Cameroon's Gay Crusader
BY Michelle Garcia
November 18 2010 6:15 PM ET
At age 17, Steave Nemande left his home country of Cameroon to study in Russia. Little did he know he would also discover he is gay.
After eight years of study and obtaining his medical degree in Russia, Nemande found himself back in Cameroon, en route to a more bustling locale like Johannesburg for additional schooling. But something kept him in Cameroon — he saw a need for advocacy and activism for the country's persecuted LGBT population.
Eventually, Nemande became the head of Alternatives-Cameroun, a now four-year-old organization that provides services and help for gay people in the region. While he was quite aware of his sexual orientation when he took the post, his family did not know he was gay until rumors about his new job spread to his father.
"Two gay men were arrested for being homosexual," he told The Advocate Tuesday, the day
after he was presented with Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award
for his work. "After they were released, it was unsafe for them to return home, so I invited them to Douala to relax. We housed them at my apartment, but because of the way they dressed, and the way they acted, people knew they were gay."
Finally, Nemande's father approached him and asked about the situation. He describes his father as being generally reserved, and when he came out to his parents, they understood and accepted him. Still, they feared other people's reactions.
"I'm very lucky for the support of my parents, but not everyone has that in Cameroon," he said, which is why the work of Alternatives-Cameroun is so significant. According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, the Cameroon Penal Code, enacted in 1972, punishes "sexual relations with a person of the same sex" with a prison term of six months to five years and with a fine of up to 200,000 CFA (US$416).
Furthermore, national and religious leaders openly talk about suppressing homosexuality to further "positive African cultural values." Newspapers have also flooded their pages with antigay editorials, and police often beat people they suspect of being gay.