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The almost impossible life of homosexuals in Senegal

“People here don’t try to understand. You are gay: you are banned, you get beat up, you are handed over to the police. So I do my best to stay in my corner; I’m afraid of meeting someone who knows me and hates me,” says Abdú, a young gay man from Senegal.

Only 20 years old, Abdú* has received death threats and is ostracized by his family. His testimony is that of social exclusion and almost impossible life for homosexuals in Senegal.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” he says. “The anger that people have… it’s not something that existed before,” He says.

Tensions around this taboo issue in Senegal are growing, marked by an increase in discrimination, according to human rights organizations.

In this country, where a 95% of the population is Muslim, homosexuality is considered a deviation.

The law punishes the so-called “unnatural acts with a person of the same sex” with a sentence of between one and five years in prison.

“The situation of the community LGTBQI is very complicated, especially in the last year and a half”, in which there was “a massive campaign” against homosexuality “led by religious and conservative associations that supposedly want to restore Senegalese values”, Usman Aly Diallo, a researcher at Amnesty International, told AFP. for the West and Central Africa office.

“Today it is riskier to publicly display the LGTBQI identity than it was a few years ago; there are more and more attacks against members of this community, often filmed and spread on social networks,” he says.

In May 2021 and in February of this year, thousands of people demonstrated in Dakar to demand that the repression of homosexuality be increased.

An issue that is also instrumentalized politically.

Opposition leader Usman Sonko has made the fight against homosexuality a campaign argument for Sunday’s legislative elections.

“You embarrass me”

Abdú’s childhood and adolescence were traumatic. to cure your supposed “disease” and effeminacy, the sorcerers subjected him to “spiritual” baths and he had to hide to live his sexuality. His relatives beat him and he tried to commit suicide.

Until at the end of 2021 his life changed. A cousin spied on him and told his father about a conversation he had with an LGBT network.

His father, divorced from his mother, immediately kicked him out of the house. “He sent me messages saying You embarrass me, you don’t deserve to live.”

Abdú contacted an association abroad that helped him flee to a country in the region.

For five months he took refuge there but in May his mother, who had remained in contact, convinced him to return.

Since then, Abdú has taken refuge in his mother’s house.

His mother, who fears for his life, locks him in his room when she finds out about an assault

The so-called “goor-jigéen” (man-woman in the Wolof language) have been part of the social landscape for a long time.

“But what we see today is really a bigotry towards LGBTQI identity,” says Diallo.

“This intolerance, increasingly dangerous and very political, is due to the increase in religious discourse and religiosity in Senegal and (…) the weakness of the institutions in the face of this increase,” he says.

Sociologist Djiby Diakhate explains that “for many Senegalese, if homosexuality develops, it will be a catastrophe; we will experience droughts, epidemics, bad luck.”

Abdulaye Guissé, a 28-year-old student, says he “doesn’t see why Senegal should change its position to give more space” to homosexuals.

“They just have to do their practices with discretion; the citizens are not willing to live with them,” he says.

Malamine Bayo, 32, advocates “studying the issue to see if it’s not a disease.”

“If it is by choice” we must help “these people so that they can live without difficulty,” he added.

In recent years, Islamic groups, whose members were educated mainly in Arab countries, have been at the forefront of the fight against homosexuality in Senegal.

They also see it as a tool used by Westerners to impose values ​​supposedly foreign to the country’s culture.

“Unfortunate tension”

In mid-May, Senegalese Paris SG soccer player Idrissa Gana Gueye was the subject of a scandal when he was accused of refusing to wear a shirt denouncing homophobia, earning him a wave of support in Senegal.

At the same time, an American artist visiting Dakar was violently assaulted by a dozen men who considered his style to be homosexual.

Supported by the Islamic NGO Jamra, 11 deputies presented a bill in December 2021 that punishes homosexuality with prison sentences of five to ten years.

The project was rejected by Parliament as the current punishment was considered sufficient.

For the spokesperson for the NGO Mama, Mactar Gueye, the LGTB community “creates a problem” because “it has begun to occupy public space” and “provoke”.

According to Gueye, the country is experiencing “unfortunate tension” and a law would protect “society” and also homosexuals “from popular justice.”

Amnesty International warns in its latest report that several people were harassed, detained and tried for their sexual orientation in different African countries.

However, in several of these countries there are LGBTI communities raising their voices, something unthinkable in Senegal.

Given the lack of official data, and the diversity of contexts, experts point out that it is difficult to know the level of persecution in Senegal compared to the rest of Africa.

Double life

When someone’s homosexuality is revealed, his environment usually react with violence to save his “reputation”.

This is what happened to Daouda*, an only child, a student until the day his father discovered his homosexuality. “He pulled out a gun, he wanted to shoot me…”

Does 8 years since Daouda had to leave Senegal by another country in the area.

“In Senegal, living with homosexuality is being in danger day and night,” he tells AFP. “It’s a very dark road”, many of his friends have committed suicide because they couldn’t bear to live in hiding.

For this reason, many homosexuals live a double life, like Khalifa, bisexual, married for 4 years, and who lived until 3 months ago, until he was 34 years old, without anyone knowing that he was homosexual.

Khalifa was “reported” and lost his job. His father threatened to “kill” him, and he had to flee far from Dakar, so he no longer sees his wife or his son.

Furthermore, Khalifa claims that an anti-L movementGTB has identified him and they could publish his name on the internet or persecute him, so he sees no other solution than to seek asylum abroad.

Abdú would also like to leave Senegal and go to a place where he is “accepted”, taking his mother away from the stigmatization she suffers.

“If I go… will my mother have peace?” he says with a broken voice.

*Names changed for security reasons.

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