Names in this article have been changed to conceal the identities of gay
Jerome, 16, strides like he is a supermodel on a runway. He has a slender
body, and his hair is cut short. The fashionable teen is wearing denim jeans. A
white polo T-shirt bathed in dragon designs reveals his bare chest. From his
slippers peek red painted toenails.
The soft-spoken teen gestures with his hands and licks his lips nervously. He
is full of suspicion of his surroundings. Jerome says he is gay, a realization
that came to him when he was much younger.
"When I was much smaller, I felt different from my other cousins who were
boys," says Jerome. "I felt I was a girl, so I always acted like a girl. Then
when I started growing older, I found friends who were also like me. We started
doing things, and that's how I became gay."
People in same-sex relationships in Liberia are alienated from society. Most
Liberians say that homosexuality is an act of immorality, and as a result,
nobody has come out in the open to admit being gay.
In fear of reprisals, Jerome meets FrontPage Africa at a secret, secured
location to tell his story.
There are no statistics as to how many people in Liberia are involved in same-
sex relationships, but studies in other countries show as much as 10 percent of
the population is gay. Experts say there is every reason to believe that same
percentage exists here.
Unlike South Africa and some parts of the United States and Europe where gay
marriage is legal, most African countries including Liberia have no legal
parameters in place relating to gay rights.
This subject has become a major sticking point in relations between African
countries and the West with leaders such as British Prime Minister David
Cameron threatening to suspend aid to countries that do not enshrine gay rights
It has become a difficult dance for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who has
tried to keep international donors onside while assuring her public at home
that she has no intention of legalizing homosexuality.
Although no one has come out as a homosexual in Liberia to date, there are
several activists working on behalf of gay rights.
Though not gay themselves, activists like 27-year-old University of Liberia
student Abraham Kamara say the treatment of homosexuals in Liberia is unjust.
They say homosexuals do not choose to be gay and that the acts of two
consenting adults should be no business of state. "We need to respect gays and
lesbian rights in this country," Kamara says.
Kamara and fellow gay rights activist Archie Ponpon have been attacked for
their advocacy. In January, Kamara narrowly escaped an angry mob of students
after speaking out at the University of Liberia's Capitol Hill campus.
"This is Africa," says Kamara. "We understand that many people are not
educated to that level, so when you get into the advocacy, many people tell you
that you are also gay." Kamara says he simply wants to see Liberia transition
from being a closed society to one that is free for all.
'Target for Hate Crimes'
Ponpon, 28, a heterosexual and a Christian, started advocating for gay rights
in December of last year. In a country of deeply rooted Christian and Islam
tradition, he says homosexuals are a target for hate crimes.
"These are people who are very proud of who they are and because of society
discriminating against them, frowning on them, I think they are suppressed," he
Ponpon has paid a high price for his work. In recent weeks, his mother's
house was set ablaze and his daughter and her mother were chased out of a local
church because he has been campaigning for the rights of gay people. Jerome
plays nervously with his fingers as he tells of his heartbreak that a recent
relationship ended because of intolerance against gays.
My man left
"The day of the wedding meeting they came and disturbed us. The police came,
arrested us and took us to the police station. People jumped on me to fight."
The young gay teen says the breaking up of his marriage has devastated him and
he has become emotionally depressed.
"I was sad; I got sick and was indoors for two days," says Jerome.
"My man left. Since then, I haven't seen him. The worst part about it is that
he even has a relationship with one of the persons who helped to break up the
marriage and the person is a boy."
Tyrese, 29, says he is also gay and is proud to be the way he is. He says his
trouble began when his partner, who is older, decided to throw him a birthday
"I had my first birthday party, and some people heard it and started to spread
rumors that two gay people were getting married," says Tyrese.
"I told my fiancé that I wasn't feeling safe in the area. So we moved to my
Tyrese, who runs his own catering business, says he started to feel emotions
for men at a very young age and he knew he was different.
Mom, Sisters shocked
"I realized it ever since when I was small and I started by hiding and
sneaking," he says.
"But what actually exposed me is when I started living with this older man who
was a gay. Everyone who saw us said he was my husband."
Tyrese says his mother and sisters were shocked when they found out he was gay
but they later accepted him as he was.
His eldest brother, however, does not speak to him, because he cannot stomach
being related to a gay person.
"When we meet anywhere, as soon as he notices me, he turns his back until I
pass," says Tyrese. "But all my sisters and my mother know."
Jerome says his mother was shocked and in a state of disbelief when he told
her he was gay. "People told her, but she could not believe it, so she asked me
and I said 'Yes, I'm gay'," he says.
Tyrese says being gay in Liberia is very difficult. He says many times
homosexuals are rejected by their communities and have to go underground. "It
is too hard for us because they don't accept us," says Tyrese.
"The only way we can have small freedom is when we meet in the club and the
music is loud. Sometimes we have closed door parties; then we have small
freedom. But when you come outside, there is no freedom."
Tyrese says the pressure from his community caused his partner to abandon
their relationship and leave him for a woman.
"We were together and everything was fine, but then he started cheating with a
woman, and I could not stand it," he says. "He was giving 75 percent of his
time to the woman and was giving me 25 percent, so we started to fuss."
Tyrese and Jerome, both high school dropouts, say there are many gay people in
Liberia who want to come out but are afraid of the backlash from their
"We only want peace and freedom," says Jerome. "I feel disappointed because
they have no business troubling anyone; everyone has their lives to live in any
Jerome's face lights up when he talks of his time in the Ghanaian capital,
"I was in Ghana for two years; I had freedom," he says. "I went about
freely. I even took part in a beauty pageant – 'Miss Gay Liberia' – and I came
second. I think they should let us have our freedom."
Many gays like Tyrese and Jerome say they face threats on their lives on a
"Anywhere you go, they threaten you and say 'It will not hold; we will stab
you with a knife or we will burn your house'," says Tyrese. "These people you
find out are the same ones who have had affairs with you, so it is hard for
In other parts of Africa, gays have been killed or brutally maimed. The heat
surrounding the current debate has some experts worried that same violence
could happen here. The debate over gay rights in Liberia is likely to remain
complicated for some time.
Wade Williams is a fellow of New Narratives, a project supporting independent
media in Africa: http://www.newnarratives.org/
Pubblicato da Lorenzo Bernini