(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?