasons for the failure are, again, not new – bad and corrupt government, wars, lousy infrastructure, illiteracy, and retrogressive cultural practices. It seems that until we rise above concentrating on the conventional causes for the massive destruction by Aids in Africa, people will continue to drop off like flies.
One place to begin is a study done by the global organisation, the Population Council. It has not been talked about much because it is about a taboo subject in Africa – homosexuality. Ask the liberal don, Dr Sylvia Tamale of the Makerere University Faculty of Law. She has many ruffled feathers flying in the air presently after she argued, sensibly, that prostitution should be decriminalised. But the present storm she has caused with advocating a more enlightened attitude toward sex workers is nothing compared to what happened early this year when she said it was wrong to treat homosexuals like criminals.
The priests, sheikhs, politicians, and other "guardians of the people" threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Dr Tamale. That in itself was not surprising. The disturbing thing was that when the anti-gay camp really went into high and shrill gear, even many champions of freedom of expression were too scared to publicly defend Dr Tamale’s right to hold her opinions – even if they disagreed with them. Against that background, it is easy to appreciate why, perhaps, the Population Council study was not given attention around Africa. The study found that Senegal, while being the only country in Africa that has had better success than Uganda rolling back the march of AIDS, has no meaningful programmes to deal with gays.
In Uganda too, there has never been a single AIDS awareness message targeted at gay people. This is because most people consider it an "ungodly" sexual orientation. The Population Council study sought to find out the effect of this. It discovered that there are far more men in Senegal who are gay, than was publicly acknowledged. However, the killer finding was that very many men who are gay, are otherwise "happily" married to women. Because gay men meet discretely, their wives would not know it and are therefore content that they are "safe" – because we are conditioned to detect a man who is cheating with a woman, or a woman with man, not a man who is cheating on his wife with another man.
Now, because gay men are a particularly high HIV-risk group, and they are totally ignored by AIDS education campaigns, if we imagine that there are many such African men then the infections which we are blind to and doing nothing to prevent, are wiping out the gains made in the heterosexual sector. The point here is that if African societies and their governments were bolder and more open-minded about homosexuality, and invested resources in dealing with Aids among gays, then we would have made more progress. I share the view that, at the end of the day, in sexual behaviour, just like in other social activity like drinking and eating, Africa is not much different than the West. So while we are hysterically hostile to gay people, the only thing that has achieved is to drive them underground. In reality, we could have nearly as many gay people in Africa, as in the West, who knows? As someone who is familiar with the Senegal study of gays and Aids told me: "The people who will benefit most from having AIDS awareness for gay men in Africa, could well be their wives and girlfriends"
21 January 2008 – afrol.com
Senegal’s gay community confronts social taboos
Misanet – The meeting-place was at a noisy down-market street café where the waiter as well as the clients were gay, but where everyone was staunchly pretending not to be. Senegal’s homosexual men are peeping out from behind the mask, but social and religious taboos run strong.
– We are always pretending, said one of a couple of the leaders of the country’s underground gay movement who had agreed to come out of the woodwork to talk to the UN media ‘IRIN’ on condition of anonymity. "Sometimes we feel sick of the lies," he said. Hit by a spate of deaths and disease in the community five years ago, a group of gays got together "to find out whether it was HIV/AIDS and what to do about it," said 27-year-old Mamadou (not his real name). "There were no free tests available; people wondered if it was malaria."
Mamadou elaborates: "There were active and passive gays, transvestites, queens, a whole mass of people who’re vilified and don’t dare go to hospital because they’re afraid of being blacklisted and marginalised. Many were illiterate too," he said. "Being gay means being shut out. We had to organise." From 56 card-carrying residents of Senegal’s fast-paced hip capital Dakar in 2000, group membership has leapt to more than 400 today, most of them aged between 18 and 40 and living in towns and villages across the land. A second group of MSMs – the acronym for men who have sex with men – claims to have signed up around the same number.
– Work with the gay community is beginning to bear fruit, said Alioune Badara Sow, head of projects at the National Alliance Against AIDS (ANCS), a leading non-governmental organisation. "The number of activists is getting bigger by the day, attracting men from all walks of life, tailors, politicians, the sons of traditional healers." But the dilemma facing Senegal’s gays is the same as it was five years ago – whether to work quietly but efficiently underground, or come out of the closet and face the music. "Sex is a taboo subject here," Mr Sow told ‘IRIN’.
– Public opinion wouldn’t understand if we talked about all this openly, he added. "People would think we were okaying homosexuality. But we must support men who have sex with men, focusing on their battle against HIV/AIDS in the interests of public health." At a downtown public hospital, where ceiling-fans whirred in poorly-lit corridors peopled by wan, dejected patients, the head of the HIV/AIDS and STI [Sexually Transmitted Diseases] department, Abdoulaye Sidibe Wade spoke out against discrimination in the public health sector. Men who have sex with men "are part and parcel of the population, we consider them to be human beings, with rights and duties," he told ‘IRIN’.
Sociologists say the "gor jigeen" – which means "man-woman" in Wolof, the dominant language of Senegal – have long been an accepted part of society, on condition that they avoid open displays of their sexuality. However, gays appear to have a very long bridge to cross to join the rest of the human race in Senegal. As in most sub-Saharan African countries, homosexuality is illegal in Senegal. Article 319 of the penal code bans same-sex relations as "un-natural". Strong conservative values, plus the preachings of the Koran in this 95 percent Moslem country, mean trouble for those breaching accepted sexual practice.
Mamadou, a quiet dresser who wears his hair in long plaits in a sole slight sign of non-conformity, spent three weeks in bed on one occasion recovering from a beating after the gutter press published his photo and address. The experience terrorised his mother, who with rare tolerance has accepted her "deviant" son. His friend Alain (not his real name) on the other hand, a highly-skilled 30-year-old sporting a mass of rings and cropped hair, would never dream of letting the family know he was gay. Like many homosexuals who due to social pressure live life as married men, he has a child.
– They take a man as a second wife, he joked, referring to the prevalent practice of polygamy. "But more and more infected gays are making women pregnant. There is a big transmission problem that has broken the bounds of the community." Because of the ban on homosexuality, it took the group two years to legally register their association of men who have sex with men. They chose a vague name for the group to avoid running into trouble with the authorities or the police – "And Ligeey" – "Let’s Work Together" in Wolof.
Step one was finding medical help, a Senegalese doctor willing to assist the outcasts. "They were afraid to visit doctors, afraid we would judge them," said one of a group of medics who now helps homosexuals free of charge. "But we treated them like human beings. They needed health care, we dared look after them, and subsequently we came under verbal attack for assisting them." Working on a voluntary basis, three Dakar doctors and two in each of Senegal’s 11 administrative regions open their doors to homosexuals seeking help for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and opportunistic infections.
The doctors, who provide drugs, treatment and even free transport when necessary, also organise information workshops to help homosexuals help themselves by spreading awareness and know-how through the community.
– It is difficult to find doctors willing to work with the community, the medic admitted. "But I believe that the Senegalese are basically tolerant people and that in the long run the homosexuals would be best off remaining underground and negotiating their health problems little by little. There is no point in coming out and upsetting social sensitivities." However, Mr Sow, the head of projects at the National Alliance Against AIDS, disagreed. "One day, the community will be strong enough to come out of hiding. Until then we must support them. Some people are just plain scared of being associated with them publicly and of having to face a backlash."
Mr Sow said that although Senegal boasted one of Africa’s lowest HIV prevalence rates – 1.5 percent – vulnerable groups and far-flung corners of the country were far harder hit. Sexual workers in the southern region of Casamance, for example, suffered a prevalence rate of more than 30 percent, he noted.
– We have no exact statistics yet on homosexuals and HIV/AIDS, Mr Sow told ‘IRIN’. "But this is one of the potential carrier groups we need to target to ensure Senegal can continue to contain the pandemic. We must focus on homosexuals. There are more and more youngsters, 15 and 16-year-olds joining the community," he added. The National Alliance Against AIDS started off by setting up a peer programme to boost the self-esteem of Senegal’s gay community. It then helped to organise workshops on safe sex, prevention, condom use, sexually transmitted diseases, anal injury and the like.
But Mr Sow said there was still much to be done, notably in persuading reluctant health workers to assist homosexuals and providing them with the specialist training to do so. "Yet at the national level there is no overall plan to care for homosexuals," Mr Sow said, referring to a four-year programme drafted by the state-run National AIDS Council of Senegal (CNLS). The Council official Katy Cisse Wone acknowledged that there were thousands of homosexuals in the country. "They are a public health concern," she assured ‘IRIN’.
Mamadou and Alain and their friends have asked the internationally funded AIDS Council for a grant of CFA francs 36 million (US$ 73,000) to finance a project to tackle AIDS in Senegal’s gay community, but they fear it is being blocked due to discrimination. The Council told ‘IRIN’ their request would be considered once the organisation starts to assess a new round of project proposals in March. As the debate rages over whether or not the time is ripe for Senegal’s gays to rip off their mask, Mamadou and Alain are left mulling the even thornier and more basic question of religious stigma against the gay community. "Only God can judge you. He judges the heart," said Mamadou.
February 05, 2008 – Kenya Today
Scandal over gay marriage rocks Senegal
by Hamadou Tidiane Sy, Nation Correspondent
Dakar – Police in Senegal have arrested at least seven people allegedly involved in the celebration of a gay marriage in a restaurant in the outskirts of Dakar, raising again debate about morality and individual freedom in a country caught between conservatism and the desire to project a tolerant image. The identities of the people, who are under police custody but not charged yet, were not revealed except for one Pape Mbaye who is unknown to the public but whose name has been given by one newspaper with no further details about his profile.
The arrest took place on Sunday following the publication by a glossy magazine of pictures allegedly taken during the celebration of the alleged same sex marriage. The local press and other web sites indicate that at least five of the people arrested appear in the pictures published in the latest issue by of glossy monthly magazine, Icone specialising in Dakar’s trends, night life and jet-setters.
Mr Mansour Dieng, the Publication Director of Icone told the local media: “When we published the story (of the gay marriage) in a previous issue, we were treated as liars and accused of fabricating the story, we have decided to publish the photos to give the public an evidence of what we reported”.
Mr Dieng claimed to have received death threats following the publication of the pictures which show a group of dressed up and happy males. Mr Dieng has since reported to police about the death threats. In the pictures, one of the suspects appears to be putting a ring on his partner’s finger. The alleged gay marriage was between a young Senegalese national and another West African citizen, believed to have gone into hiding since the affair was made public. With the police not making any official and public statement on the matter, the exact nationality of the runaway suspect is the subject of contradicting reports, some saying he is a Ghanaian national while others identify him as an Ivorian. Due to the same silent attitude from the police, it was also difficult to clearly establish if the arrests were linked to the celebration of the marriage, to the death threats or to both.
According to l’Observateur, a private daily, same sex marriages are not allowed by Senegalese law. The newspaper quoted a lawyer as saying “any offender faces up to five years in prison and FCFA 1.5 million fine (US $ 3.600)” fine. In Senegal, a nation where Muslims represent more than 95 per cent of the population, homosexuality has always been a marginal, sensitive and highly taboo affair. though, the phenomenon is known and has always existed, it is totally rejected as contrary to morality and religion.
One pro-Islamic NGO, Jamra has issued a statement denouncing the threats against Mr Dieng, the publication director. But, the NGO also warned the country against the development of ‘‘sexual depravation, caused by the greed for easy money and which threatens the country’s youth”.
The “Goorjigeen” (the name for biologically effeminate people) did exist in Senegalese traditional societies where they were somehow tolerated but not respected nor given any right to exhibit their sexual preferences. They were rather considered as really marginal human beings. According to popular belief many of the homosexuals who voluntarily engage in same sex practices in the big cities adhere to this way of life simply to make money, and the practices itself is at times easily confused with prostitution.
In local websites and newspapers many people are expressing outrage and shock, saying these “foreign” practices should not be allowed to prosper in the country, while others denounce the hypocrisy of a society which has no courage to face itself.
Last year a group of young female dancers, including Ndèye Guèye considered as one of the top dancers in the country, were arrested and tried for featuring in a video showing suggestive dance moves. The video was dubbed indecent and compared to pornography by some people. At the trial, all dancers were released and put “under probation” but the organisers of the private party and the owner of the club where it took place and where the video was shot were sentenced to prison terms.
Arrests of Gay Men in Senegal: LGBT Groups Express Outrage and Concern (Letter to Senegalese Minister of Justice)
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and PAN-Africa ILGA demand the immediate and unconditional release of 10 persons believed to have been arrested on suspicion of homosexuality in Senegal in the past week.
10 persons have been arrested in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, since the morning of Sunday 3 February after a popular local magazine, Icones, published photographs of a alleged marriage ceremony between two Senegalese men. The ‘wedding’ is believed to have taken place in a discrete location in Dakar more than a year-and-a-half ago. Sources report that the photographs were sold to the sensationalist magazine by the photographer for 1,500,000 ($3000) CFA francs. The arrests were reportedly undertaken upon the orders of Mr. Asane Ndoye, head of the Senegalese Police’s Division of Criminal Investigation. It is unclear where the men and women are being held.
"Mass arrests of people simply because they are gay terrorize the entire community," said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director. "The inhuman treatment of gay men and lesbians must stop. We call upon the world community to enforce international human rights law." The U.N. Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v. Australia (1994) that existing protection against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) incorporates sexual orientation as a protected status.
"We are afraid for our lives, especially those of us shown in the photographs," said Jean R., a Senegalese gay activist who spoke to ILGA and IGLHRC from a hotel where he is seeking refuge. "Some of us have gone into hiding and others are fleeing the country."
Senegal is one of the few Francophone African countries that penalize homosexuality. Under Article 3.913 of the Senegalese penal code, homosexual acts are punishable by imprisonment of between one and five years and a fine of 100,000 ($200) to 1,500,000 ($3,000) CFA francs. While there are occasional arrests and convictions of gay men under the Article, social stigma and blackmail are the most prevalent abuses faced by gay men in the country.
"Many consider Senegal to be one of the most progressive African countries on the issue of homosexuality," said Joel Nana, IGLHRC’s Program Associate for West Africa. "The government has included a commitment to fighting HIV among men who have sex with men in its national AIDS response plan since 2005. That’s why we found these arrests to be very distressing."
Senegal has strong political and economic ties to a number of conservative Islamic governments and institutions, and will be hosting the summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference in March. The OIC has invested heavily in the rehabilitation of Dakar’s infrastructure in preparation for the Summit. Under the circumstances, IGLHRC and Pan-African ILGA expressed concern as to whether Senegal is well-suited to host the upcoming International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), scheduled to take place in Dakar in December 2008.
"There will be no room for an open and inclusive discussion on the human rights dimensions of HIV in the face of such harassment," said Danilo da Silva, co-chair of Pan-African ILGA, a federation gathering over 40 lesbian and gay groups from all parts of Africa. "We expect more from a leading country like Senegal."
07 February 2008 – rodonline.typepad.com
Senegal Releases Five Men Arrested at "Gay Wedding"
Earlier this week, Rod 2.0 reported the men were arrested in the capital city of Dakar "after a local magazine published photographs of a marriage ceremony between two men." According to the BBC, the "pictures were published in Icone magazine, whose editor, Mansour Dieng, has since received death threats." Dieng has also been questioned by police over the issue and reportedly told Africa Global News "that he published the pictures to prove that an earlier article on homosexuality in Senegal was true."
Le Soleil, the pro-government newspaper, reported "among the alleged fugitives were a Ghanaian, an Ivorian and two Senegalese", and, also a Frenchman.
Senegal is a predominantly Muslim country and, although only rarely enforced, homosexual acts are prohibited under Senegalese law, with punishment ranging from one to five years in prison. Fines range from $200 to $3,000. Many Senegalese gay men and lesbians have been able to create a thriving underground gay community. The country is considered one of the more relaxed in Africa on the issue of homosexuality.
Dakar will host the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa in December 2008. Some analysts believe these arrests were a potential source of embarrassment for a nation which boasted one of Africa’s few official HIV/AIDS plans targeting men who have sex with men.
15 February 2008 – Reuters
Senegal police fire tear gas at anti-gay protesters
by Diadie Ba and Pascal Fletcher (Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Robert Woodward)
Dakar – Police in Senegal fired tear gas to disperse anti-homosexual demonstrators outside Dakar’s main mosque on Friday after the publication of photos from a gay wedding in the mostly Muslim nation. Gossip magazine Icone published pictures in its February edition apparently taken during a marriage ceremony between two men in the West African country, where homosexuality is illegal.
"We want homosexuals to be wiped out in this country. We will continue to fight for Senegal to become a Muslim nation," said Cheikh Tidiane Ndiaye, a fisheries agent among the stone-throwing demonstrators around the Grande Mosquee de Dakar. "This practice does not conform to the religion practised in our country," he said, dressed in traditional blue robes and a white skull cap, as police fired tear gas behind him.
Piles of rubbish were set ablaze in several blocks around the mosque and groups of youths shouting "We don’t want homosexuals" barricaded roads. The protest was called after police released a group of men held for questioning following the publication of the photos. Local authorities had granted permission for the protest but later changed their minds and ordered police to break it up.
"The police wanted to ban the march," said Landing Goudiaby, 36, unemployed. "Homosexuals are not welcome in our country. They’re not tolerated in Senegal." Around him, the protesters chanted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest). Newspapers have given front page treatment to what has been dubbed by media "the gay soap opera". Radio phone-ins have been swamped by calls, the majority strongly anti-homosexual.
Some demonstrators said they had been angered by official signs of tolerance towards homosexuals weeks before Senegal hosts a summit of Islamic heads of state. As in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, homosexuals live an underground life in Senegal where they are known as "gor-jiguene" (men-women). Most people in the former French colony consider homosexuality to be "unAfrican", a psychological disorder imported by Europeans.
Thirty-eight of 85 U.N. member states which outlaw homosexuality are in Africa. South Africa became the first African nation to allow gay marriages in 2006. "Yes, it is a world phenomenon, but the sacred texts are against it," said evangelical pastor Michel Andrade, watching the Dakar demonstration, a wooden crucifix hanging from his neck. "Men of God don’t tolerate it."
February 15th, 2008 – GlobalVoicesOnLine.org
Why the Senegalese government likes anti-gay protests
by Jennifer Brea
Update: According to African Global News and the Senegalese news website rewmi.com, police ultimately broke up the anti-homosexual demonstration which took place on Friday in Dakar, arresting dozens of people, including an imam. Police made several arrests in the capital’s grand mosque. Earlier this month, five were arrested in connection with an investigation into an alleged gay marriage, according to Le Monde, and several Islamic organization denounced what they called an increase in homosexuality in Senegal. The march was in protest of the decision to release the five detainees release without trial.
Homosexuality is a crime in Senegal, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
* * *
Senegalese blogger Naomed, who writes Blog politique au Senegal, explains that there are two kinds of protests in Senegal, “those that don’t disturb the public order and are legitimately authorized, the minority, and the majority, which [are thought to] threaten the social equilibrium” [Fr]. In other words, there are protests the government likes and protests it will not tolerate. But where do officials draw the line? Naomed offers by way of example a protest held today in Dakar against homosexuals, with the government’s blessing.
21 February 2008 – VoaNews.com
Gay Wedding Stirs Controversy in Senegal
by Naomi Schwarz, Dakar
After photos of a reported marriage ceremony between two men were published in a local magazine in Senegal, politicians, journalists and religious leaders are weighing in on their views about homosexuality. Many say laws against homosexuality have not been sufficiently enforced, but others say the issue is being exploited. For VOA, Naomi Schwarz has more from Dakar. In the weeks since a monthly magazine published photos of what it said was a marriage ceremony between two men in Senegal, the issue of homosexuality has been all over the news in the largely Islamic country.
On a nighttime television talk show, a representative from the government responded to accusations it is not taking the issue seriously enough. On call-in shows, many Senegalese are expressing shock over the reported gay marriage and the presence of homosexuals in the country. Some link homosexuals to the spread of AIDS and accuse the gay community of pedophilia. Human rights and homosexuality activists say both claims are unfounded. The editor of the magazine that reported the gay marriage received death threats from some of the men in the published photographs. Several of the men in the photos were arrested in connection with the incident but were released without charge, sparking outrage among some politicians.
On the street, the same attitude against homosexuals prevails. Sitting among women selling dried flowers and couscous on a Dakar street, Khady Diouf, a laundry woman and mother of five, makes a slashing motion across her throat when asked how she would react if one of her children told her he or she is gay. The Muslim woman says she believes God does not approve of being gay. Religious leaders in Senegal are spreading the message that homosexuality, which is illegal in the country, is against Islamic tradition.
The leader of Dakar’s biggest downtown mosque organized a mass protest against homosexuality. He said the release of men arrested in connection with the reported gay wedding shows the government is not enforcing laws against homosexuality. Offenders can receive up to five years in jail, but arrests are rare. At another Dakar mosque, worshippers signed a petition calling on the government to enforce, on television and in the news, what it says are Senegal’s traditional morals.
Adama Mboup, a businessman and one of the petition’s organizers, says homosexuality reflects the decline of traditional social and religious values. But Senegalese human rights activist Alioune Tine says the issue is being exploited by media outlets aiming for larger profits. "When newspapers make this kind of sensational news, the newspaper is bought by people," said Tine.
He says the issue with the pictures of the gay wedding sold the most copies in the magazine’s history. But he says the wedding was not news. "The events happened in 2006. It was private and the wedding [was] very symbolic. You have no mayor, no preacher, no imam," he said.
He says the government should protect the privacy rights of homosexuals, as it would any other minority. But he says with upcoming local elections, some opposition politicians with ties to religious fundamentalist groups are using the issue to rile up supporters. These opposition politicians have accused the government of not upholding what they say are the country’s religious values, and some have accused unnamed prominent members of the ruling party of being homosexual.
25th February 2008 – PinkNews
Gay conspiracy theory surfaces in Senegalese media
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
The release from prison of several men arrested on suspicion of homosexuality following the publication of photographs of a same-sex "marriage ceremony" led to riots, acres of print and media coverage and now a conspiracy theory. The fact the men were released has led local media to speculate that they were threatening to reveal "high-ranking state officials" are gay. Afrol News reports that "dozens of Senegalese homosexuals" have left the country to escape death threats. Homosexual acts are punishable by imprisonment of between one and five years and a fine of 100,000 to 1,500,000 CFA francs.
While there are occasional arrests and convictions of gay men in Senegal, social stigma and blackmail are the most prevalent abuses faced by gay men in the country. Earlier this month the African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights has expressed concern over the rise of homophobia and hatred of homosexuals in Senegal. Muslim organisations in the African nation have warned against "enemies of the faith and of morality." The arrests followed the publication in local magazine Icones photographs of a "marriage ceremony" between two Senegalese men. After all the men were released gangs of protestors clashed with riot police in front of Dakar’s main mosque.
The anti-homosexual demonstration had initially been authorised by police, but they changed their mind and used tear gas to disperse the crowd, who blockaded roads and burned piles of rubbish. Public reaction in the mainly Muslim former French colony has been stridently anti-homosexual. "The police wanted to ban the march," demonstrator Landing Goudiaby told Reuters. "Homosexuals are not welcome in our country. They’re not tolerated in Senegal."
25 February 2008 – afrol.com
Senegalese homosexuals flee
afrol News – Dozens of Senegalese homosexuals are reported to have fled to the neighbouring countries [The Gambia and Mali] to escape the looming threats on their lives. The Gambia may not be a safe hideout for homosexuals, considering President Yahya Jammeh’s personal hatred of homosexuality. He had earlier threatened to crush any act of homosexuality in the country. Since the publication of a gay wedding in the outskirts of the capital Dakar in early February, stories on homosexuality have been dominating news in Senegal. The story – backed by photographs – was first published by a local magazine, Icone.
Icone’s editor has since received several threats for exposing homosexuals to "social stigma and blackmail." The publication has flared tempers in the predominantly Muslim nation, resulting to arrest and detention of homosexuals and all those who graced the wedding, including musicians. The detainees were unconditionally released without explanation from the police. Local media reports alleged that homosexuals were set free as soon as they threatened to name some high-ranking state officials involved in the outlawed practice in Senegal.
Senegalese authorities have been under local religious pressures to avoid tolerating homosexuality in the country, especially as the country prepares to host a major international Islamic summit on 12 March. Led by an influential Muslim cleric and lawmaker, Imam Mbaye Niang, hundreds of people took to the streets of Dakar to protest against the government’s failure to prosecute the gay suspects. Chanting Allahu Akbar [God is great], the protesters later turned violent, burning rubbish and blockading roads close to the central mosque in Dakar.
June 04, 2008 – Allafrica.com
Discrimination, Stigma Against Senegal MSM Hindering HIV/AIDS Programs
The Globe and Mail on Tuesday examined how "state-sponsored" discrimination and stigma against men who have sex in men in Senegal has "shattered" HIV/AIDS programs aimed at the high-risk group. According to studies conducted by researchers at a university in the capital of Dakar in conjunction with local MSM , about 20% of Senegalese MSM are HIV-positive, compared with 0.7% of the general population. In addition, about 80% of MSM in the country have female partners. Senegal’s National Council for the Fight Against AIDS in 2002 "quietly" began to fund HIV prevention outreach for MSM, and it formally included the group in the national strategy against HIV/AIDS a few years ago, the Globe and Mail reports.
However, in March — when the country hosted the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference — Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade launched a campaign against attendees of a gay wedding, which included the founder of the first MSM organization established in the country who goes by the pseudonym Ceri, the Globe and Mail reports.
According to Ceri, "Some people fled the country, and some went into hiding" during the government’s campaign. He added, "For reasons of cultural or religious or community sensibilities, [people in Senegal] may not want to talk about [MSM], but it’s here" and the country cannot effectively fight the disease without acknowledging the community. Chiekh Niang of the Cheikh Anta Diop University said that the "government wanted to present an ultra-Muslim image of Senegal" to leaders attending the conference and that "they found a group to crush."
Niang said, "Everyone — governments, even AIDS researchers — would say, ‘MSM in Africa, it doesn’t exist, and where it does exist, it’s a Western import, it is not indigenous and not a real source of HIV transmission.’" He added, "It’s homophobia: The strongest way of marginalizing a group is to say it does not exist, and even the researchers are not immune." Ndella Diakhate, a senior executive of the country’s national AIDS council, said MSM are "our people and they have the right to … be protected from HIV." She added, "They have to be protected, for themselves and because they can be a route of transmission to the rest of [the] population."
She noted that the events of the past few months are regrettable but that they likely will pass and that work will resume "without enormous consequences." Ceri said, "I don’t see [the situation] improving because after all the work we have done, there is more homophobia than ever." He added that Senegalese society "will perhaps accept [MSM] to fight HIV, but never accept [MSM] to fight for [MSM’s] human rights, or even recognize" MSM. (Nolen, Globe and Mail, 6/3).
August 29, 2008 – PinkNews
Belgian married gay couple jailed in Senegal for "acts against nature"
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A 61-year-old Belgian and his 63-year-old Senegalese husband have been sentenced to two years in jail for "homosexual marriage and acts against nature." The couple, Richard Lambot and Moustapha Gueye, were married in Belgium in July and then returned to Africa. "To help Moustapha Gueye get papers to live in Belgium, Richard Lambot married him," Lawyer Seyni Ndione told the Herald Sun.
While gay marriage is legal in Belgium, homosexual acts are punishable by imprisonment of between one and five years in Senegal. While there are occasional arrests and convictions of gay men, social stigma and blackmail are the most prevalent abuses faced. Earlier this year the African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights expressed concern over the rise of homophobia and hatred of homosexuals in Senegal. Muslim organisations in the African nation have warned against "enemies of the faith and of morality."
In February the release from prison of several men arrested on suspicion of homosexuality following the publication of photographs of a same-sex "marriage ceremony" led to riots, acres of print and media coverage and a conspiracy theory. The fact the men were released led local media to speculate that they were threatening to reveal "high-ranking state officials" are gay. Afrol News reported that "dozens of Senegalese homosexuals" have left the country to escape death threats.
October 6, 2008 – The New York Times
Persecuted in Africa, Finding Refuge in New York
by KirkK Semple and Lydia Polgreen
Pape Mbaye gets a lot of attention. Even in jaded New York, people watch the way he walks (his style defines the word sashay) and scrutinize his outfits, which on a recent afternoon featured white, low-slung capris, a black purse, eyeliner and diamond-studded jewelry. And he likes it. “I’m fabulous,” he said. “I feel good.” Mr. Mbaye, 24, is an entertainer from Dakar, Senegal, known there for his dancing, singing and storytelling. But while his flamboyance may be celebrated in New York, he attracted the wrong kind of attention in West Africa this year, and it nearly cost him his life.
In February, a Senegalese magazine published photographs of what was reported to be an underground gay marriage and said that Mr. Mbaye, who appeared in the photos and is gay himself, had organized the event. In the ensuing six months, Mr. Mbaye said, he was harassed by the police, attacked by armed mobs, driven from his home, maligned in the national media and forced to live on the run across West Africa. In July, the United States government gave him refugee status, one of the rare instances when such protection has been granted to a foreigner facing persecution based on sexual orientation. A month later, Mr. Mbaye arrived in New York, eventually moving into a small furnished room in the Bronx that rents for $150 per week. It has a bed, air-conditioner, television, cat and pink walls.
“There’s security, there’s independence, there’s peace,” he said of his new country. But even as he has begun looking for work, with the help of a few Senegalese immigrants he knows from Dakar, Mr. Mbaye is largely avoiding the mainstream Senegalese community, fearing that the same prejudices that drove him out of Africa may dog him here. One recent evening, while visiting close family friends from Dakar who live in Harlem, he recalled a shopping trip to 116th Street, where many Senegalese work and live. There, he said, he was harassed by a Senegalese man who ridiculed Mr. Mbaye’s outfit and threatened him.
“He said, ‘If you were in Senegal, I would kill you,’ ” Mr. Mbaye said, gesturing with his arms, his voice rising. “I have my freedom now, and that man wanted to take it.” The United States does not track how often it grants refuge to people fleeing anti-gay persecution. But Christopher Nugent, an immigration lawyer with Holland & Knight, a Washington law firm where he is a senior pro bono counsel specializing in refugee and asylum cases, said that in the past decade he has heard of only a handful.
The government also does not track the number of persecuted gay men and lesbians who are granted asylum, but experts in the field say the number is higher than those granted refugee status. (Asylum is granted to people already in the United States, while people outside the country must seek refugee status.) Mr. Mbaye’s case was exceptional because his fame made his situation particularly perilous, said Mr. Nugent, who represented Mr. Mbaye in his petition. “He was vilified in the Senegalese media as being the face of the sinful homosexual, and he had scars to show,” he said.
For the past few years, anti-gay hysteria has been sweeping across swaths of Africa, fueled by sensationalist media reports of open homosexuality among public figures and sustained by deep and abiding taboos that have made even the most hateful speech about gays not just acceptable but almost required. Gay men and women have recently been arrested in Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana, among other countries. “In most countries there is poverty and instability, and usually homosexuality is used as a way of shifting the attention from the actual problem to this thing that is not really the problem but can distract the public,” said Joel Nana, who is from Cameroon and who works for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
Pape Mbaye (pronounced POP mm-BYE) had been living the Senegalese version of the high life for some time. He worked principally as a griot — a singer and storyteller invited to weddings, birthday parties and other events to perform traditional songs, dance and tell stories. By West African standards, it earned him a good living. He had performed at parties for wealthy and famous Senegalese, had two cars and a driver, an overflowing wardrobe and an apartment in a fashionable neighborhood decked out with rococo gold-leaf-encrusted furniture. Mr. Mbaye, who said he had known he was gay from a young age, seldom tried to hide his sexuality, often wearing makeup and jewelry in public.
Though Senegal passed an antisodomy law in 1965 that forbids “an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex,” homosexuality has traditionally been quietly tolerated in Senegal, particularly among the creative class of musicians and artists that is so central to Senegalese culture. But the publication of the gay wedding photos on Feb. 1 dovetailed with a recent surge in anti-gay sentiment, a trend partly fueled by some conservative Islamic leaders, sending Mr. Mbaye on his harrowing odyssey.
On the morning after the article’s publication, Mr. Mbaye and several gay friends were arrested by the police, who held them for four days. During his detention, Mr. Mbaye said, he was questioned about his participation in the marriage ceremony, which he asserted was a party, not a wedding. Under diplomatic pressure from the Netherlands and Denmark, the Senegalese authorities released Mr. Mbaye and his friends. The singer said the police told him and his friends that they should go into hiding. “The police cannot guarantee your security because the entire society will be out to get you,” a police official said, according to testimony that Mr. Mbaye would later give to Human Rights Watch.
While he was in detention, his apartment was looted and anti-gay graffiti was scrawled on the wall of the building, he said. He and several gay friends fled to Ziguinchor in south Senegal, but in mid-February, a mob wielding broken bottles, forks and other weapons stormed the house and beat them, Mr. Mbaye said. Mr. Mbaye spent the next several weeks moving from one safe house to another before fleeing to Gambia on May 11. Several days later, President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia vowed to behead all homosexuals in his country. Mr. Mbaye immediately returned to Dakar.
But he was discovered and chased by a crowd, as local news media reported his return. He sought sanctuary at the offices of Raddho, a human rights organization based in Dakar, which put him in the care of Human Rights Watch. “I am like a hunted animal,” Mr. Mbaye said during an interview while he hid out in a Dakar hotel. Human Rights Watch helped Mr. Mbaye assemble his refugee application and get to Ghana, where he sought help from the American Embassy in Accra, the country’s capital.
While in Ghana, Mr. Mbaye said, he was attacked again, this time by knife-wielding Senegalese expatriates who had discovered he was there. The assault, which left him with wounds, probably accelerated the review process for his application, Mr. Nugent said. (Confidentiality regulations forbid United States immigration officials from discussing the case.) Mr. Mbaye received his refugee status on July 31, and he arrived at Kennedy Airport on Aug. 18 carrying several suitcases and a Chanel handbag. A few weeks later, he received his Social Security card and work authorization permit. He hopes to resume his career, though he acknowledges that until he improves his English, he will have to perform in French and Wolof, an African language. He also dreams of getting a modeling contract.
In the meantime, he said, he will do just about anything. “I would like a job in a restaurant or a hotel or a club or in perfume or in makeup,” he said. “But no bricklaying.” Mr. Nugent has been posting notices on Internet mailing lists serving the gay community in search of sponsors to help Mr. Mbaye find work, including in gay nightclubs. Mr. Mbaye seems undaunted. At his friends’ home in Harlem, he celebrated his newfound freedom. “I want to live with the gays!” he said as his hosts laughed. “Pape Mbaye is American!
November 13, 2008 – From: "Paula Ettelbrick" IGLHRC
It all started with a wedding – a private expression of love between two men. It ended with arrests, death threats, violence and expulsion. Because in Senegal, the laws and social attitudes leave no place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to live in safety. Last year, two young men celebrated their love with a wedding ceremony in Dakar, Senegal, complete with photographs, guests, and vows. Months later, many who attended the wedding faced a nightmare when they found that the photographer had sold the wedding photos to a national tabloid. Many of the photos were published, complete with screaming headlines decrying homosexuality. The photos and the hatred were republished for months throughout Senegal, creating a firestorm of hatred and hostility mostly among religious conservatives.
Within days, 17 people whose photos appeared in the magazine were hounded, driven from their homes, harassed, threatened and arrested. One man, Soulyman, jumped from a third floor window to avoid arrest, only to be captured and brutally interrogated despite a broken leg and other serious wounds. Pape Mbaye, whose story is recounted in the attached article from The New York Times, sought safety in neighboring Gambia. That is, until Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, vowed to kill any homosexual found in his country and commanded landlords and hotels owners to turn away LGBT people. With the help of the international community, Pape was eventually able to make his way to New York.
Qusmane, a 24-year old man, was easily identified in the photos. The police came to his home. Not finding him, they arrested his French-national boyfriend and deported him. Qusmane was shunned by friends and neighbors, his mother was fired from her job, and his family members were attacked by mobs. Qusmane went into hiding, hoping the situation would clear. Eventually, though, he too had to leave his country. While those arrested were released, the wide public exposure and ensuing hateful response stoked by religious conservatives continues to plague them. They will never regain the lives they had. The scars and fear have impacted the entire LGBT community in Senegal.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is dedicated to changing that. IGLHRC was there for our colleagues in Senegal as we are there for thousands of LGBT people around the world facing the viciousness of homophobia. We need your help to turn tragedy into action. Please, take a moment to read this story. Then, make a donation to IGLHRC today.
December 5, 2008 – PinkNews
LGBT Africans demand action on AIDS pandemic ahead of international conference
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from more than 25 African countries have demanded an urgent response to the HIV pandemic affecting their communities. They met at a special conference in Dhaka ahead of the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA). According to the ICASA organisers, for more than two decades, the African continent has participated in the fight against AIDS and provided potential solutions to the numerous challenges posed by this epidemic.
The conference "brings together international and African experts to evaluate the current state of the HIV and STI epidemics with regard to science, communities, and leadership." Senegal, where the conference is being held, the prevalence of HIV infection among men who have sex with men is 21% versus less than 1% for the total population.
"The deliberate refusal to address the needs of men who have sex with men in Africa or anywhere in the world will never help us end the spread of AIDS," said Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), the organisers of the pre-conference. "The refusal to treat the health needs of this population blatantly defies the human rights obligations incumbent on states."
Men who have sex with men in Africa are nine times more likely to be HIV positive than their heterosexual counterparts. IGLHRC reports that only seven African countries have included MSM in their national plans for AIDS prevention, and among these countries only South Africa has made the commitment to include women who have sex with women as part of its response to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
"The gendered nature of the limited interventions seeking to address LGBTI people’s needs on the African continent aggravates the situation even further," said Fikile Vilakazi, Director of the Coalition of African Lesbians. More than two-thirds of African nations have laws punishing same-sex conduct. Among the LGBT groups backing the call for action are the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), Alternatives-Cameroun, Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG) and the African HIV Policy Network.
The Burundi National Assembly voted to amend the country’s penal code last month so that, for the first time, sexual acts between persons of the same sex would be prohibited. The proposed new law, the first to ban gay sex in Burundi, will now be considered in the country’s Senate. Gays and lesbians face three months to two years in jail and a fine.
The criminalisation of homosexuality makes HIV prevention work more difficult according to Jeffrey O,Malley, the director of the United Nations Development Programme on HIV/AIDS. "Until we acknowledge these behaviours and work with people involved with these behaviours, we are not going to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic," he said. "Countries which protect men who have sex with men have double the rate of coverage of HIV prevention services, as much as 60%.
December 7, 2008 – google.com
Financial crisis, gays at centre of African AIDS conference
Dakar (AFP) — An international conference on AIDS in Africa that ended Sunday was dominated by worries about funding amid a global financial crisis and marked the first time gays took centre stage. "There were a lot of discussions of the fear (of reduced funding) but we also talked particularly about the possibility of innovative financing," Souleymane Mboup, the Senegalese researcher who presided over the ICASA 2008 conference, said after the closing ceremony. He did not go into details about the new types of funding other than to say there were some local African funds now used for other things that could be directed for health care in general.
Africa is the continent worst hit by the AIDS pandemic. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 22 million people living with HIV, the virus that can lead to full-blown AIDS. However, most of the funding for HIV/AIDS comes from outside of Africa. Mboup called for more research to prepare for a possible reduction in foreign aid. "These types of studies will help us to define priorities that will help us set up scenarios, that wil help us make proposals if we have to make reductions where we could," he said.
Another big issue at this year’s conference was the fact that sexual minorities stepped into the spotlight. "This was the first time that we saw a MSM (man who has sex with men) speak at the closing ceremony," Mboup said.
Steave Nemande, a gay doctor from Cameroon praised the conference for the way it allowed gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people speak. "That is proof that the conference really did face the facts" as the title of the conference promised, Nemande said. He stressed that studies showed that men who have sex with men (MSM) are "five to 20 times" more affected by HIV/AIDS that the general population. So far only seven African countries specifically name MSM in their national programs to fight AIDS. "Gays in Africa are a reality," he said.