News / Africa

Movement Begins for Homosexual Rights in Africa

Opposition to homosexuality remains strong in most of Africa. Many people have been beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation.  But an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) group in Sierra Leone is pushing for more awareness and protection of LGBT rights.

Life for George Freeman has not been easy.

He says he always had feelings for men but it took him years to admit he was gay, even to himself,  because homosexuality in the West African nation of Sierra Leone is illegal.

During Freeman's teenage years people made fun of him because he never had a girlfriend and they suspected he was gay.

"It was really horrible for me, I suffered a lot of violence in school, bullying from other heterosexual kids," Freeman said.

When he got the nerve to tell his family he was gay he said they could not accept his lifestyle and he spent several years on the street as a teenager.

He did not officially come out in public until 2007 on a local radio station and says when he did it was a relief .

"When I was on the radio and came out a gay person, it encouraged other people to come out and go for HIV/counseling and testing services," Freeman said.

After he revealed his sexual orientation he also started a West African chapter of the organization Why Can't We Get  Freeman says the organization originally started in Australia but is currently not operating there.

His chapter also advocates for LGBT rights in other African countries.  Early next year, Uganda is expected to vote on an anti-homosexuality bill.  This would impose stricter punishment for those caught in homosexual activities.  Freeman says his organization has signed an online petition to support the Ugandan LGBT community's struggle to fight the measure.

Freeman says Why Can't We Get is making headway in Sierra Leone and slowly changing attitudes.

George Freeman (glasses) and co-worker Bernard Wilson at their Freetown office. (VOA - N. deVries)George Freeman (glasses) and co-worker Bernard Wilson at their Freetown office. (VOA - N. deVries)
George Freeman (glasses) and co-worker Bernard Wilson at their Freetown office. (VOA - N. deVries)
George Freeman (glasses) and co-worker Bernard Wilson at their Freetown office. (VOA - N. deVries)
His co-worker and friend Bernard Wilson says he was homophobic.  It was a long time before Wilson knew Freeman was gay.  He says it was hard to accept at first but he eventually decided to learn more about it by working for Freeman's organization.

"It's not something of the devil, it's something, he (Freeman) actually opened my eyes that some people are born with it," Wilson said.

The two friends are now working on an awareness campaign.

They have created workshops focusing on education about LGBT issues and they are training people across the country.

Freeman says his staff is also monitoring and documenting alleged human rights violations of LGBT people in Sierra Leone.

The main goal is to come out with a human rights report based on LGBT issues that will be presented to the government, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, the African Commission of Human and Peoples Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council sometime next year.

Freeman says people are still afraid to speak out for fear of being arrested, but testimonies are slowly starting to come out.

"There's a lot of torture, in terms of psychological  torture, through their testimonies we hear high rates of discrimination from the health care system, from education system and society as a whole," Freeman said.

If people do start officially reporting LGBT violations, Sierra Leone is obligated under international law to protect its victims.

Henry Mustapha Sheku is the senior human rights officer for public information with the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone.

He says they have not received any official complaints from LGBT people yet but would work to defend them if they did.

"If you are someone of a different sexual orientation you have a right to life, to health, to freedom of expression, speech and the like, therefore no one has the right to take your life because of your sexual social orientation, you will be protected," Sheku said.

Back at George Freeman's office, he says he will continue his campaign work and hopes to see his country, one day, follow in the footsteps of South Africa.  It is the only country in Africa that has legalized same sex marriages.

He says he has no regrets on coming out and hopes he can continue to inspire others.

You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Countries Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: illumine1911
December 26, 2012 11:26 AM
1. Homosexuality is an aberration of natural sexuality. There is no use denying that biological fact, however hard we may try to pretend and cloak it with political respectability. Homosexual groups have promoted false information claiming that homosexual behaviour is noted in other mammalian species. These reports were found to have data falsely contrived by people from within such lobby groups. Human beings are the only mammals that exhibit homosexual behaviour. It is a consequence of the interference of childhood and adolescent psychosocial development done by homosexual adults preying on vulnerable children. It is patently untrue to claim that there is a genetic basis to homosexual behaviour, and/ or that it is part of normal human development.

2.Psychological treatment to overcome homosexual inclinations is effective, but unfortunately in this politically correct society that we have to live in today, medical journals and mental health journals are afraid of giving publicity to this fact for fear of attack from homosexual groups who would threaten litigation under the clause of discrimination.
In Response

by: Anth from: Sydney
December 30, 2012 7:49 AM
Assertions aren't facts. And your assertions are demonstrably false. Provide valid scientific references or, better still, stop posting rubbish like this that contributes to the hatred of and deaths of our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who just happen to be different from you (or so you imply). When my parents were kids, left handers were punished for who they were. We've moved on on that madness; we'll move on from this insanity as well.

by: Johnny Saa Noh from: Sydney, Australia
December 25, 2012 7:42 PM
Gay activity in Africa should not at any time be encouraged in any African country because it is ungodly and it violates that familial bond of marriage that hold people together. Those who practise should be hunted down, especially in my country Sierra Leone, a country known for its adherence to God's sacrament of marriage and family.
In Response

by: Anth from: Sydney
December 30, 2012 7:49 AM
"Ungodly"? Why do you insist on imposing your personal beliefs onto unrelated citizens? Isn't that a bit arrogant? And your sex and relationship needs are ok, but not those of others? "Isn't that a bit selfish? "Gay activity... violates the familial bond of marriage". I'm guessing you're not a supporter of same-sex marriage, so I can't see the logic in your argument, just cultural assumptions. "Hunted down"?... Then what? No need to answer that; I follow African news. So what about "God's sacred" commandment "Don't kill"? When will Africans realise hatred of sexual diversity is just an internalisation of colonial values; a vestige of long-ago Europe +neo-colonialist US evangelicals? If you're a genuine Christian, this will help: There are also support groups for those in other religions.
In Response

by: dpille from: usa
December 26, 2012 5:54 AM
Africans have the same rights as the rest of the world. The real sin is for a Gay man to marry a woman, depriving both of them the opportunity to find true love. Man has no right to say that when God makes a person Gay, he made that person wrong. The ONLY laws that truly came from God are the ten commandments, and those do NOT say anything against homosexuality. Allowing Homosexuals to be who they are does nothing to traditional marriage, unless maybe some men are worried that Gay couples will make their marriage look bad, since some men are uncaring clods.
In Response

by: Anonymous
December 26, 2012 2:56 AM
LGBT whatever your organisation calls itself. Restrict your campaigns to sierra leone. I am shocked that your country would allow you to go on national radio to discuss gay homosexuality. Wonder what this world is turning into. All religions "christianity, islam, etc frawn against homosexuality. Sierra Leone must crush this morally bankrupt revolution sweeping across the country as partly funded by the west. Africa must resist this campaign with all the force that it desires.

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs