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Drink Baileys in Cameroon, Go to Jail for Being Gay

Drink Baileys in Cameroon, Go to Jail for Being Gay


Authorities in Cameroon are relying on bizarre stereotypes to convict people of being gay, a crime in the central-west African country bordering Nigeria.

In Cameroon it's illegal to have sex with someone of the same gender -- and drinking Baileys in public is conviction-securing proof that the person drinking the liqueur is gay, according to a report from ThinkProgress.

Cameroonian defense attorney Michel Togue told ThinkProgress he has defended clients ultimately convicted by Cameroonian judges who believed that a man working as a hairdresser, having "effeminate mannerisms," wearing women's clothing -- or drinking Baileys Irish Cream -- was undoubtedly gay.

Despite the supposed proof, Togue told ThinkProgress that very few of those convicted are arrested while actually engaging in same-sex sexual activity. Instead, Togue suggested that without liberal use of stereotypes as "evidence," the judges would likely return few, if any, convictions of gay, lesbian, or bisexual people in Cameroon under the country's penal code outlawing gay sex. That's because Cameroon has strong privacy laws.

"To catch people having sex, to catch them in the act, you have to break the law," he told ThinkProgress. "You have to violate their privacy, which is an offense. But the police will not focus on the offense of breaking the privacy of someone, but they will focus on the fact that they saw two people of the same gender having sex."

Convictions under Cameroon's antigay law can bring with them sentences of up to five years in prison and heavy fines. ThinkProgress also noted that one of the groups most active in spreading antigay myths, stereotypes, and overall homophobia in Cameroon has been the Catholic Church.

What's more, the courts' reliance on these inaccurate stereotypes can have detrimental public health impacts -- especially in terms of the ongoing battle against HIV and AIDS.

"They can't go to the hospital for the treatment or even for a test because they're afraid," Togue told ThinkProgress.

Like residents of other African nations with draconian antigay laws, some Cameroonians claim that homosexuality is a Western import, a trait imposed on Africans by sinful European society.

But even with these rampant misconceptions, Togue remains optimistic about the prospect of greater acceptance of LGBT Cameroonians in the future.

"The West are not imposing homosexuality to Cameroon, but Cameroon has people who have a different sexual orientation, and they are in their rights to do that," he told ThinkProgress. "They have to be respected without any stigmatizing ... a homosexual is our friend, is our brother, is our sister, is part of our family -- is not a stranger, not someone coming from outside."

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