A man wears a T-shirt that reads “No to homosexuality” during a demonstration organized by religious associations against homosexuality on the Place de Lubesque in Dakar, Senegal, May 23, 2021. (AFP/Seyllou)
“People here are not trying to understand. You are gay: you were blocked, kicked, handed over to the police. So I do my best to stay in my corner; I am afraid to meet someone who knows me and I have hatred,” breathes Abdou, a gay Senegalese youth.
At just twenty, Abdo* was threatened with death and ostracized by his family. It bears witness to an almost impossible life in Senegal and the social exclusion of homosexuals in his country.
“The situation is getting more and more dangerous,” he said. “The anger people feel… was not something that existed before.”
Tensions have risen over this banned issue in Senegal, which has been marked by growing discrimination, according to human rights organizations.
In this 95% Muslim country and extreme practice, homosexuality is widely considered deviant. The law punishes with imprisonment from one to five years for so-called “acts against nature with an individual of his own sex.”
“The situation of the LGBT community is very complex, especially the past year and a half” marked by “a massive campaign” against homosexuality” led by religious and conservative associations allegedly wanting to restore values, says AFP, Othman Ali Diallo. Senegalese”. Researcher at Amnesty International in West and Central Africa.
“It is much more dangerous today to publicly display your LGBTQI identity than it was a few years ago; there are more and more attacks against members of this community, often filmed and broadcast on social networks,” he notes.
In May 2021 and last February, thousands of people demonstrated in Dakar to demand the strengthening of the suppression of homosexuality.
This topic is also a political tool. Main opponent Osman Sonko made fighting homosexuality an argument in his campaign for legislative elections on Sunday.
– “you make me shy” –
Abdo’s childhood and adolescence were traumatic, as he underwent the “spiritual” bathing of the Almoravids to cure his supposed “illness” and androgynous side, to hide in order to live his sexuality. He was beaten by his relatives and attempted suicide.
Until that day his life changed at the end of 2021. His cousin was spying on him and informing his dad about a conversation with the LGBT network.
His father, divorced from his mother, immediately kicked him out of the house. “Send me messages where he said + You’re ashaming me; you don’t deserve to live… +”.
Map of Senegal locating its capital, Dakar (AFP /)
Abdo contacts an association abroad that helps him escape to a country in the region. He took refuge there for five months, but at the beginning of May his mother, who kept in touch, persuaded him to return.
Since then, his servant has holed up in the house. Fearing for his life, his mother locks him in her room when she hears about an attack…
The “goor-jigéen” (Wolof man and woman) has always been part of the social scene. “But what we are observing today is really intolerance towards LGBT identity,” notes Mr. Diallo. “This very dangerous and political intolerance is due to the rise of religious discourse and religiosity in Senegal and (…) to the weakness of institutions in the face of this rise.”
Sociologist Djiby Diakat explains that “for many Senegalese, if homosexuality develops, it will be a disaster; we will suffer droughts, epidemics and misfortune.”
Abdoulaye Ghessa, a 28-year-old student, states, “not realizing why Senegal should change its position to give more space” to homosexuals. “They just have to go about their practices discreetly, the citizens are not ready to live with them.”
Malamin Bayo, 32, recommends “studying the question to see if it was a disease,” or “if by choice,” “supervising these people so that they can live without difficulty.”
In recent years, Islamic groups, whose members have studied primarily in Arab countries, have been at the forefront of the struggle against homosexuality in Senegal. It is also denounced as a tool used by Westerners to impose values supposedly alien to the country’s culture.
– ‘Pitiful tension’ –
In mid-May, a controversy rocked between France and Senegal over Paris Saint-Germain footballer and Senegalese international Idrissa Gana Gaye, accused of refusing to join the fight against homophobia during a match in France. He got streaming support in Senegal.
Paris Saint-Germain Senegalese midfielder Idrissa Gueye during a match with Saint-Etienne (ASSE) at Parc des Princes in Paris, February 26, 2022 (AFP / FRANCK FIFE)
At the same time, an American artist visiting Dakar was violently attacked – the video posted on the Internet – by a mob of dozens of men, who accused him of being gay because of his style.
At the initiative of the Islamist NGO Jamra, 11 deputies introduced a bill in December 2021 that would have punished homosexuality with five to ten years in prison. It was rejected by Parliament, and the current legislation was deemed too strict.
For a spokeswoman for the NGO Mama Mactar Gueye, the LGBT community “is posing a problem” because it has “began to invade the public space” and “provoke”. According to him, the country is in a state of “unfortunate tension” and that the law will protect “society, as well as” homosexuals from “popular justice.”
In 2021, Senegal was removed from the list of safe countries by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra), due to the risks associated with sexual orientation.
While South Africa has some of the most progressive legislation on LGBT rights and many countries have legalized same-sex relationships, Amnesty International notes in its latest report that in many countries on the continent, people have been harassed, arrested and prosecuted because of their sexual orientation. However, in some of these countries, the gay community is expressing itself, which is unimaginable in Senegal.
In the absence of official data and the diversity of contexts, experts note that it is difficult to determine the level of persecution in Senegal compared to other African countries where the situation is also tense.
– double life –
When homosexuality is revealed, those around often see in the violence of his reaction the only way to save his “reputation”.
This is what David*, the only son, who lived the life of a disciple, lived until the day his father learned of his triangle. “Then he pulled out a gun, and wanted to shoot me (over)…”.
Daouda fled to a country in the region interviewed by AFP and was cut off from his family for eight years.
A demonstration to demand a tougher crackdown on homosexuality is held at the Place de l’Obelisk in Dakar, Senegal, on February 20, 2022 (AFP/SEYLLOU)
“In Senegal, living with homosexuality means being at risk from morning to night; it’s a very dark road.” Several of his friends committed suicide. They could not live in hiding.
In this context, many gays live a double life. Until 3 months ago, this was the fate of Khalifa*, bisexual. He was married for 4 years, and lived to the age of 34 without his entourage suspecting anything. Recently “denounced”, he lost his job and career.
His father threatened to kill him, he could no longer see his wife or child and lived in a town far from Dakar.
Khalifa sees no other option than to seek asylum abroad, where the anti-gay, bisexual and transgender movement has identified him and risks stalking him or having his name published online.
Abdou would also like to leave Senegal for a place where he is “kissed” and take his mother from the stigma.
“If you leave, it will be peace for my mother…” he said in a broken voice.
lp-prc / amt / cl
*Names have been changed for security reasons.