Nigeria and Cameroon: Two more countries with anti-LGBT laws

Two stories from separate sources highlighted the persecution that LGBT people face in Nigeria and Cameroon. While Russia and Uganda have captured the majority of media attention, it's worth noting that over 80 countries have anti-LGBT laws on the books.

First, Andy Kospa from The Nation highlighted his visit to a prison in Cameroon that houses LGBT people. Cameroon has been arresting LGBT people for many years, but with less international attention then Uganda or Nigeria.

Four of the six inmates we met have been held from a few months to over a year without trial or official charges. They remain in prison under what officials say is “suspicion of homosexuality.” The other two have been tried and found guilty—“condemned,” as they put it. The man is to serve two years; the woman is in for five.

The burden of proof to arrest someone on suspicion of homosexuality in Cameroon is low. If a nosy neighbor decides a person is gay—or if they just don’t like them—the neighbor can call the police and the accused is often arrested. Policemen sit out front of clubs rumored to be gay-friendly and arrest men and women as they leave. Parents may report their children, or siblings each other. Not every arrest results in a prison sentence—if the accused can pay a sufficient bribe, they are sometimes set free. Often, they’ll be rearrested and extorted again and again.

The man who was found guilty is very frail, his shoulders hunched over and his chest caving in. His lightweight purple tunic looks tie-dyed at first glance, but closer examination reveals stains and holes where the fabric has worn through. He didn’t talk during our visit except to answer questions with “Oui” or “Non." We asked if he had any family who visited. He didn’t respond. His friend, a fellow prisoner, answered, “His family abandoned him.”

The female inmate whispered that she suffers routine abuse at the hands of prison officials. She doesn’t say what kind of abuse and I know enough not to ask. She was recently in the hospital for a severe rash on her legs; she needs medication to heal it but she cannot afford the prescription. Healthcare isn’t provided to inmates at Yaoundé. The prison doctor only dispenses aspirin tablets. If a hospital stay—or any other treatment requiring more than an aspirin—is necessary the prisoner has to pay for it. She has no family. She tells us “Ils sont morts”—“They’re dead”—and tears up.

Secondly, Al Jazeera America tells the story of LGBT Nigerians seeking asylum in the United States. Asylum seekers in New York City are forming their own community.

Aaron Morris, legal director at Immigration Equality, a national advocacy organization that assists LGBT individuals seeking asylum in the U.S. and promotes HIV immigration rights, told Al Jazeera he expected the number of Nigerians in the U.S. seeking his help to increase next month in response to the new law. In the first two months of 2014, 35 Nigerians contacted the organization for help, said communication director Diego Ortiz, compared with 52 in all of 2013.

Even though “it was not safe before the law changed in Nigeria,” Morris said, “they’ve become a lot more scared.”

One 37-year-old bisexual LGBT-rights activist from Abuja who arrived in New York City last month is one of those seeking assistance from Immigration Equality. Stuck in a shelter with no money or job, he asked to remain anonymous. He plans to wear a mask to Friday’s protest to protect his family in Nigeria — two daughters and a wife — whom he hopes to bring to the U.S. if his asylum application is successful.

Anebi, a 38-year-old immigrant who goes by a nickname — given to him by his grandmother — for fear of retribution, is also a member of the growing community of gay refugees in the U.S. Like Ighodaro, he fled Nigeria after being beaten “a lot of times” and receiving death threats on his phone. As with Ighodaro, a visa for an international conference on HIV/AIDS became his safe passage to the U.S.

“I came because I wanted to leave everything behind and start a new life,” he told Al Jazeera.

Stories of LGBT people around the globe will continue to rise, and GLAAD will continue to amplify these stories in the media.