Free after Gambian ‘homosexual dance’ trial, but lives in ruins

The recent acquittal of 20 alleged gay and lesbian defendants on trial in The Gambia because of a “homosexual dance” last April was good news, but their ordeal isn’t over.

Gambia President Yahya Jammeh (Photo courtesy of WIki Commons)
Gambia President Yahya Jammeh (Photo courtesy of WIkiMedia Commons)

Because Gambia is an intensely homophobic nation, “Life can never be the same for them in Gambia,” said British human rights activist Omar Kuddus.

Before the trial, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh endorsed the arrests and a leading Muslim cleric reportedly said the defendants should be killed. Jammeh has said that Gambia  has no “room for gays and lesbians.”

Kuddus said:

“The defendants still have the stigma of being ‘outed’ as homosexual, having had their photographs published along with their names,”

“This has led to retribution from the general public and also from some of the defendants’ family who feel that they have dishonored them. …

“I been informed that there has been verbal abuse and shunning of the defendants. Some have been even called gorr jigeen [which is a derogatory term for homosexuals in Gambia] and been referred to as prostitutes.

“In fact one of the defendants’ parents — despite knowing that he is gay — are now trying to force him to get married to a woman to try and restore family honor and show that he has repented his actions, which naturally is unacceptable to him. He feels that he shall have to leave Gambia because of this and the publicity of the trial.”

During the trial, which the prosecution abandoned on Aug. 1, two police officers said men at the alleged “homosexual dance” were dressed as women, but Kuddus disputes that statement. Police testified they had seen the accused “wearing female clothes with hand bags on them walking like ladies” and “female dress as tight at the chest and wide at the bottom,” Kuddus said.  All of that “had been denied by all the defendants and I have been assured that no one was dressed in drag,” he said.

Under Gambian law, homosexual activities are punishable by a 14-year prison term. The defendants had all pleaded not guilty to charges of “unnatural offenses,” a felony.

“The plight of Gambian LGBT’s is becoming precarious,” he said, much as it is in Uganda. “This trial is but the continuation of the persecution of LGBTs in Gambia, which shows its defiant stance on homosexuality and its desire to become the Iran of Africa,” he said.

He protested, “For all this, the Western world and its governments stand by and do nothing in regards to the plight of African LGBT’s and the violation of their basic human rights.”

For more information about Kuddus’s statements, see the press release “LGBT Advocate remarks on the devastation in the wake of failed Gambian trial.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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