Growing hatred leaves no room for ‘gays’ in Senegal

Every time Abdou’s mother hears of a homophobic attack on the streets of Senegal’s capital Dakar, she locks him in her bedroom.

Abdou, who, like other LGBT people interviewed by AFP, asked not to be identified by his real name, is used to hiding. He hid his sexuality for most of his life.

But lately, the 20-year-old has felt even more in danger.

“The situation is getting more and more serious,” said the quiet, unemployed tailor.

“They used to say you were gay, but they didn’t hit you. Today you were beaten and it is posted on social media.”

homosexuality has never been widely accepted in Senegal, a very conservative country. But in recent months, tensions have reached new heights.

In May, Senegalese football star Idrissa Gana Gouille was criticized in France for missing a Paris Saint-Germain match for “personal reasons” in which the players wore rainbow jerseys in support of LGBTQ rights.

The posts have sparked an outpouring of support for Guye at home as social media is flooded with homophobic memes.

A few days later, a mob throwing homophobic insults beat up an American artist who was visiting Dakar for an international festival.

Abdou’s nightmare began when a cousin discovered his sexuality and exposed him, forcing him to flee Senegal for months after being kicked out of his home, fired from his job and bombarded with threats.

Now he’s back and said he’s trying to convince his family that he’s “become” straight.

“I tried several times to say, ‘Tomorrow I won’t be gay anymore, tomorrow I will try to find a girl. [but] I cant”.

Abu has cut contact with his gay friends to protect them and spends most of his time in isolation, browsing social media for information about the growing anti-gay movement in Senegal.

“I can’t find words to describe how deep inside it hurts to be hated,” he said.

Once he even tried to commit suicide by drinking poison for cockroaches.

gay lobby

Activists say anti-gay rhetoric has intensified since a demonstration in the capital in May 2021 calling for same-sex sex, currently punishable by up to five years in prison, to become a serious crime.

France, a former colonial power, has removed Senegal from its list of safe countries of origin because of the risks gay men face there.

Most of the 1,300 asylum applications from Senegalese in France last year cited persecution because of sexual orientation, according to official figures.

But many in Senegal, a majority Muslim population, believe that homosexuality is a Western way of life imposed on their society.

“I don’t see how Senegal should change its position to give more space to these homosexuals,” said Abdoulaye Giss, a 28-year-old student, adding that LGBTQ people should remain “cautious.”

“It’s not socially allowed – religion is so strong in Senegal that it conditions our social practices.”

Powerful Sufi brotherhoods wield significant social and political influence in Senegal.

Anti-French sentiment is also on the rise.

Ababakar Mbup, leader of the And Samm Jikko Yi group that helped organize last year’s march, accused France of imposing its customs on Senegal when it does not accept Muslim practices such as polygamy within its borders.

He said he wanted to stop the gay “lobby” from dominating Senegal’s mainstream culture.

“If two homosexuals hiding in their home go about their business, it doesn’t concern us, but we really want to preserve the public space of Senegal,” he said, insisting that his organization is peaceful and does not condone mob violence. .

“Holding a gay pride… we won’t accept that.”

Senegal isn’t the only sub-Saharan state with anti-same-sex laws in place – about two dozen others have them.

While some nonetheless have small but visible LGBTQ communities, this is not the case in Senegal – a country known for its hospitality, reputation for stability and the rule of law.

“You just want to leave”

Khalifa, who is bisexual, claims that the groups hunt down LGBT people and the human rights groups that help them and publicly denounce them.

The 34-year-old, who was recently exposed to his family and forced to hide outside of Dakar, said some homophobes have his personal information and fear they will release it.

“There is no place for gays in Senegal,” he said. “When you hear the imams preach, you just want to get on a plane and leave immediately.”

Although he prides himself on being a Senegalese and a practicing Muslim, he hopes to be granted asylum abroad.

“For me, there is only one nationality on Earth, and that is the Senegalese,” he said.

Married and having a child, Khalifa was able to hide his bisexuality for most of his life until a friend revealed him after a fight.

“When I go out on the street, you can’t say that I’m bisexual – on the contrary, you think it’s homophobic,” he said. “It’s part of the tactic.”

Abdu, on the other hand, was effeminate from a young age, and was forced by his mother to visit a religious leader known as a marabout for “healing,” including midnight “spiritual” baths and conversion therapy.

If he gets older, gay men will stop him on the streets and ask for his phone number.

It may be dangerous. LGBTQ people can be lured to meetings where they are attacked.

There have never been gay bars in Dakar, members of the LGBT community say, but there used to be places where they met and interacted with heterosexuals without the knowledge of others.

All this stopped after the anti-gay march.

“Today in Senegal, publicly demonstrating your LGBTQI affiliation is more risky than a few years ago,” said Ousmane Diallo, a researcher at Amnesty International.

Gay activists say politicians are joining the anti-gay race to rally support for Sunday’s parliamentary elections and the 2024 presidential election.

Father swore he would shoot his son

Mame Maktar Guye, leader of the NGO Jamra, which pushed for harsher penalties for same-sex sex, argued that tougher laws would actually be “intimidating” and would protect LGBT people from mob violence.

After Parliament rejected them in January, Jamra organized a second march in February, and Guye with President Maki Sall in May.

Gouillet said there has historically been a place in Senegalese society for effeminate men or transvestites known as “goor-jigeens,” which means “male-female” in the Wolof language, but that LGBTQ people have gone too far with blasphemous “provocations” over the past decade. .

“They became a problem when they organized themselves into associations and started invading public space,” he said.

“Many countries have surrendered,” Geye said, saying that Gabon “has fallen into the hands of the LGBT lobby” due to the relaxation of laws on gay sex.

“You Westerners are used to teaching us in your university classrooms that democracy is the law of the majority, but please, the vast majority of Senegalese do not want this,” he said.

For Senegalese gays, leaving may seem like the best option, but it comes with its own challenges.

Dauda, ​​32, fled to a neighboring country in 2016 and sometimes struggles to make ends meet.

“In Senegal, living with homosexuality means being in danger from morning to night,” he said.

He misses his family and would like to return home, but believes he can’t while his father is alive.

“He took out a gun and wanted to shoot me – if there were no people in the house, I would have died,” he said. “He swore he would kill me if that was the last thing he did.”