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Homo Hysteria ( More News)
      #207400 - 09/16/06 11:32 AM

Homo hysteria

>> Senegalese media in an uproar over a heterosexual delegate to the
Outgames conference


(Embedded image moved to file: pic05545.jpg)3cd8d7.jpg
Two weeks ago, Cheikh Doudou Mbaye began experiencing the unfortunate
repercussions of his recent visit to Montreal. The Senegalese man,
who participated in the Outgames’ International Conference on LGBT
Human Rights at the end of July, where he led a workshop about
discrimination against homosexuals in the Senegalese workplace, is an
HIV-specialist social worker assisting the Senegalese gay community.
After the conference, Mbaye headed back to Dakar, Senegal’s capital,
and an unforeseen media circus.

On Friday, Aug. 4, four days after his return, local paper Thiey­-an
expletive expressing surprise in the Senegalese language of
Wolof-­ran a photo of Mbaye taken at the Montreal conference on its
cover next to a headline that read “Jeux olympiques Outgames: A
Senegalese in the running.” Competing journalists immediately jumped
on the story and reported on Mbaye’s visit. Result? Many of them
crudely­and inaccurately­linked up his participation in the
conference to his sexual orientation.

Through countless subsequent interviews, Mbaye tried to defuse the
crisis and found himself having to justify not only his visit to
Montreal, but also his heterosexuality (for the record, he’s a
married father and a practicing Muslim). That’s on top of handling
the reactions of those close to him, such as his neighbour, who
refused to shake his hand after the story broke, and his wife, who
passed out in a beauty parlour upon hearing him say, “I am not a
homosexual and will never be one” on the nation’s leading radio

Silence is golden

While there are No laws in Senegal criminalizing homosexuality, the
prevalence of Islam (almost 95 per cent of the population is Muslim)
makes it nearly impossible for gays and lesbians to show their true
colours, says Alexis Musanganya, the president of African Rainbow, a
Montreal-based organization connecting the African and Caribbean LGBT
communities to the diaspora. “There is a homosexual community in
Senegal, but it is out of sight and doesn’t want to call attention to
itself,” he says.

Comments about Mbaye on Senegalese message boards reflect
Musanganya’s depiction of a homophobic society deeply rooted in
religion. “Instead of wasting his time treating those who carry HIV
because of homosexuality, why not help the poor people who die of
hunger,” someone posted on Seneweb. “It’s a more noble occupation and
accepted by Allah.”

In spite of that, Musanganya argues that being heterosexual already
puts Mbaye less at risk of public condemnation. “He’s a
well-respected man in Senegalese society, having studied in Europe,”
he says. “It’s precisely because of the way people perceive him that
he can use his position to bring about change.”

Smear job

For Alpha Abdallah Sall, secretary-general of the West African
Journalists Association (UJAO), there is a distinction to be made
between tabloids and more reputable news sources. “Although it’s true
that the word ‘homosexual’ still carries negative connotations in
Senegalese society, it’s usually only small sensationalist papers
like Thiey that carry these kinds of stories to increase their
sales,” he says. “These are topics that touch on people’s private
lives, and don’t teach anything to Senegalese readers.”

Nevertheless, the public’s response to the Mbaye scandal suggests
that a sizeable audience still exists to consume this kind of news.
And as much as Mbaye maintains this won’t affect his resolve, the
past few weeks have taken their toll.

“The pressure on me was so great that I lost five kilos in 15 days,”
he says. Mbaye was scheduled to be a facilitator at last week’s
International AIDS Conference in Toronto, but cancelled to avoid
pouring oil on the fire.

Nevertheless, he credits the Outgames conference with exposing him to
many new perspectives on HIV prevention and LGBT rights. “I learned
more during the few days of the conference than what five years in
university could teach me,” he says. Mbaye is currently looking into
starting up his own NGO aimed at HIV prevention with marginalized
communities, but says that the lack of funds and openness to the
project in Senegal render the undertaking difficult.

“My commitment is starting to cost me a lot, but it’s unconditional,”
he says. “Everyone should have equal access to health care, and
everyone should be entitled to respect.”


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