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

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid