Abidjan — A few years ago, homosexuality was not tolerated in Ivory Coast. Today, this trend seems to be on the reverse. While homosexuality remains a taboo in most circles, sexual minorities are becoming increasingly visible in the commercial capital, Abidjan.
Like in many other African countries, the demonization of homosexuality has justified injustices and discrimination against gays, lesbians and transsexuals in Ivory Coast.
Touré Claver, a homosexual and the President of Alternative Côte d'Ivoire, recalls that a few ago, "a doctor had denied medical care to a homosexual patient simply because of his sexual orientation." Alternative Côte d'Ivoire is a non-governmental organisation which fights against homophobia and promotes healthcare for sexual minority groups.
Touré Claver and a few members of his organisation demonstrated at the healthcare centre to force the doctor to attend to the gay patient. "There is still discrimination against gay people, but generally we are moving toward relative tolerance," declares Claver.
Although the picture might look gloomy and the current state of affairs might not be in favour of the gay community, Ivory Coast remains an island of hope for homosexuals in the West African region.
"Eldorado" is the word used by Claver to describe Ivory Coast in comparison to other countries in the region, which enforce strict laws against homosexuality. Members of gay communities from across the region and around the globe travel to Ivory Coast for meetings, exchanges, projects and self-fulfilment in general. In Abidjan, the number of gay people living openly is increasing steadily.
Unlike some countries where homosexuality is regarded as a crime punishable by law, "there is a judicial gap in Ivory Coast on the question. This makes the country an ideal destination for regional and international gatherings such as gay and lesbian conferences", says F. A., a homosexual and legal expert for Alternative Côte d'Ivoire (ACI), who wished to remain anonymous.
"Homosexuality is only criminalised in Article 360 of the Penal Code, not as an act but as indecent behaviour; and only when performed in public. Therefore, as long as homosexual acts are performed behind closed doors, there is no crime, so that's all right as far as the authorities are concerned," adds the legal expert.
ACI is a relatively young organisation. "The NGO was created on 14 March 2010 in Ivory Coast and on 7 April 2010, we received the legal authorisation from the Ministry of Interior to operate as a legally established institution. We have been active ever since," explains Claver, the organisation's president.
ACI provides regular training and advice for its members at the organisation's headquarters, an imposing building in Cocody, Abidjan's upmarket suburb. In addition to a 24 hours service, a toll-free line has been created to facilitate communication among its members.
"We will soon open the line to the public in order to register their concerns as well as inform them about our activities," says G. A., the organisation's Communications Officer, who wished to remain anonymous.
ACI has set up ten auxiliary centres across Abidjan's ten districts for more proximity with its members. The organisation has also signed conventions with almost a dozen healthcare centres to ensure effective medical care for homosexual patients.
The nongovernmental organisation is also striving for the self-fulfilment of its members through the launch of two exclusively gay and lesbian nightclubs in the Ivorian capital. However, Alternative Côte d'Ivoire has been proactive in dealing with HIV/AIDS, which is a prevalent threat in the gay community.
There are peer educators at ACI who are dedicated to sensitisation efforts on HIV/AIDS. L. L. is one of those educators, who asked to remain anonymous. Openly homosexual for seven years, L. L. is committed to curbing the prevalence of the deadly disease within the gay community.
Alternative Côte d'Ivoire dreams of a gay pride in Ivory Coast, but not in the near future.
"We are in Africa after all and one must take into account the cultural context. We will not accomplish in a few years here what took gay communities centuries of struggle to accomplish in the West. For the time being, we are taking it slowly, one step at a time. It will come with time!", declares a confident Claver.