Abidjan – Gay men in Ivory Coast say they've been assaulted and
forced to flee their homes after the US Embassy published a photo of them
signing a condolence book for victims of this month's killings at a gay
nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
The photo, published on the embassy's website, shows the faces of
six men with the caption "LGBTI community signing the condolence
book." It was taken at the embassy on June 16, the same day Prime Minister
Daniel Kablan Duncan and other officials signed the book in honour of the 49
people killed in the Orlando attack.
The photo has been widely shared on social media and two of the
men said that in the days after it was published an angry mob punched and
kicked them while shouting anti-gay slurs. The men spoke to The Associated
Press on condition of anonymity for their safety.
No legal protection
Four of the six men, including the two attacked, said they have
fled their homes under pressure from family and friends who had been unaware of
their sexual orientation.
The men said they were not contacted before the photo was
published. However the US embassy did contact the heads of three Ivory Coast
organisations that advocate for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender people, according to press officer Elizabeth Ategou. Those
activists gave their approval, but they were not in the photo or at the embassy
Ategou said the embassy "deeply regrets that any individuals
were attacked based on any kind of orientation they might have." She said
the embassy was in contact with the men and encouraged them to report the
attacks to police.
The head of one gay rights group who approved the photo, and who
also insisted on anonymity for his safety, said he would not have approved it
had he known those pictured would be identified so explicitly as members of the
The photo was removed from the Embassy's website late on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Ategou said the embassy had received no requests to take it
Same-sex relations are not a crime in Ivory Coast, but there are
no legal protections for sexual minorities. In January 2014, a mob ransacked
the Abidjan headquarters of the country's most prominent gay rights organisation.
The US Embassy in Abidjan has strengthened ties with the country's
LGBT activists following an Obama administration memorandum in 2011 that
empowered "all agencies engaged abroad" to promote and protect the
human rights of sexual minorities.