Liberia: US Gov’t Takes Steps to Protect LGBTQI Rights Globally

Linda Thomas-Greenfield answers questions during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on Jan. 27. GREG NASH/GETTY IMAGES

The continual targeting of the people perceived to be from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex community across the world has drawn the ire of the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. 

Addressing the UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Integrating the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons into the Security Council’s Work, Madam Thomas Greenfield said everyone deserves to live a life free from violence and prosecution. 

“But for too many people, their sexual orientation or gender identity puts them at risk – they are put at risk just for being themselves,” she said. 

The Arria-Formula Meeting seeks to address the steps the Security Council can take to better incorporate the human rights of LGBTI persons in carrying out its mandate to maintain international peace and security. 

Thomas Greenfield, who served as US Ambassador to Liberia,  said she has seen the situation firsthand during the many years of being posted across parts of Africa. 

“During my many years serving on the continent of Africa, I often encountered this issue. And I was told, by more than one person, more than one leader, that this is not our culture.”

She furthered that  acts of perpetrating violence against the LGBTQIA+ community is not only horrific, but also has the propensity to foment hate and violence— “and are an affront to the principles of freedom and human rights. They also destabilize whole societies. Which is why we need to do our part, as individual Member States and collectively as the United Nations Security Council.”

The remarks of Ambassador Greenfield comes against a wave of Anti-LGBT laws and violence against a community that remains hidden underground across the continent and dying to be heard. 

Quite recently in the city of Kampala, Uganda, members of Parliament have passed a bill, known notoriously as ‘Kill The Gays’, calling for life imprisonment and death sentence for members of the queer community. 

In Ghana, a touted and guised family-values bill in the parliament that is supposedly targeting the LGBT community is drawing concerns from human rights activists in the country. 

In January of this year, the body of Kenyan activist Edwin Chiluba was found in a metal box on a roadside in Nairobi, prompting outcry from local and international LGBT rights activists across that country. 

Much of the situation across many countries on the continent mirrors what is happening in Liberia. The 2022 US State department report on the country continues to highlight instances of assault and abuse against the queer community in Liberia. 

Over the years, the LGBT community has seen an uptick in violent acts perpetrated against it. journalRAGE recently reported about an armed gang in Paynesville that targets gay men via Facebook. And it was recently reported that there is an imminent threat against the curator-in-chief of journalRAGE. 

In May 2021, members of a community watch team allegedly beat three men on suspicion they were gays in the Gobachop community of Paynesville. According to two of the survivors, the community watch members threatened the three men and assaulted them, rendering one of the men unconscious.

In June 2021, Nuchie Michael, a teenager and a student at the St. Matthew United Methodist School in New Kru Town was expelled for cross-dressing.  In 2020, Cheeseman Cole, a disgraced ex-soldier from the Armed Forces of Liberia was arrested for reportedly brutalizing 27 men suspected of being gay

In November 2019, partygoers were stoned and beaten over suspicions they were attending a gay wedding at an event hosted by PSI.

In September 2018, invitees at a PSI event in Sinkor were attacked and severely brutalized.  Identifying a gay is not illegal in Liberia. But it could spur violent attacks against a person that does so. In May 2020, fashion model Tarus Cole fled the country over remarks that ‘99% of Liberian men are gay.’ 

Liberian law criminalizes same-sex sexual acts. Articles 14.74, 14.79 and 50.7 [of the Penal Code of 1976] consider “voluntary sodomy” as a first-degree misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to one-year imprisonment. There has been no publicized case in recent years. But Liberian’s gay community says harassment and discrimination are widespread.

Liberia’s gay community saw a glimmer of hope that they might make progress in achieving rights in 2012 when Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, announced that “gay rights are human rights” and aid would be tied to how countries treat sexual minorities.  

“…being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” Secretary Clinton said. 

That hope was soon dampened when President Sirleaf, in an interview with the Guardian, defended the current law which criminalizes homosexuality. 

Then, Jewel Howard Taylor, former first lady, Senator and current Vice-President,  introduced a bill to make homosexuality a first-degree felony. That bill did not pass.  Sirleaf later backpedaled on her earlier remarks in an interview alongside former Irish President Mary Robinson, saying, incorrectly, that there is no law that criminalizes homosexuality in Liberia.

Liberia has affixed her signature to many treaties, including the African Charter on People and Human Rights, the Maputo Protocol and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. 

The government of President George M. Weah has not made known its stance on the protection of the rights of the queer community. Minister of Justice, Frank Dean said the Liberian constitution provides protection for all. 

It has been reported that the country has just signed a communique at the Summit for Democracy in Zambia that calls for the respect of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. 

Whether that commitment would go beyond what has been signed remains to be seen.  The head of the Human Rights Division in the Ministry of Justice, Kutaka D. Togba, and the coordinator of the human rights coalition, LIPRIDE, could not be reached for comments via email. 

But in spite of this, Thomas-Greenfield has announced that her government is taking specific steps to integrate the concerts of the LGBTQI community into the Security Council's daily work. 

Announcing the quartet of measures, she said her country commits itself to regularly reviewing the situation of LGBT people in conflicts, encouraging the UN Secretariat and other UN officials to integrate LGBTQI+ concerns and perspectives in their regular reports to the Council, commit to raising abuses and violations of the human rights of LGBTQI people in its national statements in the Security Council, and commit to proposing, when appropriate, language in Security Council products responding to the situation of LGBTQI+ individuals.

We are proud of these four commitments. They are just the beginning. And we call on every Security Council member to join us.

This article was funded in part through a grant from the US State Department. The funder has no say in its content.