News / Africa

Activists Criticize Senegal for Anti-Gay Persecution

Nico Colombant

While gay rights are slowly expanding around the world, including in Africa, human rights activists note some political, media and religious leaders are leading sometimes violent campaigns in the opposite direction. Activists say they feel the tradition of tolerance no longer applies to homosexuals in that West African nation.

Protesters in Senegal screamed at each other during this noisy anti-gay rally, one of many broken up by security forces over the past two years.

One protester said it was not normal in a mostly Muslim country to have homosexuals, and that it was his right to protest their existence.

Ryan Thoreson has been researching anti-gay persecution in Senegal as part of his work with the U.S.-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

He says Senegal's traditional image as a country of tolerance has been severely tarnished by a recent wave of arrests, negative media coverage, and announcements by political and religious leaders targeting Senegal's gay community.

"Every time, there is a wave of arrests, they are covered in a really sensationalistic way and politicians have picked up on that and capitalized on that as well by running and organizing marches and inciting people to violence as a way of stirring up support for opposition parties and the opposition to the government," said Thoreson.  "And then, as soon as the government saw how popular that could be, you saw people like the prime minister making the same sorts of accusations and condemnations."

Prime Minister Souleymane Ndiaye Ndéné last year called homosexuality "a sign of a crisis of values." He said it was due to the world's economic problems, and that government ministries as well as society as a whole should fight against homosexuality. His statements were then praised in Senegalese media. Articles said the prime minister was standing up against alleged pro-gay western lobbying.
Senegal's penal code says what it calls "an impure or unnatural act with another person of the same sex" is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison. Last year, activists fighting HIV/AIDS were sentenced to eight years in jail on charges of homosexual acts and criminal conspiracy.

When their conviction was overturned several months later on procedural matters, an influential religious leader, Imam Massamba Diop, said they should have been killed. Other Imams said unless there was proof they had committed homosexual acts, they should be set free, and that God would judge them.

Thoreson, the American researcher, uses the acronym LGBT to refer to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.  He says once people are identified as being one of these in Senegal, their life and even death become difficult.

"Many LGBT are sort of in and out of exile. They have to move frequently from place to place because their housing is not secure and if their neighbors, or families or communities find them to be LGBT, or if allegations are made that someone is LGBT, they are often ejected from that community, or they face pretty severe violence from even their own family members," he added.  "There have also been reports that the corpses of people who are presumed to be LGBT have been dug up in multiple cities from Muslim cemeteries, and have been dumped back into their family's own compound, or dumped by the side of the road."

Last year, the body of a man believed to have been gay was dug up twice in the western town of Thies.  

A Senegalese lesbian living in the United States, Selly Thiam, recently started an audio history project and Web site called "None on the Record."

Interviews, which Thoreson has been using to complement his research, have been conducted across Africa.

Most, like this gay man describing his experiences in Senegal, requested they remain anonymous to avoid retaliation.

He says if someone is known to be gay in Senegal it is a justification for others to insult and attack him, and rob him on the streets or in his home. He says people do not believe it is possible to be Muslim and gay.

He adds that in the 1990s, gays were viewed as artists who were called on to help organize parties and public ceremonies. Now, he says, they are viewed as persona non-grata.

One woman who is lesbian says she is a human like others.  She says she has her religious faith and she has her heart.

She adds that being in love is when your heart chooses someone regardless of gender and says she believes it is a noble life to follow one's heart.

One gay Senegalese man who has exiled himself to Belgium for security reasons says there needs to be a public debate involving media, politicians and religious leaders to discuss equal rights and protection against discrimination.

Pro-gay activists in Senegal say they feel they are victims of politicians and religious leaders trying to gain power by using hate and fear tactics against them to divert attention amid poverty, unemployment and youth frustration.

They say they also fear the publicizing of help they are receiving from outside the country, saying it could hurt their cause more than help it.

You May Like

Map Shows Every US School Shooting Since 2013

There have been at least 150 school shootings in the United States since 2013, an average of nearly one per week More

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs