News / Africa

Prominent Abidjan Gay Bar Shuts Its Doors

A landmark gay bar in the coastal town of Abidjan, Ivory Coast has closed down.
A landmark gay bar in the coastal town of Abidjan, Ivory Coast has closed down.
On a recent Saturday night, a group of young men mingled outside what looked like an ordinary warehouse in Abidjan’s southern industrial zone.

Inside, a DJ improvised a set list made up mostly of club tracks, including Rihanna and Chris Brown from America, and Chidinma and Iyanya from Nigeria. The crowd danced in front of an oversize mirror bordered with red Christmas lights, sipping beer and sparkling wine.

It was one of the last nights Ivory Coast’s most prominent gay bar was open for business. It closed its doors this past weekend after an eight-year run as the main attraction of the city's gay scene, one of the most permissive in conservative West Africa. The bar was both a symbol of Ivory Coast's live-and-let-live approach to LGBT rights, as well as an occasional flashpoint highlighting latent homophobia among the general population.

The bar opened in 2005, and for most of the past eight years, was the only place in the city where gay men, lesbians and transgender women all gathered together. It was an anomaly in West Africa, where homosexuality is widely banned. 

Such laws were often inherited from colonial powers, but they still have significant support in the region. For example, lawmakers in Nigeria and Liberia are currently reviewing legislation that would make their anti-gay laws even tougher.

Ivory Coast has no laws on homosexuality, and the bar was allowed to operate with few problems. But the owners of the building announced earlier this year that it was being repurposed, meaning all tenants had to leave. The bar was set to close at the end of March.

A regular named Charles said he did not know what the city’s gay community would do once it closed. “We’re a family, and everyone can do what they want when they’re here. But we don’t have very many places to enjoy ourselves. You cannot have fun everywhere. If you go to a straight bar and act like we do here, they’ll throw you out.”

The bar was not always a safe haven. Claver Toure, head of the LGBT advocacy NGO Alternative Côte d’Ivoire, recalled a period of several months in 2011 when the bar was targeted by the security forces for extortion, one of the more common threats facing Abidjan’s gay community.

This occurred after the country’s 2010-11 post-election conflict, when a new army began patrolling the streets.

“The soldiers would come into the bar with their guns and round up all the effeminate-looking men," Toure said. "They would put them on a truck and threaten to take them away unless the owner gave them money. The owner agreed to pay. What else could she do? And this went on for months until we raised the issue with the government and diplomats.”

Military officials declined to comment on the accusations, which were documented in a report presented last year before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The problem stopped more than a year ago, according to Toure.

There are a handful of other establishments that welcome gay people, as well as a bar that caters exclusively to lesbians, but Toure said the loss of the main bar would be felt among many members of the LGBT community, especially more marginalized groups like transgender women.

“It was effectively the only place where transgender women could go," he said. "It’s true that in Abidjan there are certain bars that are mixed, especially if people act discreetly. But to avoid all homophobia, and all acts of aggression both physical and verbal, we’d prefer to go to our own bar.”

The owners of the bar, who did not want to be named or have the bar identified for security reasons, said they are looking into opening a new space later this year, though no concrete plans have been made.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid