Alice Nkom: Struggle and hope for LGBTI Cameroonians

Alice Nkom of Cameroon (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)
Alice Nkom speaks at Quorum gathering on international LGBTI rights (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

There’s reason to hope that the often-homophobic African nation of Cameroon is on the road to eventually ensuring fair treatment for its LGBTI citizens, says Alice Nkom, the 69-year-old attorney who is one of two or three lawyers in the country who accept LGBTI people as clients.

“We see a change, a visible change. The issue is out of the closet now. It’s a national debate,” Nkom said in a video from the “Quorum” series of 11 discussions of international LGBTI issues, presented by The Daily Beast.

During her talk, she described the harassment that LGBTI people face in her west/central African country, where the penalty for same-sex relations is up to five years in prison.

After her talk, evidence was published (on this blog) that fewer LGBTI Cameroonians are being arrested and imprisoned than in the past, which is consistent with Nkom’s message of hope. (See the article, “LGBTI life improves in homophobic Cameroon.”)

These are some excerpts from the video, in which Nkom answers questions from Jessica Stern, the executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission:

“I started to defend homosexuals in 2003 because I saw so many people suffering … not being able to love who they love.”

“You’re not really well received when you defend homosexuals because there is a lot of stigmatization with all of its consequences in terms of exclusion, in terms of physical threats, including for your family. These are realities over there.”

“I must say that it’s first of all you, the American people, who reached out to me before anyone else. You are the ones who I’ve heard first and before anyone else the voice of the homosexuals in Cameroon and who have answered in a very strong way. And let me take this opportunity to mention the special help that we received by Madam Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States, who did not hesitate to come see us, to reach out to us and invite me here and quite frankly to … Geneva, where she delivered a very strong message — I could even say an historic message — especially the following one: ‘You are not alone.’ “

Alice Nkom of Cameroon (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)
Alice Nkom of Cameroon (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

In her talk, Nkom described the case of two young men whom police arrested after finding condoms in their house.  Because the men had condoms, police concluded, “We are in the middle of a network of homosexuals.”  A doctor at the police station examined the size of each man’s anus and, on that basis, declared them to be homosexuals. They were convicted and sentenced to six months in prison, Nkom said.

Nkom’s video was the concluding one of 11 discussions of international LGBTI issues that overall were designed to “reverse the megaphone,” allowing activists from abroad to tell Western viewers about the challenges that LGBTI people face worldwide. The videos were recorded at a December 2014 meeting in New York and published in March and April 2015.

The series, under its full title “Quorum: Global LGBT voices,” was presented by The Daily Beast. The Erasing 76 Crimes blog, as a member of the advisory board for the project, helped The Daily Beast select Quorum speakers. Because of technical difficulties, this article on Nkom’s video was delayed until now.

The video is on the Quorum page and on YouTube.

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 Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.


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