DOUALA, CAMEROON - In a country where homosexuality is criminalized, Alice Nkom was the first lawyer in Cameroon to defend suspected gay people. For this, she says she has faced attacks and death threats. Despite this, Nkom, who is also the first female lawyer in the country, says she is determined to continue to defend minorities.
Yannick, a house painter, says he has been arrested three times on suspicion of homosexuality. The young man says during his first arrest, he had trouble finding a lawyer who would agree to defend him.
Yannick says after being arrested, he did everything to be in contact with a lawyer. Unfortunately this lawyer, a fervent believer as he said, refused. The lawyer argues that it’s an abomination for Yannick to be who he is and he cannot stand up for such a cause. Yannick adds he had to fall back on associations.
According to Human Rights Watch, Cameroon brings more cases against suspected homosexuals than any other African country. When arrested, gay people mostly rely on activists and LGBT-friendly lawyers like Alice Nkom.
She was the first female lawyer of Cameroon and the first to defend gay people. She says she did it because gay people are beaten in the street, arrested and sometimes even locked up only on the basis of suspicions. This commitment had consequences.
Alice Nkom says what it cost her to be a gay rights defender was the rejection, the assault. The lawyer adds she is not recognized as someone who defends human rights because for them, the rights of homosexuals are not human rights.
Nkom is campaigning to remove a section in the Cameroon Penal Code that criminalizes sexual contact between members of the same sex. So far, the law stands, but Nkom has succeeded in winning reduced prison time for about 30 defendants.
Her activism has also enabled ten or so pro-LGBT activist groups to emerge in Cameroon, like Alcondoms, a NGO that fight against HIV and do the promotion of human rights among key populations.
“The work that Me Alice Nkom, that we commonly affectionately call mom, has done so far, has permitted us today to at least come out openly and to at least know that we have a say, to say in the society and that we also have a right like a human being. And that has gone so far even in health because at first, we could not have, we from the LGBT community were not people took into consideration.”
Nkom has also taken a stand against the separatist war in western Cameroon. On International Women's Day, she and other women dressed in black and marched in memory of the women killed during the three-year war.