I recently received an e-mail from the 27-year-old leader
of Senegal’s gay organization. He told me he was in grave danger ever
since the local press in Senegal had outed him. He was in hiding, trying to
escape the country by fleeing into a neighboring nation. He had been attacked
twice since I had met with him in Africa in April 2004.
“They began to beat and punch me,” he recounted.
“They threw me on the ground, kicking me. My arm was hurt, my face was
completely beaten up, and afterward they threatened me, saying that if I didn’t
stop defending the gay cause, they would finish by killing me.”
I remember my friend from Senegal (who asked not to be identified)
as skinny and frail but with a sparkle in his eye and a passion in his speech
that underscored his courage and commitment to making a change in his homeland.
God only knows where he is now.
Senegal, as I reported in our Fall 2004 issue, is a relatively
liberal Muslim country with a hopping nightlife, women in sexy Western clothing,
and legalized prostitution. But Senegalese gays have been barred from organizing
or holding meetings, and their requests for gay-targeted anti-AIDS funding have
not been answered by their government.
In many countries and cultures around the world homosexual
activity may be tolerated and even encouraged to some extent, but “gay
identity” is not. As long as one fulfills the obligations to marry, have
children, and keep up a heterosexual veneer, quiet homosexual relationships
are somewhat accepted. But making a public stance and stating your true orientation
is not. Despite the influence of the modern gay movement (or, some say, maybe
because of it), attacks on self-identifiedhomosexuals
continue unabated in many countries, particularly in the developing world, where
economic and political freedoms are not as prevalent as in richer countries.
But what can we, as temporary visitors to such places, do
to help? Besides putting pressure on our own governmental representatives to
pressure others overseas, sometimes your simple physical and financial presence
(or lack thereof) as a gay foreigner in a place can make a difference. The once
officially antigay Cayman Islands, for instance, received so much bad press
and economic backlash from homophobic policies that the new director of tourism,
Pilar Bush, has had to make it her mission to change the islands’ policies
and truly welcome gay tourists with open arms.
Obviously, there are countries where even being out
as a foreigner carries consequences, and that’s why The Out Traveler takes
its ratings of the gay “temperature” of destinations seriously.
But I encourage gay and lesbian travelers to go deeper than the local queer
bar or B&B, and attempt to make contact with the local gay organizations
in the places they visit, especially in countries where your emotional and personal
help can make a huge difference. Even places like Nepal,Greenland,
Mongolia, and Botswana (all included in this issue’s cover story) have
local gay organizations, and making the time to contact them during your trip
is not only a great way to meet people and understand the gay life there, but
a probable highlight of your entire vacation.
Let us not forget that many gays around the world need our
help in their ongoing struggles for survival. At the end of the day, you may
have had an incredible scuba dive or an exhilarating rafting experience, but
it’s the connections between individuals and peoples that make the act
of travel such a fantastic privilege.