Côte d’Ivoire: Becoming an activist to overcome discrimination

Thrown out of the house by his parents when they found out he was gay, Ezechiel Koffi didn’t give up.

“My parents said I shamed them and that I lived the life of a sinner,” the young man from Côte d’Ivoire said. What hurt him the most were his mother's insults, saying he had no respect for their religious values. He begged them to understand that he was their son and that they should accept him as he was.

Mr Koffi, 24 years old at the time, stayed for a while at Alternative, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people nongovernmental organization in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, where he had started volunteering three years earlier. He kept going to classes, although admits that at times he went on an empty stomach. Psychologically he felt beaten. “It was hard, but I couldn't hide anymore,” he said.

With the help of his older sister, his parents let him move back home after six months. Although he now had a steady roof over his head and regular meals, Alternative became his second home. He has been dedicated to it ever since. Now an HIV educator and community health worker, he proudly showed his certificates on his mobile phone. 

Alternative’s project coordinator, Philippe Njaboué, describes Mr Koffi’s tireless energy. “You can call him at whatever time, day or night, he always lends a hand and he often goes out of his way to include people who have been shunned.” When asked about being a substitute family for many LGBTI people, Mr Koffi gave a hesitant smile.

The many discussion groups and support groups have helped, he said, allowing him to share his experience and help others. The once shy boy has emancipated himself. He also no longer shies away from revealing his HIV status. “It’s been 10 years now that I have been living with HIV,” he said.

Looking back, he explained, in the beginning he couldn’t always negotiate the use of a condom. He now makes a point of telling everyone that HIV is a reality. “Use condoms, there is help, you are not alone,” he exclaimed. Read more via UNAIDS