By Gboko Stewart, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monrovia-Rocheforte Jones, (not his real name), walked into a fence in the quiet suburb of Sinkor to celebrate a friend’s 33rd birthday on Saturday, November 9, when he and others were stoned, beaten and severely wounded by community members over suspicion that they were “gays.”
“It was a birthday party, not an LGBT party,” said Jones. “If you saw a copy of the invitation, nothing there stated that it was relating to LGBT party.”
Jones, 37, said the incident began around 3 a.m. when angry community dwellers gathered around and began throwing stones at them, accusing them of engaging in homosexual acts.
The event, he said, was being held in the compound of a Drop-In-Center (DIC) owned and operated by Population Services International (PSI).
PSI is a registered non-profit global health organization with programs targeting malaria, child survival, HIV and reproductive health. It has a global revenue of US$542,349,734 as of 2018. Its drop-in centers in Liberia, according to the organization, are safe spaces for key populations, including LGBTQ, sex workers, drug users and People Living with HIV to check their HIV status. Its opening is usually festive and marred by a wide range of activities, including pageantry.
He said the party went on without a hassle until missiles began flying in the yard during the early morning hours of Sunday. “We were not doing anything unusual – we were just doing anything that anybody would do at a dinner party. It was somewhere around 3-4 in the morning when I heard that some guys were throwing stones in the fence, but I was far behind on the other side.
As Jones and others ducked for cover, he said one of the stones landed on his head, leaving him in a state of partial unconsciousness.
“I dropped—I was semi-conscious—partly unconscious—and I was taken up and then carried into the boys’ room—the outside room—where it is being used as a warehouse at the DIC.”
He said when he gained a bit of consciousness, their attackers—armed with cutlasses, knives and other deadly weapons—had succeeded in breaking down the gate and began an orgy of looting with attending violence, wreaking havoc and inflicting wounds on them.
“The attackers hit the gate until the iron gate fell—the entire gate fell off. And then they entered into the compound and they looted chairs, motorbikes, mattresses.”
Liberian gay community continues to face extreme challenges in protection from homophobia across the country. According to the latest U.S. Department of State 2018 report on Liberia, the country’s gay community faces extreme challenges. And with the election of the current administration in Washington, the US no longer exerts the moral pressure it once did.
Identifying as gay is not illegal in the country. However, it could spur violent homophobic attacks on an individual who does so. The current law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. The LGBT community says harassment and discrimination are widespread.
Former Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in an interview with the Guardian in 2012, defended the current law which criminalizes homosexuality.
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.
Sirleaf recently backpedaled on her earlier remarks in an interview alongside former Irish President Mary Robinson, saying, incorrectly, that there is no law which criminalizes homosexuality in Liberia.
However, it is not yet clear on what the current government stance on the issue of protection for sexual minority. In an interview in June of this year, the director of human rights division at the Ministry of Justice, Kutaka D. Togba, calls for the he repealing of the penal code which targets sexual minority as it violates requirements to international conventions the country signed.
The violence over the weekend is the second to have occurred at the same DIC within a year. In September 2018, the opening of PSI’s DIC was allegedly marred by violence when community dwellers began a ruckus in the early morning hours, leaving several wounded.
PSI, in an interview then said security is perched on top of all activities held at the DIC. However, when contacted via email over the incident which happened over the weekend, it did not elicit a response.
But it remains unclear over the level of security measures employed which, observers say, could have averted the incident.
Eric Dunn (not his real name), also an attendee of the event who escaped unscathed, said he recalled seeing a female police officer in the party but when tension began to mount, she could not withstand it and had to call for backup.
“The first group of police officers came in the pickup but they were not armed and even they could not stand the tension so they had to leave and bring back more reinforcements. The guys them challenged the police officers. The police were able to carry a few others (party attendees) to safety but even as they were leaving, they were throwing stones at them. The said they will not allow police to protect fag them. In fact they said we want to spoil their children in the community.
“When the ERU (Emergency Response Unit) came, they were able to arrest two persons,” he said. This could not be verified as the spokesperson of the Liberia National Police, H. Moses Carter, in a phone call said he could not speak to the incident as his office was gathering and compiling the information from the officers who responded.
Dunn lamented that a lot of his friends were severely wounded and were taken to JFK by PSI for treatment. “One boy fainted, the other one lost a lot of blood due to injury on his head. People got hurt too bad – I can’t even describe it.”
He said he cannot reconcile the idea of a party being held in the same location which came under attack last year. “Like seriously, I don’t know why they had to have this party here. They know that particular community is very homophobic!”
Dunn’s view is shared by Mitch Johnson, a victim from the first incident which happened in 2018. Johnson said he was invited to attend the party but turned it down for two reasons. “I was going out of town. And even if I wasn’t going out of town, I wasn’t going to attend because last year I was flogged severely and PSI didn’t do anything about it.”
Johnson says he feels sorry for the victims as they are all his friends and they should be very wary of their surroundings. “Liberia is not safe. I hope we can all learn our lesson from this.”
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