At the end of a Senate briefing last week offering updates on science’s strides against HIV and AIDS worldwide, Dr. Chris Beyrer of John Hopkins University, and president-elect of the International AIDS Society offered a sobering counterpoint to the news of encouraging advances. “We’re not really there yet, for a group of people who are sometimes called ‘key populations,’ sometimes called ‘MARPs’ . . .” Noting that group includes gay men and other sexual minorities, Beyrer added that in recent years, movements to fight homophobic laws and neglect that interfere with access to health services have swept Africa in increasing numbers but that activism comes at a cost and requires great courage. Just three days earlier, Beyrer pointed out, one such activist, Cameroonian HIV treatment advocate and journalist Eric Ohena Lembembe had been found beaten and tortured to death in his home.
With seven people in prison, and 15 awaiting trial on homosexuality related criminal charges, Cameroon leads the world in reported arrests and prosecutions springing from antigay laws, according to the book From Wrongs to Gay Rights: Cruelty and change for LGBT people in an uncertain world to which Lembembe was a contributing author.
That doesn’t mean that Cameroon is necessarily the site of more antigay arrests and prosecutions; it is likely that many more occur in countries where records and reporting are rigidly restricted, the book’s lead author Colin E. Stewart points out. Reporting on persecutions of sexual minorities was one of the roles Lembembe played in confronting barriers standing between gay Cameroonians and HIV services.
Stewart, a retired longtime columnist and editor for the Orange County Register, launched 76 Crimes, a blog examining, as it says, “The human toll of 76 countries’ anti-gay laws, The struggle to repeal them,” a little more than a year ago, and was referred to Lembembe shortly after. In addition to his career as a professional journalist, Lembembe at the time was communications director for CAMFAIDS, the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, a human rights advocacy and peer education organization.
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