Monday, 10 October 2011

Does Ivory Coast's relative safety for LGBT prove something about sodomy laws?

Picture Wikimedia Commons
By Paul Canning

Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) may be coming out of a civil war, and armed attacks are continuing according to report last week by Human Rights Watch, but for LGBT, in West Africa, it is an "eldorado" according to Selay Marius Kouassi, writing from Abidjan for Radio Netherlands.

As a former French colony it does not have any sodomy law (unlike former British colonies), and it is this which appears to have made it a relative refuge in the region - as confirmed to the author by an activist in a neighbouring state.

Kouassi's report says that although they remain underground, sexual minorities are becoming increasingly visible in the commercial capital, Abidjan. There are two gay nightclubs.

He spoke to Touré Claver, the President of local LGBT group Alternative Côte d’Ivoire (ACI). Claver recounted an incident from a few years ago: “a doctor had denied medical care to a homosexual patient simply because of his sexual orientation.”

The group demonstrated at the healthcare centre and forced the doctor to attend to the gay patient. Says Claver:
“There is still discrimination against gay people, but generally we are moving toward relative tolerance."
Claver goes so far as to describe Ivory Coast as an “Eldorado” for LGBT compared to other countries in the region. A 'judicial gap' in Ivory Coast makes it a safe destination for regional and international gay and lesbian conferences”, F. A., a gay legal expert for ACI told Kouassi.
“Homosexuality is only criminalised in Article 360 of the Penal Code, not as an act but as indecent behaviour; and only when performed in public. Therefore, as long as homosexual acts are performed behind closed doors, there is no crime, so that’s all right as far as the authorities are concerned.”
In March last year, at the United Nations Human Right Council Universal Periodic Review, Ivory Coast agreed  “to take measures to ensure non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity”.

However they did not accept an additional recommendation to implement awareness-raising programmes on these grounds, saying it was not a “current priority”.

Claver says that ACI was established and legally registered last year and is headquartered in Cocody, Abidjan’s upmarket suburb. It has ten centres itself across Abidjan and works with almost a dozen healthcare centres as well as running a helpline.

One day, Claver wants to see a Pride Parade.
“We are in Africa after all and one must take into account the cultural context. We will not accomplish in a few years here what took gay communities centuries of struggle to accomplish in the West. For the time being, we are taking it slowly, one step at a time. It will come with time!”
ACI also runs HIV/Aids prevention campaigns.

Another organisation which has done this work since 2003, for a long time without much financial support, is Arc-en-Ciel. Its former Chairman is Carlos Idibouo and he is now living in Canada as a refugee because his public identification as a gay leader - he says he was the only one prepared to be out in the media for many years - caused him severe problems.

Speaking to None On Record his experience reflects that of other leaders in Africa, such as those in Uganda. He said:
"Sometimes when I would come home I would find some letters under my door: 'you should move from here', 'we don't need the gay people'. In three months I moved four times. Then I got a scholarship in 2006 for the [International] AIDS conference in Toronto. I didn't plan to stay in Canada but with struggling a lot doing activism in Africa, that gave me the strength to stay here in Toronto ."

"But I am always thinking of who is going to continue this work. I felt guilty about that. Homophobia is still high, they're still killing gay people, lesbian people. I'm here but I'm still thinking about Ivory Coast"
The US State Department's Human Rights Report on Ivory Coast notes:
"There was no official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. However, gay men were subjected to beatings, imprisonment, verbal abuse, humiliation, and extortion by police, gendarmes, and members of the armed forces."
In August this year a video circulated widely on the Internet which was apparently from Ivory Coast, shot on a mobile phone and showed a gay man being beaten. It was not clear if he was targeted for being gay or for some other reason. Similar viral videos, including one showing a man burned to death apparently in Nigeria, are of thieves.

Carlos Idibouo says:
"Homosexuals discrimination happens in every part of social life. But these are the police forces who are the first and hardest discriminators in assaulting homosexuals. They also exercise sexual abuses on [transsexuals]. For homosexuals living in such circumstances, this discrimination have demolishing consequences on psychological life. Many homosexuals are keeping themselves hidden from society in ghettoizing together and having unprotected sex with each other. Our bureau secretary, for example, has been actually suffering of violent homophobia by his parents and must escape for avoiding the worst brutality."

"These violence are moral, verbal, physic and sexual. The worst is that most violence do not happen openly in front of everyone's eyes so that they can not be witnessed. They have also mortal consequences. Our brothers and sisters are killed in miserable conditions. Our participation at the national first journey against homophobia could make us possible to denounce these inhuman atrocities."

"Homosexuals escaping from home, who are delivered to themselves alone, mostly turn to prostitution. They do not find a way out because of breaking off school education. Here I but want to make clear that prostitution is an overall social problem that's not only caused by homosexuals. It is regrettable that conversations about homosexuality within families are taboo. There also are some parents who force their homosexual children to prostitution and as long as they bring some profits home, their homosexuality is tolerated. But, if they do not earn money, they will immediately be persecuted by their parents because of being homosexual."

"Homosexuals are not allowed to express themselves because the public does not give them any importance. In Africa, we still have very rural and familial milieus that determine the whole life curriculum and so decisions are made without the concerned person is asked for. There is a very unequalized social balance between the individual and his environment."
So not quite an 'eldorado' then.
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