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Côte d’Ivoire: Gay Paradise

04/05/2012

Ivory Coast – an Eldorado in comparison with other countries in the region where homosexuality is criminalised.

“Members of gay communities from across the region and around the globe travel to Ivory Coast for meetings, exchanges, projects and self-fulfilment in general. In Abidjan, the number of gay people living openly is increasing steadily”, reported the Radio Netherlands in Africa show.

The US Department of State’s 2009 Human Rights Report found that “societal stigmatization of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community was widespread, and the government did not act to counter it during the year. There were few LGBT organizations in the country.”

However the Report further found that, “Arc en Ciel, the primary NGO representing the LGBT community, operated freely; although, the government required the organization to amend its by-laws to include non-LGBT members before the organization’s status was officially approved.”

The report also found that “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.”

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The law only criminalises homosexuality in Article 360 of the Penal Code, not as an act but as indecent behaviour; and only when performed in public.

Activists and legal experts in Ivory Coast suggest that 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.”

However, there is a judicial gap in the law impeding its implementation.

Touré Claver, president of Alternative Côte d’Ivoire an NGO which fights against homophobia, dreams of a gay pride in Ivory Coast, but cannot imagine one happening soon. Claver, whose organization also promotes healthcare for sexual minority groups is doubtful that such a celebration for gays could happen in the near future due to negative, violent incidents such as happened a while ago in the Ivory Coast city of Abidjan. The public violently opposed a demonstration by Toure and a group of others organized after a doctor had denied medical care to a homosexual patient simply because of his sexual orientation.

LGBT History

LGBT History (Photo credit: Earthworm)

Ivorian gay community fights for right to life and love

Yann came to Abidjan from one of Ivory Coast’s smaller cities 14 years ago to study at the university and live his sexuality more freely.

‘In the village, there are pressures from family. Society is small. They say being homosexual is against religion, against nature,’ he says.

‘People are more educated here. In Abidjan, you can be anonymous.’

That anonymity has helped the city of around five million become one of the main destinations for gays, lesbians, and transvestites from all over French-speaking West Africa.

But if homosexuals in Ivory Coast have been able to attain a relatively advanced level of state recognition, social acceptance has been slower in coming.

A gay high-school teacher was found cut to pieces in his home. A dozen transvestite prostitutes were beaten up by police patrols. At least one was raped.

And gays and lesbians are routinely the victims of violence at the hands of family members.

‘One of our friends had rat poison put in his food by an older brother,’ says Yann, who was disowned by his family when they learned he was gay, driving him on one occasion to attempt suicide.

‘He was poisoned by his own family. Can you even imagine?’

‘I can stay and succeed here,’ says Yann, who has already been turned down for a visa by the French embassy in Abidjan.

‘But success in Africa means having a job, a wife, and kids. I couldn’t be happy. If I had the chance to leave tonight, I would go without looking back.’

***

Religion in Côte d’Ivoire remains very heterogeneous, with Islam (almost all Sunni Muslims) and Christianity (mostly Roman Catholic) being the major religions. Muslims dominate the north, while Christians dominate the south. In 2009, according to U.S. Department of State estimates, Christians and Muslims each made up 35 to 40% of the population, while an estimated 25% of the population practiced traditional religions.
Côte d’Ivoire’s capital, Yamoussoukro, is home to the largest church building in the world, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.

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5 Comments
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