Nearly a fortnight ago, Liberia’s gay community celebrated the closure of pride month at a discreet location.
So discreet that it called for sexual minorities and allies to clad themselves in black to celebrate the passing of many—some of whom had died from AIDS, suicide, rape, hate crimes, discrimination , lack of access to adequate health care, lack of access to social protection, lack of access to justice, lack of access to housing and above all, the apparent refusal of their government to protect them.
Pride month goes back to 1969 in New York when sexual minorities were harassed by the Police over their right to claim a safe space and be free within that space. This led to a rebellion and in the months following it, the LGBT movement sprouted, metastasizing itself around the world.
Half a century later, the world is acknowledging and coming to terms that the intricacies of human sexuality are as old as time. And so, it is making progress in the protection of its sexual minorities and understanding that gender was/is nothing more than just a social construct, that sexuality is innate and not a western culture or phenomenon and that lesbians gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer have existed in every society, including Africa.
However, half a century later, in faraway places like Liberia, the resemblance of Stonewall continues to appear. The country’s penal code terms same-sex sexual activity between two consenting adults as “voluntary sodomy” and carries up to a year in prison.
Nobel laureate former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in an interview in 2016 said she wouldn’t sign any law decriminalizing or make further additions on the penal code. She would later go on to say there is no law.
She was not alone. Then, Jewel Howard Taylor, former first lady, senator, and current Vice-President introduced a bill to make homosexuality a first-degree felony. That bill did not pass.
A story done in collaboration with New Narratives has shown that living as a sexual minority in Liberia continues to be a bane for many who are daring to be out and those struggling with the space of the closet.
According to the latest U.S. State Department report on the country, Liberia’s homosexual community continues to face extreme challenges – a situation which cuts across many facets.
“LGBTI persons continued to record instances of violent attacks, harassment, and hate speech by community and church leaders. LGBTI victims were afraid to report the crimes to the police due to fear that police would detain or abuse them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI victims were also afraid to report due to possible retribution from community and family members,” the report stated.
This is further justified in a story in today’s edition about two lads fleeing their families who no longer want them around due to their sexuality which is considered an antithesis to their culture and religion, thereby posing a great risk on their person.
This is a sad situation for a country which has elected a Nobel laureate as Africa’s first democratically elected female President, produced a UNICEF ambassador who became the first African world’s best footballer to become President.
Liberia, as a nation, has signed many international treaties on human rights. This imposes a special responsibility on the country’s government to act within the orbit of its signature because human rights encompass all rights.
We cannot continue to ignore the existence of sexual minority in Liberia and not do much to protect them. Their bedroom comfort must never becloud the judgment of respecting their pride.
The issue of human sexuality is not unique to Africa. And very recently, Botswana has shown that by repealing its homophobic, violent spurring law dealing with sexual minorities.
Too many Liberians of the LGBT community in the country are being discriminated against, bullied, killed, beaten—in schools, churches, hospitals, place of work etc.
This is why journalRAGE was founded—to bring these stories to life.
The government has got to do more in protecting the rights of minorities. Policymakers working alongside the government must also ensure it happens. Questions on pertinent issues such as the success of the alleged existence of a legal clinic meant for the protection of sexual minorities must not be shirked from.
The acknowledgement of the rights of sexual minorities comes in two folds—protection from the government and accountability from stakeholders working underground to help a cause too dangerous to champion outright.