Out in the World: Homicide suspected in death of prominent Angolan LGBTQ activist

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Monday March 18, 2024
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Carlos Fernandes, founder and director of Associação Íris Angola, the Southern African country's first legally registered LGBTQ organization, was found dead last month, and authorities are investigating the case. Photo: Courtesy Associação Íris Angola
Carlos Fernandes, founder and director of Associação Íris Angola, the Southern African country's first legally registered LGBTQ organization, was found dead last month, and authorities are investigating the case. Photo: Courtesy Associação Íris Angola

Prominent Angolan gay activist Carlos Fernandes was found dead in his home in the capital city of Luanda last month under suspicious circumstances.

Fernandes, 41, was apparently strangled and his body discovered February 26. His death was confirmed by Fernando Carvalho, the director of the Institutional Communication and the press office at SIC Luanda. Novo Jornal reported the cause of death is suspected as homicide by asphyxiation. Carvalho told reporters that authorities already have identified suspects and an autopsy is being conducted.

"We confirm the death of this individual, due to asphyxiation, but we still don't have any detainees and we are working on the case. The evidence leads us to homicide, but an autopsy will be carried out to be sure," Carvalho told local reporters.

Fernandes' death is the second in a similar manner in recent weeks. An unnamed LGBTQ Luanda lawyer also died, Novo Jornal reported.

The Angolan portal Club-K previously reported the lawyer's death in his apartment, apparently due to asphyxiation. The alleged motivation is by matters of passion, according to Novol Jornal.

The lawyer was buried in Benguela, which is about eight hours by car south of Luanda. Fernandes was buried February 29 at the Benfica Cemetery in Luanda, reported Radio France Internationale.

Carvalho ruled out any connection between the two cases while expressing concern about the deaths, reported Novo Jornal.

Investigations are ongoing in both cases.

"In principle, we also suggested a homicide by asphyxiation, we continue to work on both cases, we have some suspects, we are on the trail," Carvalho said.

Fernandes was the founder and director of Associação Íris Angola, the Southern African country's first legally recognized LGBTQ organization. He was instrumental in getting the organization registered with Angola's government in 2018, reported Mamba Online.

The association announced Fernandes' death in a February 26 post on Facebook. The association expressed "deep sadness and dismay" stating, "Your departure leaves a huge void in our community and a deep grief in our hearts."

Íris was founded in 2013 as a part of the Angolan National Coordination Mechanism for Malaria, Tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, according to Mamba Online.

Fernandes was also one of the activists who was instrumental in Angola decriminalizing homosexuality. The same law also banned hate crimes and incitement to hatred as well as violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation in education, employment, goods and services, and health care. Legislation was voted on in 2019 and came into effect in 2021, reported Human Rights Watch and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association World's database.

Despite the law and the United Nations Development Program's praise for Angola's progress on LGBTQ rights in 2022, as the Washington Blade reported, queer Angolans continue to experience discrimination and violence in the former Portuguese colony.

Íris reported on Facebook that some mourners marching in Fernandes' memory on March 1 were attacked. The association condemned the violence against the LGBTQ community members in a statement posted on its Facebook page.

"It is with deep sorrow and indignation that we come to the public to vehemently repudiate the acts of violence and discrimination perpetrated against members of the LGBTQIAP+ community during the funeral of Carlos Fernandes, which took place at the Benfica Cemetery," the post stated.

"We were confronted with a shocking scene of intolerance and aggression," during the funeral, the statement said. "Unscrupulous, totally organized individuals driven by hate and the lack of respect for basic human rights brutally attacked people who were vulnerable, amid the pain of loss.

"May this unfortunate incident serve as a call to action for us all to commit to building a more just, inclusive, and loving society where everyone feels safe and respected, regardless of who they are or who they love," the statement continued, with a call to action for love, tolerance, and solidarity.

"Together, let us fight hate with love, intolerance with understanding, and violence with solidarity. In memory of Carlos Fernandes and in support of the LGBTQIAP+ community," it concluded.

No one was seriously hurt during the incident.


Condolences for Fernandes' death poured in on the association's Facebook page and social media from embassies located in Angola.

"We express our sincerest condolences to the loved ones of Carlos Fernandes, a trailblazing human rights activist who served as a unifying voice for LGBTQI+ Angolans," U.S. Ambassador Tulinabo Mushingi, Ph.D., stated March 4 from the United States Embassy to Angola and Sao Tome and Principe.

"His leadership and coordination of LGBTQI+ activists played an immense role in securing legal protections for LGBTQI+ persons," Mushingi stated, expressing gratitude for working with Fernandes during the past decade on advancing LGBTQ rights, HIV/AIDS, and combating human trafficking, among other issues.

"As a true pioneer in the fight against discrimination, he created a family among the LGBTQI+ community in Angola, and his legacy as an activist will be carried on by generations of LGBTQI+ Angolans," he added.

Mushingi also expressed hope that "the Angolan authorities will conduct a thorough investigation and hold the people responsible to account."

Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, expressed her condolences on X.

"Carlos Fernandes led the first LGBTQI+ group in Angola, and tirelessly advocated for human rights & ending the threat of HIV/AIDS," she wrote. "I join my colleagues and those in Angola and around the world in mourning this senseless loss."

We Belong Africa, a UNDP program, also mourned Fernandes' loss.

"Carlos was a passionate young leader who worked tirelessly for the betterment of the LGBTI+ community and dedicated his youth to advocating for the vulnerable and marginalized," We Belong Africa posted on the association's Facebook page February 28. "He will be remembered for his sacrifice and impressive achievements in his short lifetime."

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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