In Senegal, justice for LGBTI people is a long way off

Senegal President Macky Sall speaks at the Paris Peace Forum in November 2020. Sall has said he will never approve of decriminalizing homosexuality in Senegal. (Photo courtesy of En24news)

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Orlando (pseudonym) is a founding member of the Association for the Universal Decriminalization of Homosexuality and the president of a support organization for vulnerable LGBTI people in Senegal, the Union des Jeunes Engagés pour notre Communauté (UJEC). He recently spoke out at a conference in Paris that was dedicated to decriminalization. Erasing 76 Crimes recently spoke to him about his advocacy work and the situation for LGBT people in the West African country.

76Crimes: What hope does your advocacy work and the conference on the universal decriminalization of homosexuality hold for you?

Orlando: I’ve had a pretty difficult personal history that intersects with many of the difficulties faced by LGBTI people in Senegal. I was first outed to Jamra (a radical, puritanical Islamist and conservative Senegalese non-governmental organization) by a con man. Then my name was thrown around on social media, before my family disowned me, in the context of rising Muslim fundamentalism in my country.

For an activist like me who is forced to live in hiding and who receives repeated malicious calls, the prospect of being able to meet other activists from other backgrounds is for me a source of hope, because the criminalization of homosexuality in West Africa turns too many victims of abuse into scapegoats, contrary to what justice should be.

Map of Africa with Senegal highlighted

Senegal (colored in red) is a country of 17 million people in West Africa.

76Crimes: In Senegal, are there organizations that demand the decriminalization of homosexuality, apart from UJEC? And what can be the impact of the conference for the organizations that are located in Senegal?

Orlando: I will not speak on behalf of other organizations, but the Union of Young People Committed to our Community (UJEC), is one of the only ones to take an open and clear position on this issue in Senegal.

It must be said that the repressive treatment of LGBTI people by the institutions — police, justice — in my country does not help. The simple fact of having gel and lubricant in your home makes you a suspect, even if there is no crime, not to mention the existence of parallel institutions such as Jamra that investigate illegally in order to intimidate human rights defenders. In this context, helping to publicize the situation in Senegal can only have a positive impact for us.

76Crimes: Do LGBT people find lawyers easily in Senegal?

Orlando: It’s not necessarily a given, unless someone has support from an organization outside the country. Recently, a lesbian woman had her lawyer walk away from her court appearance. The rights of the accused are all the more crucial because the penalties for LGBTI people are high, as are the fines: up to 5 years in prison and a fine of more than 2 million CFA francs (about U.S. $3,328).

76Crimes: Are you hopeful that homosexuality will be decriminalized one day in your country?

Orlando: Yes, but it will be a very long process, involving more support and advocacy. For the time being we are dealing with emergencies.

If you wish to contact UJEC or donate to it, click here.