Sierra Leone: To be gay and African should not be a crime

George Reginald Freeman: In my home country of Sierra Leone, homosexuality is punishable by a minimum of 10 years in jail. My first punishment was when I was 12 and came out. I confided in my uncle. Instead of the acceptance, he beat me up and called me names: “shob am na kaka hole,” which loosely translates to “ass-fucker.” His screaming and yelling brought neighbors out of their homes. They yelled at me while my uncle went to get the police, who arrested me.

Sierra Leone is my homeland, yet I lived in constant fear of the police and officials who arrested and detained me numerous times because I am gay. Yet there are longstanding traditions of homosexuality in African history. The Mende tribe in Sierra Leone has the “sande bwake,” which means male cross-dresser. The word “mabole” means a woman who plays the role of a man and at times dresses like men, while eschewing “women’s” activities.

Even the masquerades allow cross-dressing during festivals and cultural performances. Most women who are not able to give birth are allowed to marry their fellow women for child-bearing. These women are not considered the wife to a husband, but the wife to a wife. Homosexuality is not “un-African.” We are the cradle of human life, and nothing human is alien to us. Read More