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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Cameroon are all too aware of homophobic rhetoric and violent attacks against them. This has been highlighted once again in the outpouring of vitriol before a scheduled visit by Jean-Marc Berthon, the French ambassador for the Rights of LGBT+ Persons.

 IDAHOT 2021 Campaign by Elles Cameroun, “Resister. Soutenir. Guérir”, May 17, 2021, Bepanda Douala.  © 2021 Elles Cameroun

Berthon was due to visit Cameroon later last month for an event on gender and sexuality hosted by the French Institute in Yaoundé, the capital. Cameroon’s government officially registered its objection to the visit, and Foreign Minister Lejeune Mbella Mbella said in the media that the visit would contravene Cameroonian law, which forbids consensual same-sex relations.

The visit was then cancelled.

Since the visit was announced, many people have called for mob justice and violence against LGBT persons on social media. Some government and political officials, as well as public figures, referred to LGBT people as “against nature,” “an anomaly,” “vampire citizens,” “destructive of the family,” “destructive of the state,” or as using “satanic and demonic practices.” In addition to this online hatred, people perceived as LGBT live with constant threats of harassment and physical violence every day.

Tamu (not their real name), an LGBT activist living in Yaoundé, told me, “The situation is very tense. People are scared. Everywhere you go you hear: 'We have to burn them all.' … There are young [LGBT] people calling me from everywhere. They don't know what to do.”

The foreign minister claimed that there are no LGBT people in Cameroon, which is patently false. LGBT groups exist in Cameroon and several even manage to work with the government on initiatives to combat HIV/AIDS. But Cameroon has a dismal track record on upholding the rights of LGBT people. Security forces have failed to protect LGBT people from violence and in some instances have been responsible for acts of violence, or complicit in them. The Cameroonian government should unequivocally condemn violence and incitement to violence against LGBT people, investigate such crimes against LGBT persons, and bring those responsible to justice.

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