The Heartbreaking New Reality of Being Young and Queer in Cameroon
by Judy Bokao
The latest wave of persecution crashing down on the LGBTQ+ community in west-central Africa is reaching unparalleled devastation. Recent laws in Cameroon have led to many people suspected of being gay being arrested, beaten, threatened, and forced to undergo intrusive, humiliating examinations. In severe cases, people have been killed during these inhumane investigations. If they are lucky enough to survive these severe beatings, they end up in court facing up to five years in prison or a debilitating fine.
The violation of the basic human rights of the LGBTQ+ community in Cameroon has been intensifying and in synchronization with increased surveillance. Police have been using public gatherings of the LGBTQ+ community to target key activists. Many queer people in Cameroon are scared to meet or publicly support LGBTQ+ rights because they feel hopeless under the repression of the justice system.
They have seen one too many times their friends and family members being dragged to court over offenses of homosexuality and public indecency. Once in court, prosecutors introduce evidence from forced anal examinations and HIV tests that lead to harsher convictions. Last year, the story of two transgender women made international headlines when a Cameroonian court sentenced them to five years in prison. The court found them guilty of “attempted homosexuality” and public indecency.
The situation in Cameroon has become so dire that Human Rights Watch has been forced to intervene and call out the involved parties. Neela Ghoshal, HRW’s associate LGBT rights director, has raised concerns on the criminalization of the LGBTQ+ community in Cameroon. She called out the increasing persecution of the queer community in Cameroon and the fact that the abusers get away with torturing and assaulting because they are protected by the law.
Cameroon is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It is therefore expected that the country uphold the rights to equality, non-discrimination, and privacy. Human Rights Watch has been investigating and documenting these human rights violations and shared its findings with the relevant Cameroonian government officials, but they are yet to receive a response.
In the meantime, the LGBTQ+ community in Cameroon continues to suffer with little to no support. Trans people seem to be at the brunt of the violence . It is unknown why there is very little tolerance for the trans-community. Most of the attacks and arrests in Cameroon are of trans people. There is even a video of a horrifying, inhumane attack on two transgender women in Cameroon circulating on the internet. However, the perpetrators of this heinous act have never been questioned or brought to justice.
It is devastating that most African countries continue to criminalize same-sex relationships and are adamant on persecuting the LGBTQ+ community in their respective countries. Every human being has a right to live and love. However, we will not give up the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in Africa until that the next generation can be their authentic self without the worry that it might cost them their lives.
About the Author:
Judy Bokao is 20 years old and was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.