Burundi: Harassment, then support for young lesbian

Bujumbura scene in Burundi on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. (Photo courtesy of LAfrique.com)
Beach scene in Bujumbura, Burundi, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. (Photo courtesy of LAfrique.com)

This young woman’s story from Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, comes courtesy of Quebec City-based journalist Ruby Pratka, who publishes the blog Year of No Fear. In Burundi, same-sex intimacy is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Dominique’s story

I’m going to tell you one girl’s story. For safety reasons, we’ll just call her Dominique, because she has had to deny who she is to keep from going to prison. Dominique is a Burundian girl like any other.

She loves her friends and family more than anything, but for her Burundi is nothing but a big hospital where she has been quarantined ever since the police told her she was sick and abnormal. She has all it takes for a successful future  in communications or in multimedia, she loves books and the arts, but to society she’s contagious.

They don’t want her to live happily anymore. Her family supports her but tells her to lay low, to leave this country. Burundians aren’t used to that. That’s what she hears every day, go biragoye kumva. [It’s hard for people to understand.]

Location du Burundi en Afrique.
Location of Burundi in Africa.

One day, she wants to dazzle this country where she was born, this country that she loves and respects. How is it her fault if she would rather have Joëlle than Christophe? Recently she’s been living in her bubble, because outside she feels their stares; they’re looking for evidence to lock her up.

When her friends protested the injustice, they were accused of letting her contaminate them. They were afraid they would be quarantined, so they stopped. Every evening they still bring her the news and gossip from Bujumbura, so she holds on, but  she would really love to be able to go out again in peace without Officer Michel from the judicial police tracking her every gesture and  hoping to see her crack.

She hangs on, because there’s nothing else she can do. As soon as she goes out, it’s terrible. She scares people, she’s contagious, people judge her for her clothes and for her walk.

She is a target, but her spirit is invincible. She has values and dreams of peace and humanity. She can shout all she wants that she’s normal, that she’s whole, that she can’t stand it when people treat her as if she is fighting them, that she doesn’t deserve to be deprived of the right to live and love freely. How can people judge love? She brings shame on society. She’s the enemy. She’s danger itself. Because she’s a 24-year-old Burundian woman and she loves another woman.

You’ll be all right, Dominique

Pratka writes:

One of many encouraging messages that distant supporters sent to Dominique via Facebook.
One of many encouraging messages that distant supporters sent to Dominique via Facebook.

I received this cri de coeur on Facebook, along with a few hundred other people, from a young woman I know in  Burundi who has connections in Burundi’s small, closed LGBT circles. In Burundi, having consensual sexual relations with someone of the same sex is a crime punishable by prison. As far as I know, no one has actually been charged under this law since it was passed in 2009, but the simple fact of the law’s existence has sent an understandable wave of unease and fear through the LGBT, questioning and allied community in Burundi.

Someone has created a Facebook group, Dominique ntaco azoba (You’ll be all right, Dominique) and a hashtag (#ntacoazoba) to support Dominique and others like her. The page has gathered nearly 300 likes in four days of existence. [Editor’s note: The page was approaching 500 likes by early November.]

Since the original French version of this text was published on Facebook, it’s received dozens of comments, almost uniformly positive.

A Facebook group won’t change the world overnight, obviously. But let’s come together, like, share  and show our solidarity, if only to let all the Dominiques know they’re not broken, and above all that they’re not alone.

The text in italics above is (c) Dominique ntaco azoba. The non-italic text below the headline “You’ll be all right, Dominique” is (c) Ruby Irene Pratka. These accounts are used by permission of Ruby Pratka.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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