A few weeks ago, I went to see a movie called Born this Way at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival here in New York. I always look forward to this time of year because I get to see educational and interesting films I would otherwise not have access to.
This particular film deals with the hardships the LGBT community faces in Cameroon and was in a lot of ways similar to the film “Call me Kuchu” which highlighted the LGBT community in Uganda.
The movie let us become a part of the every-day lives of 4 individuals, and experience their struggles not only in dealing with their identity but working up the courage to tell their loved ones who they truly were. A lot of times they couldn’t understand the behavior of homophobes within their own community. What’s worse than not being able to live freely in the community you grew up in? How unfortunate it is to find that though most people in the LGBT community in Cameroon love their homeland, they believe that the only way to find peace is to move abroad.
What struck me most is the fact that in Cameroon, if you are so much as suspected of being gay, you can be thrown in jail for 3-5 years! As lawyer and human rights activist Alice Nkom mentioned during the Q&A following the film: it is just a continuous cycle. You get arrested, jailed, serve time, get out and then they can arrest you the very next day. There is this constant fear of being attacked and they oftentimes have to move once the community they live in finds out what their sexual orientation is.
In this film there is a scene that takes place in a taxi cab, in which the passenger (and Alice’s client) who happens to be lesbian is being driven to safety by a male driver who proceeds to ask her all kinds of personal and inappropriate questions about her sexuality. The ignorance and shock he expresses during the conversation made it a funny scene for most. Yet deep down I could not help but think, this is why the general public is so clueless when it comes to understanding the struggles of the LGBT community. The scene becomes less comical when you think of the way gays are being humiliated, arrested for dressing a certain way or even worse rapped to “set them straight”.
People don’t react well to something they are not accustomed to. Being gay is misunderstood and most people don’t want to hear anything about it. Interestingly enough, most of the time this behavior comes from decision makers themselves! People who have the most power to change things. How can we expect to change the law if lawyers and members of the government continue to see this issue as taboo, when they continue to quote the bible and turn a blind eye to the LGBT community’s hardships?
Nancy mentioned that if tradition or religion inculcate in you that being gay is a sin, if you are religious, you will automatically say “this is what was written, this is what I believe, so don’t try and change my mind” and remain closed-minded and unwilling to change or discuss this topic. She even went on to explain that people in the community who have this set mentality could easily hurt or kill a person within the LGBT community or the people who defend them in front of the law and feel proud of their actions. No remorse. They’d see this as their duty to rid the world of “evil”. Her own life, like the lives of those she dedicates her life to defending, has been threatened many times. It will surely take more time and effort to help change these entrenched beliefs. Though with determined advocates such as herself and film directors like Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann bringing these issues to life, I truly hope that more people will take a stand against discrimination of all people.