Protecting the LGBTI Community in Liberia

south_africa_pride

September 16, 2016

In Liberia, West Africa, homosexuality has long been a widespread taboo, and LGBTI people live in fear of being attacked every day. As well as being physically harassed and routinely humiliated publicly, intense stigma around being gay means many people are also often forced from their jobs, homes and communities, and deprived of their basic human rights and dignity. Shame and fear often stops victims of targeted attacks from reporting abuse. When LGBTI people do have the courage to come forward, entrenched homophobia within the police and justice system means their cases are rarely investigated. Police officers are known to even physically attack gay people who come to them in search of help. This long-standing hostility towards the LGBTI community intensified when the Ebola virus devastated the region, as Liberian church ministers quickly came out declaring that the deadly disease was God’s way of punishing the country for immoral acts, with many blaming homosexuality.

The Fund supports the remarkable work of Liberian partner Stop Aids Liberia (SAIL), set up in Monrovia in 1998 to help change these entrenched misconceptions and demand greater respect and protection for LGBTI people, whilst also providing HIV testing and counseling to thousands of LGBTI Liberians. Their work is needed more than ever since the Ebola crisis. One of SAIL’s most successful approaches has been working with local police officers to change their mindsets and end the culture of impunity for abuse of LGBTI people. SAIL works closely with the Liberian National Police, and with limited resources and sheer determination has trained hundreds of police officers in Monrovia to quash myths around homosexuality and make sure LGBTI survivors of violence are treating with dignity and respect. This frontline approach has led the way for significant changes. Police officers have been receptive to trainings and have since proactively established a special hotline for LGBTI people to call in case of attack, with a dedicated desk officer responding to calls in each of Monrovia’s police districts.

SAIL’s advocacy work at the national level and community outreach is paving the way for change for the LGBTI people across Liberia, and finally giving them a voice.