Gabon passes law criminalizing gays

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday December 18, 2019
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Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 2014. Photo Credit: AP file photo/Frank Franklin II
Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 2014. Photo Credit: AP file photo/Frank Franklin II

Last week, an unidentified government official announced that Gabon passed a law criminalizing homosexuality, placing the country on a growing list of nations passing anti-gay laws.

The new law was adopted by Gabon in July, but it wasn't widely publicized until October. Media outlets didn't pick up the news until a government official, who remains anonymous, informed reporters around December 9.

"Gabon, regrettably, decided to join the list," said Lucas Ramon Mendos, senior research officer at the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, or ILGA, in a December 10 news release from the organization, referring to other countries that outlaw homosexuality.

Under the law, same-sex relations for both men and women are criminalized. Anyone convicted of homosexuality will face up to six months in prison and fines up to 5 million CFA francs (about $8,500).

Gabon is a small, west-central African nation that neighbors the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon on the Gulf of Guinea.


Gabon's new law has already affected members of the LGBT community, Davis Mac-Iyalla, an activist who monitors LGBT rights in West Africa at the Ghana-based Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa, told Reuters.

He said that two Gabonese men were arrested under the law and bribed police for their release.

"The corrupt police now use that - arrest people and then people have to bribe their way out," said Mac-Iyalla. "It has further sent the LGBT community underground and has created harassment."

Reuters reported that the accounts of bribing police were unconfirmed.

Gabon's passage of the law brings the number of countries that criminalize homosexuality up to 70 from 69 earlier this year. It was the lowest the list of countries decriminalizing homosexuality had been since ILGA started keeping track of anti- and pro-gay laws around the world in 2006, the organization noted in its "State-Sponsored Homophobia" report that was published in March. The organization updated the report December 9 to reflect changes.

"The figure briefly dropped in June when Botswana decriminalized [homosexuality], only to pick up where it left off one month later," Ramon Mendos said in the release, referring to the Gabon law.

The countrywide conversation about laws surrounding homosexuality began in 2013, when two Gabonese men announced their marriage. They were arrested. Their case went to court, where the judge stated "there is no provision in the Gabonese Penal Code punishing adults for acts against nature," reported 76 Crimes.

Now, some countries are going against recent trends where courts have overturned outdated colonial-era laws or bypassed implementing laws that criminalize homosexuality. That movement was sparked by India, which struck down its British era Penal Code Section 377 in September 2018. Since then, courts in Botswana and Trinidad have overturned anti-gay laws.

However, some countries are going in the opposite direction by criminalizing homosexuality in their penal codes or retaining anti-gay colonial era laws. They include Brunei, which carries the death penalty; Chad; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Indonesia; and Kenya.

Uganda threatened to resuscitate its so-called Kill the Gays bill, according to ILGA, but backed down after an international outcry.

LGBT activists and advocates are challenging Kenya's law.

Additionally, activists are challenging bans on same-sex relationships in Singapore, Mauritius, and six Caribbean nations, according to ILGA World, reported Reuters.

Mendos said that globally, researchers are seeing "polarizing tensions."

"Where things are getting better, there is a momentum for even more improvement, and where things are bad, now we're seeing things are worsening," he said.

Those are only the reported cases. Ramon Mendos believes there are a "huge number of cases flying under our radar," noting that out of 35 countries, 28 in 2018 and 17 so far in 2019, have prosecuted same-sex relationships.

Consensual same-sex relationships are criminalized in 33 of Africa's 54 countries.

Despite recent backslides, Neela Ghoshal, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, is optimistic, noting that six African countries have overturned laws criminalizing gays since 2012.

"In general, across the continent, things are moving more in the right direction than in the wrong direction ... I'm guessing you'll see a lot of change in the next 10 years or so," she told Reuters.

Hundreds demand rights in Hungary's trans march

Transgender Hungarians took to the streets of Budapest, the country's capital, in November to demand their rights.

Transgender activists marched through the streets November 23 to push the country's government to process transgender people's applications to legally recognize their name and gender change under the law.

News of the march was only picked up by media outlets last week.

Pink News reported that trans pride march organizers accused Hungarian officials of providing "contradictory excuses" for withholding its evaluations of people's applications for more than 18 months.

The government, which has become increasingly intolerant of LGBT rights, is forcing transgender people to live without proper identification, activists claimed.

Ivett �rd�g told trans Pride marchers from the stage that her government-issued identification card still has her birth name and previous gender despite living as a woman for a long time.

She said the documents put her at risk of harm, recounting incidents such as when the police were called because a postal clerk reported her as committing fraud, according to Pink News.

Another trans woman, Emma Moln�r, told the crowd that her life began when she received her proper identification card when she turned 18. Having the correct ID allowed her to live freely because she wasn't questioned or harassed.

The trans Pride organizers stated in a December 12 announcement that they weren't "quite sure of the outcome" of the event, which included workshops.

"We, the organizers, don't think that the march itself will change the mindset of the Hungarian officials and government in the issue, but [it] gives much needed visibility to the Hungarian trans community and some self-esteem to its members instead," they said in the statement.

The organizers said they were considering planning another march next year due to the positive response they received.

Free global LGBT rights online course begins in January

United Nations LGBT expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz will lead a free online class about international LGBT rights starting in January.

The six-week online course, "Monitoring the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons 2020 Edition," is being offered by the Global Campus of Human Rights.

The campus is a network of 100 universities launched in March with funding from the European Union, reported Gaysa Radio. The campus also operates regional programs around the world: Europe (Venice), South East Europe (Sarajevo/Bologna), the Caucasus (Yerevan), Africa (Pretoria), Asia-Pacific (Bangkok), Latin America and the Caribbean (Buenos Aires), and the Arab world (Beirut).

The course is coordinated by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, one of 41 university members of the European Master's Programme in Human Rights and Democratisation, reported Gaysa Radio.

The class is a part of the campus' efforts to expand its online offerings. It will offer people interested in international LGBT rights the opportunity to dive deeper into their understanding of queer issues around the world. Through the course, students will learn how government and community leaders work together for progress on same-sex and gender identity issues, social attitudes, laws and policy, monitoring, and how key stakeholders from governments to community organizers work, according to the course's website.

Madrigal-Borloz will be joined by Douglas Sanders, an academic associate at the Institute of Human Rights, and several others.

The online course begins January 20 and ends March 1.

Enrollment is free until February 16.

To learn more and enroll, visit

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp: 415-517-7239, or Skype: heather.cassell, or [email protected]