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Homosexuality in West Africa

By Prodenbough
Baby, I was born this way
- Lady Gaga

I think that my last post may have raised questions on the more general issue of homosexuality in West African society. This topic is much to large for a single blog post, and I by no means claim to be an expert on the subject, but there’s so little information available, that I thought I would contribute some comments.
A quote from my lonely planet West Africa travel guidebook: “Homosexuality is illegal in 13 out of the 17 countries in [West Africa]…. Regardless of the legality, however, all countries in [West Africa] are conservative in their attitudes towards gays and lesbians, and gay sexual relationships are taboo and rare to the point of nonexistence. Homosexual activity does occur, especially among younger men. In most places, discretion is key and public displays of affection should be avoided, advice which applies to homosexual and heterosexual couples as a means of showing sensitivity to local feelings.”
A quote from the Peace Corps / Guinea volunteer handbook: “Homosexuality is not accepted in Guinean culture or law, even between consenting adults. Volunteers accused of homosexuality may be physically threatened and harassed to the point of having to leave the country.”
Wow. Severe.
The fact is that homosexuality does exist in West Africa, but it is extremely well hidden, which makes it difficult for a foreigner to pick up on. Once a traveler discovers it, however, it leads to an incredibly well-connected network of gays (and lesbians). I’ve been lucky enough to meet gay men from Burkina, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, and Chad. Their stories are varied and interesting, but all would certainly disagree that homosexuality is "rare to the point of nonexistence."
What does this mean for a Peace Corps volunteer? In West Africa, their encounters with gay host-country nationals vary. It has a lot to do with chance.
• I recall the case of one gay volunteer who served his two years, only to meet his first gay African days before he was scheduled to return home to America.
• I recall the case of another gay volunteer who met gay Africans soon after his arrival in country, and continued to develop friendships with them throughout his service.
• I recall the case of a straight volunteer who unwittingly attracted the attention of a gay African. “I like to go to the nightclub and kiss boys… do you?” “Um, sorry, no,” the straight PCV responded.
In any case, no one in my village would ever suspect that Norbert was anything more than a friend to me. Online social networking has a lot to do with how gay West Africans find each other. That kind of leaves small villages out the loop. If gay West Africans want to find each other, it helps to have an internet connection.
Norbert is incredibly insightful on this subject, obviously. But for now I guess my point is that it does exist. There are gay West Africans. I would talk more, but my internet/electricity time is so limited these days...
Some links of interest:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123973509
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00fjqpzhttp://vimeo.com/21041063
Ok, enough of the gay stuff for now, next post, back to life in Yembering, I promise.

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