Because of public pressure and fear of lesbians, a star athlete is barred from every football (soccer) club in Cameroon. Now she’s trying to get back in the game.
By Steeves Winner
Eighteen-year-old Stenie (a pseudonym) always wanted to be a professional football player.
Two years ago, that dream came true. She joined the professional Intersport football club in the city of Yaoundé, Cameroon, and the team paid her enough money to live on.
She lives alone, with no other financial support, rejected by her family because of her sexual orientation.
This is her story:
I pursued my education until secondary school. In 2013, I stopped because of the school’s homophobic and discriminatory climate.
Because I look masculine, people called me “boy-girl.”
I decided to pursue a career in football even though I knew that people in Cameroon discriminate against female football players on the assumption that they all are lesbians.
In 2013, I decided to join a club to start a football career and to fulfill my dream of becoming a professional football player. I played for five years. Two years ago, I became a professional at the Intersport football club.
At first, it was really hard. I endured insults and discrimination. Team members called me a rug muncher. Others pejoratively called me “father.”
One night after a match, I barely escaped from two men who jumped me from the bushes on my way home. I was able to get out of that mess only because passersby heard my cries and intervened.
Then, on Friday, Nov. 23, after a match where I played well, the manager and my coach at Intersport told me that I wouldn’t be on the team any more. They said the club’s success was in jeopardy because of public pressure and anti-gay judgments about me.
“What did I do?” I asked. “How does my presence hurt the club?”
They did not answer me.
I am a lesbian, but I have engaged in no homosexual behavior while on the team and have no homosexual relationship with any team member.
I left the room without complaining. The next day a teammate called to tell me that Intersport convened a meeting of players and staff to say that any homosexual acts would be punished. They cited me as an example and announced that I was permanently excluded from the team.
After several unsuccessful attempts to appeal that decision, I went to the national football federation. They also rejected me, merely saying that they do not support homosexuality.
I tried to join another club, but was turned down again. I learned that the federation had decided that I could no longer play for any club in Cameroon because of my sexual orientation.
Lady’s Cooperation [a women’s advocacy organization] has given me moral support, but I am very depressed.
Steeves Winner adds:
Let’s help Stenie find a club outside Cameroon where she can fulfill her dream, develop her talent and live her life to the fullest.
If you know of a club that might be willing to give Stenie a tryout, please write to Steeves Winner.
Steeves Winner, the author of this article, is an activist for LGBTI rights in Cameroon who writes under a pseudonym. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org