LGBTQ and intersex Gambians continue to face persecution, even though President Adama Barrow ousted Yahya Jammeh in 2016 after 22 years in power.

Jammeh during his rule enacted several laws that specifically targeted LGBTQ and intersex Gambians.

The former president who is currently in exile in Equatorial Guinea introduced the Criminal Code (Amendment) Act 2014 that carried a life sentence for anyone who was found to be LGBTQ. Jammeh, among other things, also threatened to slit gay men’s throats

Many Gambians who identify as LGBTQ or intersex fled the country because they feared arrest or even death.

Jammeh’s own nephew, Alagie Jammeh, in 2014 posted on Facebook that no one should be denied their fundamental basic human rights because of their sexuality. 

Alagie Jammeh in 2017 asked for asylum in the U.S. because he feared arrest in Gambia. The U.S. the same year sanctioned Yahya Jammeh under the Global Magnitsky Human rights Accountability Act.

Unlike Uganda and Nigeria — two countries where LGBTQ and intersex communities publicly exist and advocate for themselves in spite of widespread persecution — there is no such organized civil society in Gambia because it is too dangerous.

According to Yankuba Keita, a human rights advocate based in Gambia, advocating for or identifying as part of the LGBTQ and intersex community still has the same repercussions that existed in 2014.

“Nothing has really changed on that issue for the LGBTQ+ community in the Gambia as they still face harassment, intimidation and attacks from people and religious leaders constantly come out to condemn them in totality during their Friday summons,” said Keita. “Gambia religious leaders are all against the rights and freedoms of LGBTQI+ persons with some even calling for them to be killed. Furthermore, some politicians use the same sentiments as a political tool to campaign for more followers.” 

Keita said the LGBTQ and intersex community will remain at risk until the government repeals the harsh laws that target it and social awareness increases.

“The political will has to be there first and the mindset of the people has to change towards the LGBTQI+ community through advocacy and engagement of the religious leaders,” said Keita.

The government maintains that although the law prosecutes those who identify as LGBTQ and intersex, reports of arbitrary arrests and killings based on sexual orientation or gender identity are overblown.

The Women In Liberation and Leadership in collaboration with South Africa’s African Men for Sexual Health and Rights and Switzerland’s Sexual Rights Initiative in 2019 made some recommendations in regards to the criminalization of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in Gambia.

Gambia, according to the organizations, should repeal all legislation that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations between adults and take all necessary measures to prevent discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation. The organizations also urged the Gambian government to amend bills that limit freedom of expression, assembly of LGBTQ and intersex people, remove all administrative and legislative barriers to the recognition and registration of organizations working on LGBTQ and intersex issues and allocate 15 percent of the country’s annual budget to the health sector.

The organizations also recommended the Gambian government grant full refugee status, protection and support to LGBTQ and intersex people who have sought asylum in the country in compliance with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees guidelines on international protection.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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