Liberia: Methodist School Expels Student for Dressing as Drag Queen
Monrovia – A video making the rounds on Facebook has led to the expulsion of a student of the Trinity United Methodist School in New Kru Town, drawing ire from the public.
Michael Kanneh, alias Nuchie Michael, 19, was expelled by the principal of the Trinity United Methodist School for dancing in a video which saw him beautifully transformed as a drag queen and later engaging in a fiery exchange with a female street preacher who sought unsuccessfully to preach damnation upon him.
But the principal of the school, Nyekan C. Wleh did not take kindly to the viral video. He announced the immediate expulsion of the student in a Facebook post which has also been shared widely.
“For such nonsense which is against the student handbook, Michael Kanneh aka Nuchie Michael is hereby expelled from the Trinity United Methodist High School,” he stated. “More videos to be exposed.”
LGBTI persons continue to come under threats and record instances of assault, harassment, and hate speech, according to the 2020 U.S. State Department Human Rights report on Liberia.
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 which criminalizes homosexuality in Liberia.
Last October, ex-personnel of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Cheeseman Cole, was arrested, for reportedly catfishing over 27 men from social media and brutalizing them when they showed up at his residence, claiming that he was on a divine mission to cleanse Liberia of its LGBT population.
Two men—Dominic Renner and Winston Toe— remain missing from Cole’s alleged freakshow. The Liberia National Police continue to remain tightlipped on the status of the investigation.
Though Cole was investigated, forwarded to the court, and detained for a brief period at the Monrovia Central Prison, he is currently out on bail awaiting prosecution from the Ministry of Justice. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice, Maude Somah, said her boss, Solicitor General Syrenius Cephus, is following up with the county attorney on the status of the prosecution.
Liberian law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. Article 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.
The country has not defined its stance on the protection of the rights of its LGBT population. But Attorney General, F. Musah Dean, during the launch of the UN SOGIE report in November 2020 said the Liberian constitution guarantees protection for all.
With the election of President Joe Biden who promised protection of LGBT people worldwide, the Liberian gay community continues to remain hopeful.
The expulsion of Michael Kanneh comes at a time many countries across the world are celebrating Pride Month, which is celebrated annually in June. Pride Month is an entire month dedicated to the uplifting of LGBTQ voices, the celebration of LGBTQ culture, and the support of LGBTQ rights, according to People Magazine.
Public rails against school’s action
The post of the principal, which has gone viral across social media, has drawn mixed reactions from the public.
Dave Dakpannah Bright, commenting on the post which was shared by a Liberian social media blog said the action of the principal violated Michael’s fundamental human right.
“How did Michael’s action violate your school’s policy? This administrator is seeking undeserved relevance. Trinity is a host to numerous pride people; he’s aware.”
Sarah Bartley stated: Your bio says kindhearted and compassionate. Which of those is this? God loves all of his children. EVEN THE BOYS WHO LIKE MAKEUP! God is your excuse for being anti-gay…”
For Abubakar Corneh, he wondered whether the student was heard by the school. “Was he given due process?”
But the principal is not without his supporters. Pietah Nah Tiepoh rained praises on the principal. “Thanks Mr. Principal for this kind of administrative action taken. This should go across all schools in Liberia.”
Daniel Gala-Lamaleie stated: “He/she is just expelled from one school not all the schools in Liberia. So those who feel hurt by the principal’s decision can help him/her to enroll at another school whose policy conforms to his/her lifestyle and sexual orientation.”
Human Rights Lawyer condemns school action
As social media pressure continues to ramp up against the institution to reinstate the former student, the school could likely face legal consequences.
Human rights lawyer and executive director of Organization for Women and Children, Atty. Mmonbeydo Joah, says the action of Trinity Methodist school is one that borders on negligence and risk in a homophobic society like Liberia.
“Illegal posting of photos without permission must be condemned by all educators,” she said. “Today we saw a child arbitrarily dismissed without due process which is a cardinal tenet in our jurisprudence.”
Atty. Joah, former diversity officer of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights Commission, said social media is not where the school conducts its official business hence the action of the principal was wrong.
“Clearly we need to follow up with the MoE to ensure that this act is not repeated by other institutions. This means taking critical actions, not excluding litigation to ensure others like Trinity Methodist School respect the rights and privacy of children within their care.”
But the director of education at the Liberia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Rev. Christopher Michael, said the incident has not been reported to his office.
“This is news for me. We will have to go there to see and authenticate. A follow-up will be done.” Though Rev. Michael refrained from commenting on the issue, LGBT inclusion continues to thaw the Methodist church.
The Liberia Annual Conference of the church is amongst three African conferences that have threatened to leave The United Methodist Church if the church lifts its ban on same-sex marriage and ordination, according to the United Methodist News.
The expulsion Michael Kanneh of appears to be a litmus test for the church on love, acceptance, and tolerance, observers believe.
Global support Pours
The situation has angered many Liberians across the world. Iamtheone Jean-Claude, a Liberian residing in the States has promised to foot the tuition of Michael Kanneh if he attended a new school. “Please tell him to choose another school that will accept all of him ASAP and send me the tuition information.
Roselyn Amah Giddings, also a Liberian, stated: “We the internet relatives are here and waiting to buy his uniform and shoes, periodt.”