Peaceful celebration in Cameroon a year after mob attack
Three associations in Cameroon’s capital city organized a week’s activities to commemorate this year’s International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO). Unlike last year, the activities were not disrupted by anti-gay violence.
La version française: “Yaoundé célèbre IDAHO 2013 avec faste et sérénité”
IDAHO 2013 IN CAMEROON
Time: around 6 p.m., May 17. Location: The Bastos Roundabout residential area of Yaounde, where most embassies are located, within walking distance of the Presidential Palace.
Dressed in many colors, a group of young men and young women get out of a minibus. Excited and happy, they dance, shout and run in all directions, waving a rainbow flag made especially for the occasion. Cameras flash. After a few minutes of dancing, the small group vanishes, leaving behind some balloons with LGBT-friendly messages written on them. This unusual scene arouses the curiosity of some passersby, one of whom takes a few snapshots. Many other observers have little idea what’s going on.
“In a Cameroonian society that is increasingly hostile to the gay issue, we fear what would have happened if they had understood what it was about,” says protester Michel Engama, who is pleased that the event came and went without unpleasantness.
This was probably the first “Rainbow Flag Flash Mob” in the history of the LGBT movement in Cameroon. It was organized to mark International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) by three advocacy groups that promote the rights of sexual minorities — Humanity First Cameroon, the Cameroonian Foundation For Aids (Camfaids) and Affirmative Action.
That same day, before the Rainbow Flag Flash Mob, 40 gays and lesbians gathered at the headquarters of Humanity First Cameroon for “participatory adult education” — a series of workshops, discussions and a debate. The organizer, Yannick N., explained:
“This was mainly for participants to discuss topics related to homophobia, violations and abuses of human rights, the vulnerability of LGBTI to STIs and HIV / AIDS, and the value of LGBTI in the Cameroonian society.”
In the discussions, many participants grew emotional as they discussed the ways they themselves are victims of homophobia — rejection by family or society; discrimination in all areas of life, including hospital training; physical and verbal abuse; scams; arbitrary arrests; and even convictions. They discussed possible strategies for dealing with these homophobic acts, which are growing increasingly common in Cameroon.
The theme of the debate, led by a journalist activist, was “Varieties of homophobia in Cameroon and their impact on LGBTI.” The panel consisted of a psychologist, a lawyer and an association volunteer, discussing impacts ranging from stigma to imprisonment.
Because of these impacts, the psychologist said, “we see low self-esteem among LGBTI, reinforced by self-homophobia, a high rate of school dropouts, high vulnerability to HIV / AIDS, and a tendency to suicide.”
The finale of IDAHO 2013 in Yaounde was a cultural evening on May 18 in a party room rented for the occasion. To avoid the tragedy that occurred at the end of IDAHO last year, when a mob broke into the closing ceremony, the steering committee hired a police unit to provide security through the night. More than 300 people — gays, lesbians and heterosexuals alike — attended the show, at which both established and budding artists from the LGBTI community presented their interpretations of songs and their impressive choreography. Miss and Mister IDAHO 2013 were elected, and community excellence awards were presented in various categories. The award categories included best peer educator, best community leader, academic achievement of the year, best stylist and best gay-friendly bar.
Just like last year, the week’s activities began with a film screening and a football (soccer) match between an LGBT team and a heterosexual team. The friendly game, held May 12, resulted in a 4-4 tie.
After the game, the leader of one of the sponsoring associations explained that the reason for the match was to promote tolerance for LGBTI people. The captain of the heterosexual team said his team members “do not feel any particular hostility toward homosexuals, and see them as normal human beings.” As a sign of the relationship between the two groups, heterosexual players said they wanted to attend the cultural evening at the end of IDAHO 2013. And they did …
— Eric O. LEMBEMBE
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