Being Part of the LGBTQ Community in Guinea-Bissau

The LGBTQ community in Guinea-Bissau is experiencing new freedoms and livelihoods, never explored in the West African continent. The government of Guinea-Bissau has made legal changes which have established new rights for the community including the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993 , and the signing of the 2008 United Nations Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender. Additionally, Guinea-Bissau has seen a recent rise in social activist groups such as Big Mamas which fights for the rights of LGBTQ people, as well as a rise in people from surrounding nations fleeing to Guinea-Bissau for increased freedoms and opportunities.

According to the US Department of States 2012 report on Human Rights, of 19 countries surveyed in West Africa, Guinea-Bissau is the most tolerant about homosexual behaviour. The report continued to note that 9% of the population believe it to be morally acceptable, and a further 15% believe that homosexuality is not an issue. This is reflected in the legal status of the LGBTQ community whereby individuals can join the military, donate blood and are legally able to change their gender. However, gaps in legal change still exist, including no protection against discrimination for LGBTQ people, despite its legality in the country.

The movement towards acceptance of the LGBTQ community in Guinea-Bissau is quite monumental considering the stark contrast to other nations in the region. According to Amnesty International, in some surrounding countries, homosexuality is punishable by death, and in mostit is outlawed. For example, in Gambia to the north, homosexuality has a life sentence, thus as recorded by Mamadu Aliu Dialo (national director of ENDA Health) many Gambians have been fleeing to Guinea-Bissau in search for a more open life.However, this isn’t to say that Guinea-Bissau is the epitome of liberation for all in Africa, the New York Times reflected this in a statement, “It is a small victory in a country where rape cases are not prosecuted and there are no laws to protect against sexual harassment which is widespread”.

Ultimately however, the legal changes in Guinea-Bissau which do suggest more tolerance towards LGBTQ people, aren’t enough to satisfy a safe life for the community. Violence and conflict still are prominent in the lives of these individuals due to a lack of complete social acceptance, as concurred in the New York Times, “while it is legal to be gay in Guinea-Bissau, acceptance is a continuing battle”. The widespread stigma and silence on gay issues thus prompt continuing challenges for the LGBTQ community. Notably, a huge issue regards the spread of HIV/AIDS, as a study in the Culture, Health and Sexuality noted, 64% of gay men in Guinea-Bissau have never used a condom. Additionally, of the male homosexual population, a huge 65% still have sex with women, thus the spread of the disease, is a huge issue plaguing the community, in addition to the violence and conflict apparent in the lives of homosexual people in the region.

Despite the continued social and health challenges for LGBTQ people in Guinea-Bissau, these new movements towards tolerance are monumental in paving the way for a future of peace for the community. The changes in the country also display a symbol of hope for LGBTQ people in surrounding West Africa, regarding a flow-on effect of change to occur amongst both legal and social views of the community.