Updated: February 28, 2021
Same sex relationships are illegal in Cameroon and those who are “caught” are not only punished by the state, they also suffer the humiliation the society – including family members, neighbors, colleagues or schoolmates – inflicts on them.
In the “deeply religious” central African country full of gargantuan corruption and official brazen theft, a same sex relationship is seen as one of “the worst things on earth” and an “act of Satan”.
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Having sexual relations with another man there is a crime punishable with up to five years in prison, making gays easy prey for racketeers and homophobes.
In 2018, 1,134 cases of violence and violations of the rights of LGBTI people were recorded in Cameroon, according to a report by two non-governmental organizations, Humanity First and Alternatives Cameroun.
In spite of the brutality and consistent threats against them, in the capital Yaounde, some gay men seem to have found a way to live in community and enjoy life at least for a few hours a day in a secret club.
A report published by the French news agency, AFP, says the “the club is secret. You have to know someone who will guide you to the address — off a busy street in Cameroon’s capital, down a dingy alley to a door with the unwelcoming message in chalk: “No entry.””.
“Inside is a rectangular room, dark and humid. The flickering light of a video screen illuminates faces of young men sitting on benches — members of a video club catering exclusively for gay men, a haven in a society where it is perilous to be same-sex attracted”.
“We opened this place in 2016 to give young people somewhere where they can just breathe for a while,” 51-year old Jean-Pierre, the founder of the club, who prefers not to give his full name, tells AFP.
“In the afternoon, we show documentaries about the gay community, with comedy series in the evening and later in the night, films of a sexual nature,” he explains.
AFP quotes Maxime, 30, and his companion as visiting the secret club several times a week. “It’s vital to be able to find our own kind, to talk with people who are like you, who understand you.”
The report says “When his family rejected him, Maxime found refuge at Jean-Pierre’s club. “I lived in this room for nine months, I had no place else to go,” he says.
“On another bench, a young man is sleeping peacefully, a sheet drawn over his body and part of his face.
“A few feet away, two men openly flirt. “This is also a place for those who have no home, where they can meet,” Maxime says.
“Despite its secrecy, the refuge has become known to policemen of malicious intent”
“The premises have been raided at least four times this year, Jean-Pierre says, adding that he had recently been held for two weeks at a police station, where he said he was tortured”.
“They told me, ‘confess you’re the queers’ godfather, you homo,’ and beat me on the soles of the feet with the flat of a machete blade,” he says
Criminals claiming to be plain-clothes police sometimes are also said to be showing up to extort gays, Jean-Pierre says. Between films, he will often instruct the audience “what to do in case of arrest, to know their rights.”
Maxime says one night they endured a terrifying experience. “They burst in here, put us in their truck, stripped us of all our things — money, cellphones and clothes as well — then they threw us out naked on the far side of town,” he recalls, his eyes looking at a spot on the wall.