Gays Find Courage To Come Out in DR Congo

Published: May 17, 2014

Dida, a hairdresser in the capital, said he had no qualms being openly gay — although he, like others, asked for his name to be changed for the interview.

"My own parents accepted me as I am and as for others, I don’t give a damn what they think," he told AFP, confidently.

But Arthur, a basketball player in his 30s, struggles with the social stigma in a country where many see homosexuality as sinful, or unnatural.

"I’m afraid of what my family will say, my friends, others around me. I don’t feel at ease with myself."

Far from outlawing homosexuality like Uganda, where draconian legislation has sparked a global outcry, the Kinshasa government has included measures to help AIDS prevention for the gay community.

But as the country marks the International Day against Homophobia on Saturday, Congolese NGOs say gays still face being cast out by their families, or forced into prostitution to survive.

Gays and lesbians face "verbal and moral violence and isolated cases of blackmail as well as threats", which drive them "under cover" or even into exile, said a gay rights activist who calls himself "Justice Walu".

Gays in the DRC meet online, or in gay-friendly bars and nightclubs.

But women have to be more discreet than men, with lesbians — as elsewhere in Africa — facing the terrifying prospect of "punitive" rapes.

Sirius, a 31-year-old lesbian journalist, spoke from bitter experience. "Almost every day in the district, you get looks and insults and stigmatisation."

"One day, in 2007, I was surrounded by boys who told me they were going to rape me to give me a taste for men, that whatever I did I was still a woman," she added.

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