The gruesome murder of the son of a former Liberian President continues to highlight the glaring but often ignored fact that Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent nation, is one of the dangerous places in the world for people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT).
Liberia is amongst 71 countries that still criminalize same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults in Article 14.74, 14.79, and 50.7 of its penal code, according to Human Rights Campaign.
Mr. John Hilary Tubman, 76, son of former Liberian President, William V.S. Tubman, was found gruesomely murdered in his home on September 22, 2021, by individuals of unknown repute.
Though information on the motives of his killers remains sketchy, it has heightened fears in Liberia’s underground gay community on safety, security, and the wanton killing, and the total disregard of the rights of people who identify as sexual minorities.
In the Liberian high society, Mr. Tubman was known to all and sundry for being open of his sexual orientation.
At a time when the derogatory term “faggot” was being used to describe men who found pleasure, intimacy or otherwise, in the company of other men but were physically attacked for the reason of nothingness, his status as a high society member shielded him.
But his gruesome murder has now proven, in the words of the human rights coalition LIPRIDE, “every member of the LGBT community in Liberia, whether rich or poor, lives are in danger.”
That is an absolute statement steeped in fact.
LGBTQ Liberians continue to face widespread threats, assault, harassment, and hate speech, according to the 2020 US State Department Human Rights Report.
At a safe space in 2018 when a group of fun-loving people gathered for an HIV testing party hosted by Population Services International (PSI), they were severely attacked by community dwellers.
No arrest was made. And neither did PSI, which has suddenly pulled its operations out of the country, push behind the scenes to ensure the attendees received justice. In the end, they were left to fend for themselves with wailing faces.
In November 2019, another group of fun-loving Liberians was also attacked at the same venue during an HIV testing and birthday party which was being hosted by a staff of PSI. Thanks to the belated intervention of the Liberia National Police following hours of looting, ransacking, and brutalization, the attendees were whisked to safety.
Still, no arrest was made by the Police.
In May 2020, Tarus Cole, a fashion model went into hiding over comments that “99% of Liberian men are gay.” in an interview with a local journalist. The interview, which was conducted in the context of homophobia in Liberia, caused an uproar on Liberian social media.
The interviewer failed to checkmate and highlight that it was not a statistical reality and the interviewee had simply meant homophobic men who bully gay men are closeted. Cole fled the country after months in hiding.
In September 2020, journalRAGE began a lengthy investigation on Cheeseman Cole, an ex-soldier of the Armed Forces of Liberia who was reportedly dismissed for acts of criminality.
Cole, following his disgraceful discharge from the army, found a deadly past time of luring men he suspected of being gay on Facebook to his residence. There they met a fate far worse as he claimed to be on a divine mission ordained by God.
They were severely brutalized by the ex-soldier and his gang who claimed it was an act of proselytization meant to cleanse them of their sins, whatever they were.
The barbarity of Cole and his gang, which went unchecked for a while until it was picked up by journalRAGE and lifted by FrontPage Africa, resulted in 27 men getting brutalized. To date, two men—Dominic Renner and Winston Toe—are still missing while Cole, despite overwhelming evidence to land him behind bars for a long time, remains a free man.
He was arrested and briefly detained at the Monrovia Central Prison. However, he posted bail and is a free man. Liberian law calls for the dismissal of a case when the prosecution is unwilling to proceed following three terms of court. There appears to be a total lack of interest on the part of the Ministry of Justice to prosecute Cole.
With no plans in sight by the Ministry of Justice to prosecute, the families of the missing men continue to seek closure over their whereabouts, dead or alive.
In May of this year, two men and a teenager were severely beaten by men believed to be members of a community watch team in Paynesville while returning from a wake keeping.
Though arrests were made when the story appeared on the front page of FrontPage Africa, there was an apparent lack of interest on the part of the Ministry of to prosecute.
After much dillydallying and shillyshallying, the complainants—just like the survivors of Cheeseman Cole’s barbarity—became weary and, out of options, moved to places elsewhere, thanks to the help of local human rights organizations.
And very recently, Nuchie Michael, a student of the Trinity United Methodist School, was expelled for crossdressing when a viral video showed him in a playful but fiery exchange with a street preacher.
The facts cited are an attestation that despite the Liberian constitution guarantees protection for all, as stated by the Minister of Justice during the launch of the UN SOGIE Report in December 2020, it is quite the contrary.
Liberia’s gay community continues to be faced with the existential threat of a total disregard of safety and security. That the Ministry of Justice and law enforcement would be nonchalant in the investigation of kidnappings and alleged murder of people perceive to be gay speaks to the severity of the situation the LGBT community finds itself engulfed into.
That vicious cycle of unending violence doesn’t appear to be stopped anytime soon.
Very recently, the Liberian Minister of Finance, Samuel Tweah, following his return from the United States on a mission meant to smoothen the rocky relationship existing between Washington and Monrovia highlighted that the current administration of President George Weah has a negative image due to allegations of mysterious kidnappings and disappearing of peaceful citizens.
Sadly, the Minister failed to acknowledge or speak to the disappearance of Dominic Renner and Winston Toe who, as it appears now, may have been murdered for their sexuality by Cheeseman Cole.
His statement comes in the wake of a routine warning from the US Embassy to its citizens to be wary when traveling to the country as it’s becoming dangerous with various crimes.
Adding to that warning which emanated from the Embassy, and as the country prepares to celebrate 200 years of its founding in 2022, we are sounding the caveat to every person who identifies as member of the LGBT community and is perhaps thinking of coming here that the risk isn’t worth it. Liberia is not safe–for LGBT folks.