News / Africa

Activists Criticize Senegal for Anti-Gay Persecution

TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid