With Christian extremists leading the campaign against gay people in Africa a Protestant pastor in Cameroon, Jean-Blaise Kenmogne, has become an unlikely defender of lesbian and gay rights.
Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender carries huge risks in Cameroon; same-sex sexual acts are illegal under section 347 of the penal code with a penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 Cameroon Francs. If the offender is under the age of 21 a more severe punishment is likely.
In 2010 four NGOs published a detailed report outlining the legal and social dangers that LGBT people face in Cameroon, including arrest, rape, loss of their children, social stigma and discrimination based on both sexuality and HIV status. The report and the level of homophobic campaigns launched by the church and media indicate that Cameroon is one of the most hostile countries in Africa for LGBT people.
Kenmonge’s outspoken pro-gay stance is raising eyebrows because he is not only a Protestant pastor but also rector of the Evangelical University of Cameroon, as well as being an ecologist.
In an interview with Haman Mana, the editor of the Cameroonian daily, Le Jour, recently published as part of a book on the Church and Human Rights, Kenmogne tackles some of the most common homophobic misconceptions in Cameroon.
According to Slate Afrique, the pastor spoke against the prevalent opinion in country that see HIV and AIDS as a ‘plague’ that rightfully punishes sinful gays. ‘Is this how it should treat human beings? That’s the question I asked myself and propelled me to answer "no, no, no," categorically "no",’ he exclaimed.
He counters the often-discussed view that ‘homosexuality is a Western import and un-african’ with the assertion, citing contemporary sociologists and esteemed African intellectuals that ‘homosexuality has always existed and continues to exist in Africa’.
Kenmogne assertively cited sociological research by Charles Gueboguo ‘which debunks the many myths and stereotypes of an African identity without any taint of homosexuality.’
Another common misconception was expressed by the journalist during the interview and challenged by the pastor is the linking of homosexuality, paedophilia and other ‘deviancies’.
He asserted that homosexuality has nothing to do with deviancy, and differs from paedophilia, which involves a forced act of crime against a human being who has not reached the age of consent.
By contrast he says homosexuality involves a relationship between two people of the same sex who both fully engage and consent in it: ‘So there is no injury or complainant, or prejudice to either party.’
When asked about gay marriage Kenmogne replies carefully that it poses a major question on the role on the family and that it merits a careful debate.
Kenmogne has been praised for his brave stance by LGBT activists in Cameroon.