Gay Community Under Attack In Liberia Over Ebola Outbreak

Gay Community Under Attack In Liberia Over Ebola Outbreak

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Leroy
Ponpon doesn’t know whether to lock himself in his flat in Monrovia
because of the deadly Ebola virus, or because he is gay. Christian
churches’ recent linking of the two have made life hell for him and
hundreds of other gays.

 Ponpon, an LGBT
campaigner in the Liberian capital, says gays have been harassed,
physically attacked and a few have had their cars smashed by people
blaming them for the haemorrhagic fever, after religious leaders in
Liberia said Ebola was a punishment from God for homosexuality.

“Since church
ministers declared Ebola was a plague sent by God to punish sodomy in×
Liberia, the violence towards gays has escalated. They’re even asking
for the death penalty. We’re living in fear,” Ponpon told the Foundation
by telephone from Monrovia.

Ebola has
infected almost 10,000 people in Africa since March, killing around half
its victims. Liberia is the worst hit country where poverty, corruption
and civil war have left a weak health system unable to cope with the
exponential spread of the disease.

Some religious leaders have their own interpretation of the causes of Ebola.

Earlier this
year, the Council of Churches said in a statement that God was angry
with Liberians “over corruption and immoral acts” such as homosexuality,
and that Ebola was a punishment.

In May,
Archbishop Lewis Zeigler of the Church of Liberia said that “one of the
major transgressions against God for which He may be punishing Liberia
is the act of homosexuality,” local media reported.

Francois
Patuel, Amnesty International’s representative in Africa, said there had
been reports of threats and violence against the LGBTI community in
Monrovia since the incendiary remarks made by the local Christian
leaders.

“Amnesty has
received pictures of cars that reportedly belong to gays with their
windows smashed as well as reports that gays have been forced from their
homes and had to go into hiding,” Patuel told the Thomson Reuters
Foundation.

Neither the
Church nor the Liberian Council of Churches could be reached in
Monrovia. Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Bishops and the
Episcopal Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

COVER OF DARKNESS

Ponpon prefers
to move at night. He is scared to be identified in daylight after the
local press splashed his picture and phone number across the front
pages. But the Ebola curfew, running from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., has
complicated things.

“In the day, we
move around wearing sunglasses and disguises. The problem with moving
at night is that it is not safe in Monrovia in the dark, and also, if
you violate the Ebola curfew, it is punishable by imprisonment,” he
said.

The curfew has
affected the LGBT community in another way. When activists contact the
police for protection, they reply that because of the Ebola emergency
and the curfew put in place to combat the disease, they cannot help,
Ponpon said.

Violence
against the LGBT community was already common in West Africa before the
Ebola outbreak, and same-sex relationships are still largely taboo in
many African countries. A recent Gallup poll showed Africa as the worst
continent for gay people.

National laws
in West Africa are in line with public sentiment. In Liberia, ‘voluntary
sodomy’ is a first-degree misdemeanour with a penalty of up to one year
in jail, according to the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and
Intersex Association (ILGA).

Patuel said
Amnesty had received no reports of similar incidents in other
Ebola-stricken countries in the region, and urged African states to
stand up for minorities.

“In August this
year the African Union passed a resolution for the protection of LGBTi
rights. The authorities must adopt this into their national law and take
action against homophobic statements to protect its citizens,” Patuel
said.

In Liberia,
Ponpon’s demands are simple: “Right now, all we want is protection. We
want the government to come forward and say that this is a minority
group and they deserve the same rights as anyone else and then people
will stop attacking us.”

Source: Reuters Africa

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