Sentinelle, Ndibis and Duval are homosexual young men living in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon. Homosexuality is illegal in the country, so they pose as bisexuals for social conformity.
By Anne Mireille Nzouankeu, Yaoundé
Sentinelle, 30, was excommunicated from his church on allegations of homosexuality. As for Duval, 24, his family tried to have him exorcised by a priest. They believe that homosexuals are somewhat possessed.
For most Cameroonians, homosexuals are members of some evil sects where sodomy is a part of mystical rituals. “There are people who do not accept us as we are. In the streets, people call us names like faggots. They blame us for destroying the youth”, explains Duval.
Between rejection and discrimination
All these beliefs only exacerbate existing homophobic sentiments and ultimately lead to the rejection of homosexuals. Gay people in Cameroon are also discriminated against, especially regarding access to healthcare.
“Sometimes during sexual relations, we bleed. When we go to the hospital, we are usually requested to bring our partner along. We have to lie in order to receive medical care. We often say that our girlfriend is out of town”, Sentinelle explains.
Living two lives
Unlike Ndibis en Sentinelle, Duval shared his sexual orientation with his family. Both young men have female and male partners. Ndibis’s ‘man’ is married with two children. “I don’t feel betrayed. He took a wife because of family and social pressure”, he says.
Sentinelle recalls having his first sexual relationship at the age of 14, with a girl. “I did it because of peer pressure. All my friends had girlfriends, so I thought: why not”, he recounts. He hasn’t been sexually involved with a woman ever since, even though he is currently engaged to one. His fiancée is not aware of his sexual orientation and she is so religious that she does not want to have sex before marriage.
Something Sentinelle finds quite convenient. He wants to marry her, not only to avoid raising suspicion about him, but also because he loves children. “I will not resort to adoption when I can have children of my own. I want to have children with my wife”, he says. At the same time, he is also intimately involved with a married man.
Legalisation of homosexuality
The three young men cannot openly live their sexuality, for fear of both social and legal reprisals. In fact, article 347 of the Cameroonian Penal Code states: “Whoever has sexual relations with a person of the same sex shall be punished with imprisonment, ranging from six months to five years and with a fine of between 20,000 and 200,000 CFA Francs (between 24,50 and 245 euros)”.
Coordinator of Paemh (Projet d’assistance et d’encadrement des minorities sexuelles or Project for assistance and guidance for sexual minorities), Stéphane Koche, reveals that, on authority of this article, “200 people, on average, are arbitrarily arrested and detained every year in Cameroon”. Meanwhile, homosexuals keep on hoping for the eventual legalisation of homosexuality in the country.