Another documented gender based hate crime against a lesbian woman who lives openly gay, marks a rise in the number of attacks against homosexuals in Liberia.
In this new case, the woman, who has asked not be named, was allegedly attacked because her neighbors are reportedly not comfortable with her physical appearance and masculinity, “and they have done everything since we have been neighbors to show me how much they hate me,” she added.
What started as a neighborly bicker resulted in the chewing off of one of her fingers, crippling her ability to work since the incident happened two weeks ago.
“I blocked an open space between my neighbors and myself so they can stop harassing me and polluting my porch with their dog feces . The family kept removing the barrier each night and when I tried to ask them to stop, the mother came on my porch and hit me with a stick. When I tried to turn, it was at that point a woman named Ophelia Woods grabbed my left hand and chewed part of my long finger off. I took the case to the police and following investigation, she was proven wrong and placed in jail and the case is presently in court,” said the victim.
For now, violence against members of the LGBT (Lesbians, gays, bisexual and transvestites) community goes unreported because of shame or being arrested for admitting that ‘I am gay, and so and so happened as a result.’ A couple of years ago, the brutal stoning and assault of a young man from the Camp Johnson Road community flared up tension but no one was arrested for the act. Today ‘Boo’ has to live with the multiple scars and missing teeth as a result of the frequent beatings he gets whenever ‘someone thinks I like them.’ Now Boo only comes out at night, dressed as a woman to keep away from the constant attempts many have made on his life.
The tension of not feeling safe in the community amplified when it was reported that three young men on different occasions died as a result of gang rape, fear of going to the hospital and neglect that led to an infection that went untreated. All passed away as a result. The rumor of each death spread like wildfire, but media houses and advocacy groups kept a tight lip on them.
The advocacy group LEGAL was created not long after the attempt to petition the Liberian Legislature in January 2012 to protect the rights of members of the LGBT community fell on deaf ears and received discouraging words from the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler. He told journalists in January 2012 that his colleagues have already criticized the petition.
“I am a Methodist and traditionalist. I will never support a gay bill because it is damaging to the survival of the country,” he said, and was recorded as saying that any LGBT rights bill introduced in the House “will be thrown in the Du or Montserrado River.”
LEGAL came in as a safe haven for LGBTs, with one of them saying “We just want to be left alone to live our lives despite the law that stops us from performing same sex acts, but not from looking gay.”
In Section 14.74 on Voluntary Sodomy, a person who engages in deviant sexual intercourse under circumstances not stated in Section 14.72 (relating to aggravated involuntary sodomy) or 14.73 (relating to involuntary sodomy) has committed a first degree misdemeanor.
Section 14.79 has definitions relating to sections on sexual crimes against a person. In this sub-chapter: (a) “sexual intercourse” occurs upon penetration, however slight; ejaculation is not required; (b) “deviate sexual intercourse” means sexual contact between human beings who are not husband and wife or living together as man and wife though not legally married, consisting of contact between the penis and the anus, the mouth and the penis, or the mouth and vulva; (c) “sexual contact” means any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.
So far only one man has been recorded for serving one year in jail under this act. He was released two years ago. No one has been legally punished for dressing or acting like the opposite sex, and the majority of members of the gay community feel that they are being punished for this rather then committing same sex acts.
“When people see you looking like a man and you are a woman, or you like dressing like a woman and you are a man, they go crazy and decide in the heat of the moment to do all kinds of things to let you know they are not comfortable with the way you look. Just because a man looks like a woman and he comes in the same room with you, that does not mean he wants you and should not give you a reason to just jump up and start beating on this man,” added the victim who is also a member of LEGAL.
Meanwhile, a month after former Speaker Alex Tyler stepped on the bill, CDC’s now vice standard bearer, Madam Jewel Howard-Taylor, tried to implement something strongly looked down on as a violation of human rights.
Despite Chapter 50 of the Penal Code of Liberia specifying the penalties for violating the preceding laws, Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, the former wife of former President Charles Taylor, introduced legislation that would make same sex relations a first degree felony with a maximum punishment of death. A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Clarence K. Massaquoi in early February 2012, except that the offense would be a second degree felony.
In Section 50.7, on sentence to imprisonment for misdemeanor, a person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor may be sentenced to imprisonment for the following terms:
(a) For a misdemeanor of the first degree, to a definite term of imprisonment to be fixed by the court at no more than one year. Section 50.9 authorizes fines and restitution as to individuals. Except as otherwise expressly provided, and subject to the limitation contained in paragraph 3, an individual who has been convicted of an offense may be sentenced to pay a fine which does not exceed: For a misdemeanor of the first degree, L$1,000 (US$11.61), or double the gain realized by the defendant. Section 50.10, on imposition of fines, the ability to pay: In determining the amount and the method of payment of a fine, the court shall, insofar as practicable, proportion the fine to the burden that payment will impose in view of the financial resources of the defendant; fine alone – When any other disposition is authorized by statute, the court shall not sentence an individual to pay a fine only unless, having regard to the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and character of the defendant, it is of the opinion that the fine alone will suffice for the protection of the public; Fine in addition to sentence of imprisonment – The court shall not sentence a defendant to pay a fine in addition to a sentence of imprisonment or probation unless: (a) The defendant has derived a pecuniary gain from the crime; or (b) The court is of the opinion that a fine is specially adapted to deterrence of the crime involved.
The LGBT community feels that there is no one to turn to when hate crimes against them continue to overwhelm their freedom to love who they want, when lawmakers who are there to protect them are implementing laws that could allow them to be murdered with impunity. And as a result, more and more victims will go unaccounted for and the crimes against them unreported.
It can be recalled that the presidential press secretary, Jerolinmek Mathew Piah, said in a letter to the Guardian newspaper in response to rumors that the President is willing to pass laws that will brutally put the LGBT community in a vulnerable state:
“There is no law referencing homosexuality in Liberia, so she could not be defending a law on homosexuality. She is on record as saying that any law brought before her regarding homosexuality will be vetoed. This also applies to an attempt by two members of the Liberian Legislature to introduce tougher laws targeting homosexuality. It is therefore very disappointing to see you report that President Sirleaf is defending laws criminalizing homosexuality. She and her government believe the current law on sexual practices sufficiently addresses the concerns of the majority of Liberians and guarantees respect for traditional values. The reality is that the status quo in Liberia has been one of tolerance, and no one has ever been prosecuted under that law. The President also thinks that with the unprecedented freedom of speech and expression Liberia enjoys today, our budding democracy will be strong enough to accommodate new ideas and debate both their values and Liberia’s laws with openness, respect and independence.”