'Here, we are amongst ourselves. Everyone you see here is gay.’ These words, spoken in the documentary Born This Way when a member of Alternatives-Cameroun welcomes new clients to the centre, must be liberating if you have lived your life hiding your sexual identity. To realise that you are not alone, says executive director Yves Yomb of Alternatives, is very empowering.
Yomb long thought he was the only one. He knew from a very early age that he was attracted to men, but hid his preference. Till one day something made him decide to change his profile on a dating website from ‘man wanting to meet a woman’ to ‘man wanting to meet a man.’ ‘That was how I got into my first relationship with a man, in 2003.’
In his country, sexual acts with someone of the same gender can be punished with up to five years in prison. Cameroon is often said to have more people arrested for homosexuality than any other country in the world.
Alternatives-Cameroun is tolerated by the government because it concentrates on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Its other goal, the defence of the rights of sexual minorities, is less widely publicised. The organisation supports people anywhere in the Central African country who find themselves prosecuted for homosexuality.
Apart from national solidarity, international back-up is indispensable in the struggle for the right of sexual minorities, says Yomb. Having a platform where activists can meet and present themselves, like the Movies that Matter Festival, reinforces the work of individual organisations. That is why Alternatives also participates in pan-African gay-rights networks, like ‘Africagay contre le SIDA’.
Yomb says he has received threats from a gang harassing homosexuals. Even in this hostile environment, Yomb feels his being openly gay makes him stronger. ‘We are all scared. But you are much more vulnerable when you have something to hide.’
The activist is optimistic about the future. ‘There are black moments in any struggle. But the simple fact that homosexuality is openly discussed, even in a negative way, means progress. Not too long ago, the subject of homosexuality was taboo in Cameroon’s society. We might not live to see the decriminalisation of homosexuality, but I am very sure that it will eventually happen.’
By Femke van Zeijl