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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact 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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs