When Being Openly Gay Leads to Being Utterly Dead in Cameroon

Gay-rights activist Eric Lembembe has been found tortured and killed in the capital city of this African nation, and his victimization is far from an isolated attack.

Living openly gay in Cameroon can mean being confined to alleys and shadows. (Photo: Courtesy ‘Born This Way’)

Jul 17, 2013
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that friends of Eric Lembembe, the executive director of the Cameroonian Foundation for Aids, discovered the activist’s body at his home in Cameroon’s capital city Yaounde on Monday. Lembembe’s neck appeared to have been broken, and an iron seemed to have been used to burn his face, hands and feet.

Being a self-accepting, fully integrated LGBT human being is hazardous to personal freedoms and physical wellbeing in many African nations, perhaps few more so than Cameroon.

According to a new film documenting Cameroon’s LGBT underground, Born This Way, “more people are imprisoned each year for homosexuality in Cameroon than any other country in the world.”

Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill (which includes death penalty provisions for “aggravated homosexuality”) and Malawi’s 14-year prison terms for same-sex sex, a sentencing structure currently being proposed in Nigeria, make it impossible to declare Cameroon the clear winner in Africa’s race to the homophobic bottom.

Still, the scope and frequency of abuse based on sexual identity in Cameroon make clear why homosexuals have better chances of survival living in a quasi-underground.

From the Human Rights Watch files:

On June 26, 2013, unidentified assailants burned down the Douala headquarters of Alternatives-Cameroun, which provides HIV services to LGBTI people. A few days earlier on June 16, the Yaoundé office of human rights lawyer Michel Togué, who represents clients charged with same-sex conduct, was burgled, and his legal files and laptop stolen. Both Togué and Alice Nkom, another lawyer who represents LGBTI clients, have received repeated death threats by email and SMS, including threats to kill their children.

Human Rights Watch faults the Cameroonian police and authorities for failing to apprehend a single suspect in these crimes.

“The Cameroonian authorities’ utter failure to stem homophobic violence sends the message that these attacks can be carried out with impunity,” said HRW’s senior LGBT rights researcher, Neela Ghoshal. “The police should not rest until the perpetrators of this horrific crime are brought to justice. President Biya should break his silence on the wave of homophobic violence in Cameroon and publicly condemn this brutal attack.”

The sexual-identity attacks in Cameroon, and the unsatisfactory police response to them, are reminiscent of relations between police and the LGBT community in places as far afield as New York City, but the stakes in African countries are higher than in America.

Persecution of LGBT individuals is not only institutionalized places like Cameroon, Uganda and Malawi; the law of the land dictates it.

The LGBT populations of these homophobic states have little hope of an internal wave of popular opposition sweeping through and confronting discrimination and abuse of LGBT people.

If a meaningful opposition is to come, the force of international opinion must be engaged in imposing it. Which means you have the power to help make homosexuality a noncriminal way of life for people who simply want to be in love and be happy about it.

Even though the United States has far to go in establishing LGBT equality, can we help move other countries toward policies of acceptance and inclusion? Explain how that does or does not work in COMMENTS.

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