Rising hate leaves ‘no place for gays’ in Senegal

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7/30/22

Every time Abdou’s mother hears of a homophobic attack in the streets of Senegal’s capital Dakar, she locks him in her bedroom. Abdou – who, like other LGBTQ people AFP interviewed, asked not to be identified by his real name – is used to hiding. He has been concealing his sexuality most of his life. But lately the 20-year-old has felt even more in danger. “The situation is becoming more and more serious,” said the soft-spoken unemployed tailor. “Before they would say you were gay, but they didn’t hit you. Today you are beaten and it’s posted on social media.” Homosexuality has never been widely accepted in Senegal, a deeply conservative nation. But tensions have risen to new heights in recent months. In May, Senegalese football star Idrissa Gana Gueye was criticised in France for missing a Paris Saint-Germain match for “personal reasons” in which players wore rainbow jerseys to support LGBTQ rights. The reports prompted an outpouring of support for Gueye back home with social media deluged with homophobic memes. Days later, a mob hurling homophobic slurs beat up an American artist who was in Dakar for an international festival. Abdou’s nightmare began when a cousin discovered his sexuality and outed him, forcing him to flee from Senegal for months after being banished from his house, sacked from his job and bombarded with threats. Now he is back and said he is trying to convince his family he has “become” straight. “I tried several times to say, ‘Tomorrow, I’m not going to be gay anymore, tomorrow I’m going to try to find a girlfriend,’ [but] I can’t.” Abou cut contact with his gay friends to protect them and spends most of his time in isolation, trawling social media for information about Senegal’s growing anti-gay movement. “I can’t find the words to describe how much it hurts deep down to be hated,” he said. He once even tried to kill himself by drinking a poison for cockroaches. Activists say anti-gay rhetoric has been ramped up since a May 2021 demonstration in the capital calling for gay sex – currently punishable by up to five years in prison – to be made a serious crime. France, the former colonial power, has removed Senegal from its list of safe countries of origin because of the risks gays face there. Last year the majority of the 1,300 Senegalese asylum applications in France cited persecution over sexual orientation, according to official figures.

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