Cameroon’s lesbian First Daughter: ‘Let my story change the law’

The lesbian daughter of Cameroon’s president wants her nation to stop jailing homosexuals.

Brenda Biya: (Olivier Corsan photo courtesy of Le Parisien)
Brenda Biya: (Olivier Corsan photo courtesy of Le Parisien)

In an interview with the French publication “Le Parisien”, Brenda Biya, the daughter of Cameroonian President Paul Biya, explains why she came out, what her family’s response has been, and how she hopes to make a difference for Cameroon’s LGBTQ community. This is an English translation of that interview: 

“Let my story change the law”

COMING OUT | The daughter of Cameroon’s president, Brenda Biya, has sparked a storm by posting a photo of herself kissing her girlfriend. In her country, homosexuality is punishable by prison.

Brenda Biya fiddles with her fingers. The idea of ​​speaking out makes her “anxious.” On Sunday, June 30, the 27-year-old posted on her Instagram account (@kingnastyy) a photo of herself kissing her girlfriend, Layyons, a 25-year-old Brazilian model. The caption in English confirms the coming out: “PS: I’m crazy about you and I want the world to know.”

And Brenda is the daughter of Cameroonian President Paul Biya, 91, the oldest elected leader in office in the world. In the country he has ruled since 1982, as in twenty-six other African nations, homosexuality is illegal, punishable by five years in prison. About twenty people are currently incarcerated in Cameroon for having had relations with a person of the same sex.

Brenda Biya is aware of the “strong message” that her speech represents. She agreed to share her thoughts in her home in Geneva (Switzerland), on the affluent shores of Lake Geneva.

How have you been since you posted on Instagram?

I feel better. I am relieved. I have received a lot of support from Cameroonian and Western organizations. People have wished me courage. But I have also received negative, homophobic reactions. There have been some very violent ones, which I am still digesting. I tell myself that it will pass, like everything.

Why did you agree to speak today?

It was important to explain why I published this photo. Some say I did it for the buzz but it’s much more than that. There are many people in the same situation as me, who suffer because of who they are. If I can give them hope, help them feel less alone, if I can send love, I’m delighted. Speaking out is an opportunity to send an even stronger message.

You are the daughter of the President of Cameroon. What does that entail?

It’s a lot of pressure. Because people have a lot of expectations of you. I always thought I wasn’t really made for this role. I see it a bit like a gilded cage. I’m a bit of the black sheep of my family. When I left Cameroon at college for Switzerland, it freed me up a bit.

You grew up in a country where homosexuality is illegal. How did you come to terms with your sexuality?

I had my first crush on a girl when I was 16, but I had a hard time accepting it. I was in denial. I know the traditions of my country, and for me it was unthinkable. At the time, I was convinced that even if one day I managed to have a relationship with a woman, it would remain something private. I thought I would have to hide it from my family and the world for the rest of my life. I didn’t feel like I was completely myself. Then I had my first relationship with a woman in my first year of university and I started to assert myself a little more. I told my Cameroonian friends. They were surprised, but they accepted me as I was. It was a relief for me.

Brenda Biya published on her Instagram account this photo of her kissing Layyons Valença (@Laoncita) with a caption stating “I am crazy about you and want the world to know”.
Brenda Biya published on her Instagram account this photo of her kissing Layyons Valença (@Laoncita) with a caption stating “I am crazy about you and want the world to know”.

Why did you make your relationship official on social media?

I didn’t tell anyone, not even my girlfriend. I surprised everyone. We’ve been together for eight months. I’ve already taken her to Cameroon three times but without ever really saying who she was to me. I had also posted photos with her on my social media and there was speculation. But it wasn’t clear. I had been thinking about announcing it for a while. Now I feel free.

What was your family’s reaction?

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They didn’t know. My brother called me first. He was angry, especially because of the way I did it, because I had announced it on social media before telling him. I understand that, but I explained to him that if I had come to them, they would have ignored the conversation and beaten around the bush.

And your father?

Then, my parents called me. They wanted me to delete the post. But for me, it was like taking a step backwards and I had already taken the step. It wasn’t just a post: it meant accepting yourself. Since then, it’s been radio silence.

Would you like to see the law that punishes homosexuals in Cameroon change?

This law existed before my father was in power. I find it unfair and I hope that my story will change it. Mentalities are changing in Cameroon, especially among the younger generation. It will certainly take time but I think things can change. It may be too early for it to be removed completely but it could be less strict. We could first eliminate prison sentences for homosexuality.

How do you see the future?

It’s still very unclear. I could lose a lot: break my family ties, no longer be allowed to go to my country, be put in prison… My greatest wish would be to have a direct and open conversation with my parents where we would lay everything out in plain sight. I hope that happens, but first, I’ll let them digest it. I’m also still digesting my own situation.

See also: Will Cameroon repeal anti-LGBT law after First Daughter came out as a lesbian? (July 3, 2024, Erasing 76 Crimes) 

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