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Being Gay in Senegal

While the United States and other countries trying to overcome the issue of gay marriage, considered by many as the last obstacle faced by the gay rights movement, Senegal and the rest of West Africa continue to face the initial challenge of the decriminalization of homosexuality.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

6th September 2013 10:31

Alessia Valenza

Persecution – Jamil Bangoura knows he is gay since childhood. Having grown up in Pikine, a suburb of the sprawling capital of Senegal, Dakar, he kept his sexual orientation secret for fear of violence, imprisonment, and deportation of his family, which is at the heart of life Senegalese.

But one day in 2002, colleagues from the recording studio where he worked have heard rumors that Jamil could be "goorjigeen" an insult in Wolof means "homo" and then warned his superior. Jamil, who was 24 at the time, was fired on the spot. The news spread like wildfire in the community, and Jamil was quickly kicked out of the family home. Parents, siblings and neighbors, all have cut ties with him and Jamil became very quickly without any means of subsistence, or family, or safety. Threats of his friends and neighbors, he spent the next three years in hiding, renting a tiny room with his remaining savings. He never dared to leave his home and exig it relied on the few friends who remained to bring him food and water.

While the United States and other countries trying to overcome the issue of gay marriage, considered by many as the last obstacle faced by the gay rights movement, Senegal and the rest of West Africa continue to face the initial challenge of the decriminalization of homosexuality.

Article 319-3 of the Senegalese penal code criminalizes sexual acts "against nature" by five years’ imprisonment and a fine, just relatively light compared to the death penalty in Mauritania, its northern neighbor. Although its formulation focuses on the behavior character, the law was used by the Senegalese authorities to target members of the LGBT community. Since there is almost no place in Senegal allowing gays to meet, the law is based primarily on the appearance and suspicion. This was the case for the nine members of an association against HIV / AIDS, all men, who were arrested by the police in December 2008, only days after Senegal has hosted an international conference on the disease. In absence of any evidence of homosexual behavior, a court sentenced to eight years in prison because the police had found in possession of condoms and lubricant. The eyes of the Senegalese law, possession of materials used in HIV prevention is synonymous with homosexuality and therefore leads to its penalty. Although they were freed in April 2009 under international pressure, most have lost their jobs and were cut off from their families and communities.

Jamil described the year 2008 as "catastrophic" for gay rights in Senegal: in addition to the arrest of nine men in December, a celebrity magazine published photos of a party he called "a marriage homosexual. " Other media have published new photos, provoking condemnation of these acts by political and religious leaders, which led to the arrest of six men. One of them, Madièye Diallo fled to Mali after death threats from its neighbors. He was HIV positive and died the following year, because of his inability to return to Senegal to receive antiretroviral treatment. When his family was buried in the local cemetery, thugs in the area have unearthed his body twice and threw him to the house of his parents. Two other men suspected of homosexual exhumations were reported in the same year.

Experiences and Jamil Madièye unfortunately common in a country which is presented as a model of peace and democracy in a region characterized by instability. Senegalese born homosexual is born in a country whose government considers you a criminal and that religious leaders want you dead. Supposedly a secular republic, Senegal and its policies are strongly influenced by Islamic leaders as Serigne Bara Mbacke, the caliph of the Mouride brotherhood, which is the most powerful Muslim brotherhood in Senegal. In 2009, in an interview with The Daily Senegalese newspaper, Mbacké said homosexuals, "We need to get these criminals and kill them publicly, and I will be first!" While such statements by religious leaders are largely rejected in the United States, the approval of a brotherhood can make or break a politician’s candidacy. Macky Sall, who was recently elected president of Senegal in a landslide victory over the incumbent president, said during the campaign that "homosexuality is a social problem" that must be managed.

Despite the obstacles dizzying small LGBT community in Senegal remains imperturbable in its march towards recognition. After years of loneliness, Jamil was presented at an informal association of men who have sex with men (MSM), dealing with education on HIV. Jamil was quickly adopted by his new family and used its network to extend the scope of the association beyond the capital in more remote areas. After taking the reins, Jamil successfully sought government recognition as an organization Prudence HIV / AIDS.

Of course, the Government of Senegal does not recognize the heart of the matter of the MSM community, but chose to ignore recognizing that such targeting was necessary to prevent the spread of the disease. Prudence is now 479 members strong and growing fast.

"I’m optimistic," said Jamil. "But without the solidarity of the international community, nothing will change." However, Jamil has good reason to believe that life can be improved for some of the younger members of Prudence: In December 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the Global Equality Fund to "support civil society groups around the world who work to protect the human rights of LGBT people." Indeed, the continued advocacy of the United States and other partners Senegal for the rights and dignity of sexual minorities may be decisive for the contemporary issue of human rights.