IVORY Coast has refused to join the host of African nation passing anti-gay laws saying that focusing on national recovery after its recent political crisis will remain the government’s priority for now.
Of late, a host of African nations have passed Draconian homophobic laws with Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan signing a Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill into law on January 7. Uganda’s parliament passed a similar law in December last year, although President Yoweri Museveni is yet to sign the bill into law.
Across Ivory Coast, there has been pressure on the government to follow suit and late last month, dozens of homophobic protesters attacked the Abidjan offices of gay rights group Alternative Cote d’Ivoire, bashing in the doors and looting equipment. However, despite this, the government has refused to be moved and gay bars are commonplace across Abidjan, the country’s capital.
One government official said that Ivory Coast, which is recovering from a bloody political and military crisis that ended in 2011, had more pressing matters to address than its citizens’ sexual orientation. Following its 2010 presidential election, Ivory Coast was plunged into a bloody civil war and it took a year for peace to be restored.
Fabrice, who handles judicial affairs for Alternative Cote d’Ivoire, said: "Ivory Coast is generally liberal about the issue because we have not yet been subjected to homophobic legislation. There is considerable unemployment and organised crime on a large scale, so at the end of the day, homosexuality is a minor issue.
"Even in country villages, where tradition reigns strong, homosexuality is stigmatised without going too far. There can be criticism and verbal abuse, but it’s hardly sharia law.”
Abidjan 22-year-old student Jacques, added: " In a gay club, we are much freer than in straight places. We get no strange looks and can unwind, feel at ease and let ourselves go."
Malika, a 20-year-old teacher who has been living as a woman by night and a man by day for the past three years, added: “I live with a friend but out of respect for his other friends and his job, I live as a man under his roof. However, when I go about my own business, I am the way I want to be.”
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