On Mar 22, 1017 Reuters reported: Relaxing on the terrace of a gay bar in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan, a group of men embraced and laughed as people walked past without even glancing their way.
Inside the bar, a young man caressed his companion’s chin in the corner, while a transgender woman greeted everyone before strutting and shaking to the music under the strobe lights.
“Some of the guys who come here don’t feel comfortable displaying their sexuality outside of these walls,” 34-year-old Michel, the owner of Sass Bar, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Abidjan.”Others are just fine being themselves in their neighborhoods,” he added, his voice barely eclipsing the music.
The bar is one of many gay venues in Abidjan, a relatively tolerant city for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in a region where homosexuality is mostly illegal, and sexual minorities face persecution, discrimination and violence.
Ivory Coast is one of a minority of African countries – around 20 of the 54 nations on the continent – which do not explicitly criminalize homosexuality or same-sex acts.
Yet the recent jailing of two gay men for three months – under a public indecency law that carries a harsher prison sentence for “an indecent or unnatural act with a person of the same sex” – has sent shivers through the LGBTI community.
Yann, 31, and Abdoul, 19, were arrested in the southwestern city of San Pedro in October after rumors spread about the nature of their relationship, leading Abdoul’s uncle to file a police complaint as he believed Yann was abusing his nephew.
Rights activists say Ministry of Justice officials are considering changing the public indecency law so that it no longer singles out homosexual acts or relations.
However much more needs to be done to change Ivorians’ attitudes – with some still suspicious of or hostile toward sexual minorities, campaigners say.
While Yann and Abdoul were released from prison in January many freedoms still elude the men, who are now openly a couple.
“When you look or a job, they ask for your police record … and mine is already tainted,” said Yann, who worked as a security guard before his arrest.