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GRASSROOTS: The GMT Initiative Blog

Grassroots reports on the work of amfAR-supported research teams and advocates responding to the devastating impact of HIV among gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender individuals (collectively, GMT).

”Born this Way” in Cameroon

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Posted by Lucile Scott on July 3, 2013

 born-this-way-movie-poster.jpgThe new documentary Born This Way focuses on the lives of GMT in Cameroon.“You can’t be out in Cameroon, eventually the law will get you,” says one man interviewed in Born This Way, a documentary chronicling day-to-day life for LGBT in Cameroon. The film—which was an official selection at the 2013 Berlin and Human Rights Watch films festivals—focuses on the lives of clients and staff at Alternatives-Cameroun in Douala, which has been an amfAR grantee-partner for the past five years. The organization’s Access Center offers HIV prevention and treatment and also serves as a community hub for GMT, providing much-needed social support, and even hosting the occasional dance or amateur fashion show.  But last Wednesday morning, Alternatives staff arrived at the Access Center to find that an unknown assailant had set fire to their building.

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal in Cameroon and punishable by up to five years in prison, and more people are arrested for “homosexuality” there each year than in any other country. In June, unknown assailants burglarized the offices of Central African Human Rights Defenders Network, which also advocates for the rights of LGBT, and the offices of a prominent human rights attorney who has defended individuals prosecuted for “sexual relations with a person of the same sex.” In all three cases, complaints were filed with the police, but no arrests have been made.

“We are seeing what appears to be selective disinterest in enforcing the law and holding perpetrators accountable,” said Yves Yomb, executive director of Alternatives, in a Human Rights Watch press release. Despite the risks of harassment, violence, and legal prosecution, Yomb—and several other activists—have come out as gay publicly, and have even appeared on TV to talk about LGBT rights. Many more LGBT Cameroonians agreed to speak candidly on camera about their sexuality in Born This Way. “We are tired of pretending that gay people do not exist in Cameroon,” says Yomb.  

alternatives africa rapport
Members of Alternatives-Cameroun visit the beach.

Born This Way reflects Yomb’s sentiment and the idea that even amidst the recent homophobic attacks on people and property and the ongoing discriminatory arrests—or lack of arrests in the case of the fire—Cameroonian LGBT are fighting back by increasingly speaking out and pushing for change. Filmmakers Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullman describe Born This Way as “a view from the inside of a secret community on the verge of transforming into a social movement.” Or as one interviewee surveying a lush tropical landscape states, “We want to fight for the cause in our country which we love.” “Remember the trial of Rosa Parks,” says another woman, adding that it was because of that challenge to America’s racially discriminatory law “that everything was possible for the future.”

Born This Way has appeared in festivals around Europe and the U.S. and will screen next on July 14 at the Outfest International Film Festival in L.A. Yomb will be attending a screening at a fundraiser in New York in late July.

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