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Anti-Gay Violence in Senegal and Throughout Africa

There I was, listening to Kiki Dee on iTunes, when I came across this horrific story, posted by the AP this morning. Here’s how it starts:

(Thies, Senegal) Even death cannot stop the violence against gays in this corner of the world any more.

Madieye Diallo’s body had only been in the ground for a few hours when the mob descended on the weedy cemetery with shovels. They yanked out the corpse, spit on its torso, dragged it away and dumped it in front of the home of his elderly parents.

And from there the story spirals outward to describe a culture of fear and violence against the gay community, fueled by religious nuts tapping into economic uncertainty, and carried out by fearful and ignorant citizens of many African countries.

The story paints with a broad brush, and it would be helpful to know, from a population perspective, just how widespread the problem truly is. The story quotes only Brit activist Peter Tatchell’s statement that anti-gay violence is up over the past year, and I’m more than willing to believe that’s true. But I couldn’t find any evidence on Tatchell’s website (which is kind of a mess, really; if anyone can find anything useful on this point there, let me know), and it would be good to have some hard numbers.

But whether the situation is getting worse or not, it’s plenty bad enough. The lead story is about a man whose family wouldn’t tell hospital personnel that he had AIDS, and therefore hastened his death by depriving him of appropriate medical care. Read the entire story and be appalled.

Although it would be irresponsible to compare what’s going on in much of Africa with events here in the U.S., we’re no strangers to scape-goating and incitements to violence — whether it be against abortion providers; politicians who voted for health care reform; or “transgressing” people like the LGBT community. Yet accounts like this make my blood run cold:

In March 2008, Senegal hosted an international summit of Muslim nations, which prompted a nationwide crackdown on behaviors deemed un-Islamic, including homosexuality.

The crackdown also coincided with spiraling food prices. Niang says political and religious leaders saw an easy way to reach constituents through the inflammatory topic of homosexuality.

“They found a way to explain the difficulties people are facing as a deviation from religious life,” says Niang. “So if people are poor – it’s because there are prostitutes in the street. If they don’t have enough to eat, it’s because there are homosexuals.”

Imams began using Friday sermons to preach against homosexuality.

“During the time of the Prophet, anytime two men were found together, they were taken to the top of a mountain and thrown off,” says Massamba Diop, the imam of a mosque in Pikine and the head of Jamra, an Islamic lobby linked to a political party in Senegal’s parliament.

“If they didn’t die when they hit the ground, then rocks would be thrown on them until they were killed,” says Diop, whose mosque is so packed during Friday prayer that people bring their own carpets and line up outside on the asphalt.

My neighbors were Peace Corps workers in Senegal several years ago, and were unpleasantly surprised by hearing about the new intolerance there. But there will always be someone to blame, and these days “the homosexuals” are the ones with the bull’s-eye on their backs in parts of Africa.

A great deal might be said about what to do about this: Withhold aid from any nation whose government doesn’t act aggressively enough to crack down on the violence? Inhumane, given the burden of poverty and disease in many of these places. But it should be possible for the global community to strong-arm the leadership into dealing with the violence, using a “carrot” rather than a “stick” approach. I’m in favor of incentives here, although how they’d work and what would need to be shown in order to qualify would be tricky. But we can’t stand by and let this happen. The world community is much better at exerting pressure (to some effect, if still maddeningly limited) to protect women and children. Why not our LGBT brothers and sisters?

  1. April 15th, 2010 at 17:53 | #1

    I’d like to see where exactly in the Koran such rationalization as “If [people] don’t have enough to eat, it’s because there are homosexuals.” Nuts who say junk like this keep pushing people away from religion because it reeks of intolerance (and plumb stupidity).

    I share in your frustration–and subsequent feelings of hopelessness, I’m sure–over how our LGBT brothers and sisters are treated around the world and how new foreign generations are being taught that any LOVING supreme being could have anything other than love for all people…

    I guess I just needed an excuse to ramble about the injustices to someone who clearly understands the complexity of the matter. I feel for these people and I fear the backlash that this will have on the truly loving religious community, but I fear the most for the safety of gays all over the world.

    And that’s a fear we should not know in 2010.

  2. November 20th, 2010 at 13:12 | #2


    I was in Senegal this year for a long period of time. After reading about the crimes against humanity committed against gay persons in Senegal, I was somewhat reluctant to go there. But I decided to go anyway and not to hide the fact that I am openly gay. My stay in Senegal was a true enlightenment for me. In the first couple of months people in Senegal were very friendly towards me, but after I took a boy to my hotel room and the employees of the hotel observed him leaving my room, the employees treated me from that moment on as a pariah. They told eveyone in the vicinity about me being gay. From that moment on no one would shake my hand and they were so hypocritical towards me that I found it almost ridiculous. They were in a great dilemma. As an American, they were forced to be curtious towards me, because I was the one with the money and spending it freely. But I could see in their faces that they really did not like me.One day, one young fellow came to me and spoke confidentially to me. He said, “people here in the town are talking about you.” I replied, “oh really! What are the people saying? He said, “they are saying that you are not a real man,but a woman!”
    I found the situation comical, because I knew that I was going to leave this primative place, but I felt sorry for my gay brothers and sisters in Senegal, who could not leave it.In my book, “Yearning to Touch the Sky” , I describe how some folks have a deficient idea of justice and fairness, believing that justice is meant only for themselves.

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