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In the liberated west, where Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) issues have been largely reconciled with and their rights as equal citizens legalized, it is not the same in not only Sierra Leone but many conservative minded countries on the continent.

 

For example, this is a true account of what one homosexual who fled the country recounts: “The only way I could survive was to flee Sierra Leone. In 2014, I was granted political asylum in Spain. It was heartbreaking to leave my homeland. Every day I fear for my fellow LGBTQ friends who still face threats, extortion, harassment, arbitrary detention, and arrest for being who they are. African leaders should heed President Obama’s call. This isn’t just a much-needed change; it’s a question of dignity for all human life”

Patricia Simeon who fled Sierra Leone in 2012 is one such victim of sexual orientation discrimination, marginalization and harassment. Like her fellow citizens like Fatmata Mansaray, Aminata Kamara Mohamed Sesay and others whose identities remain under the radar who are LGBT who have fled the country, theirs is not the normal every day one of people who face hard times, economic deprivation and lack of opportunity fleeing their motherland to seek greener pastures abroad. They are forced to take this option because they face discrimination, isolation, beating, arrest and torture, and unfortunately, the Government fails to pay attention to this particular human right issue.

pic02Aminata Kamara

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Sierra Leone face legal challenges not experienced by non LGBT citizens. Homosexuality and lesbianism (whether in public or private) is illegal in Sierra Leone and carries a possible penalty of life imprisonment (with hard labor), although this law is seldom enforced. Sierra Leone is one of 94 nations to sign the United Nations Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”, which supports decriminalization of homosexuality and transgender identity but is yet to be put into effect. A bill to the effect lies rotting on the desk of the President as Parliament refused to ratify it under pressure from the country’s Inter Religious Council.

Equally so, the country’s 1991 Constitution does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission does not work on LGBT rights because, according to its communications director in 2011, “the law of Sierra Leone does not give the Commission mandate to advocate and support LGBT human rights”.

According to a report filed by the U.S. embassy in Sierra Leone in 2011: Many Sierra Leoneans believe that homosexuality is practiced exclusively by, or through inducements from, foreigners — it is assumed that homosexuals are either copying Western practices, or motivated by economics. A number of Sierra Leoneans, even those with considerable exposure to Western culture, said that homosexuality does not exist locally, and any cases were due directly to Western influence. ... The few Sierra Leoneans who admitted knowing someone they believed to be homosexual said that in no case would anyone openly admit it, and if they did, they would be shunned by their families and friends and possibly threatened by community members.

Politicians, political parties, and other political organizations in Sierra Leone avoid making public statements on LGBT rights or come out in opposition to them on religious grounds. Members of the LGBT community in Sierra Leone began to campaign for LGBT rights in 2002, with the creation of the Dignity Association.

In November 2004, Fannyann Eddy was murdered. She was the founder of the first LGBT rights organization in Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association. According to initial reports, several men brutally raped and murdered her at her office. Many human rights activists believed that she was targeted for being gay and because of her work on behalf of women and the LGBT community. The criminal investigation division of the Sierra Leone police force, however, said in 2005 that there was no evidence of sexual violence and that the murder could not be blamed on homophobia. The person charged with the murder was a “disgruntled janitorial worker whom Ms. Eddy had fired weeks prior to the murder” and who was reported to have “threatened to take revenge” on her.

pic03Patricia Simeo

British Prime Minister David Cameron said in October 2011 that the United Kingdom may withhold aid from countries that do not recognise LGBT rights. In response, Deputy Information Minister Sheka Tarawallie told the news media in November 2011 that “it is not possible that we will legalise same sex marriages as they run counter to our culture”. The president of the Methodist Church in Sierra Leone, Bishop Arnold Temple said, “The church in Sierra Leone will do everything possible to protect democracy but our values will not accept the call from Mr. Cameron for countries in the Commonwealth to accept the practice of lesbianism and gay-ism. We call on the government to inform the British leader that such practices are unacceptable and we condemn it totally. Africa should not be seen as a continent in need to be influenced by the demonic threat as our values are totally different.”

The intolerance for and hostility towards gays and lesbians has not changed. For now, the topic is an absolute no-go area for any form of social discourse.

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