Monrovia – Mohammed Sheriff (not his real name) still remembers the day his mother disowned him when she discovered her first child was gay.
“She asked me to moved out and said I was no longer her son,” he said. “She said she can’t have a child who’s into such sexual behavior.”
Petite in height, Sheriff, 22, who had lived in a sleepy township in Montserrado County with his aunt since he was a toddler, moved to Monrovia following her death to be with his mother.
It was smooth sailing, in the beginning, he remembered. But it would soon be short-lived when he started hanging with friends in the community who were gay.
“Some of my other [straight] friends in the community began calling me faggy [faggot] until my mother heard it and threw me outside.”
“I can’t go to my father because he’s Muslim and I had never lived with him. My ma told my pa and his people so I know they will not want me to be there,” he said tearfully.
According to Human Rights Campaign, “…depending on nationality, generation, family upbringing, and cultural influences, Islamic individuals and institutions fall along a wide spectrum, from welcoming and inclusive to a level of rejection that can be marked by a range of actions ranging from social sequestration to physical violence.”
Short on options in a city that he hadn’t lived for a long period, he was taken in by a man who was moved by his knack for hard work.
However, he averred, he was asked out again when his bullies followed him and revealed his sexuality.
“I was attacked by one of the boys in the communities while I was working. It didn’t take too long when the news leaked that I was gay and the man who was helping me asked me to leave. He didn’t tell me why he was putting me out but I think it was because the boys mentioned that I’m a fag.”
His life took a rollercoaster thereafter. “Everywhere I go in the community, they can follow and fight me. I’m afraid to walk on the road,” he said, pointing to injuries on his knee and elbow which were sustained when he was chased and beaten.
“I fell and they jumped on me and started beating me.”
Liberian law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. Articles 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. There has been no publicized case in recent years. But Liberian’s gay community continues to complain of harassment and discrimination which are becoming very widespread.
According to the latest U.S. Department of State 2018 report on Liberia, the country’s gay community faces extreme challenges.
In November 2019, partygoers attending a birthday party at a Drop-in-Center (DIC) owned and operated by Population Services International (PSI) were attacked and severely wounded over suspicions of engaging in homosexual acts. There were no arrests made by the Liberia National Police as the attackers fled while some attacked the Police for rescuing the victims.
In September 2018, there was also a similar attack at the same venue.
The government of former soccer star now President, George Weah, has not defined its stance on the protection of the rights of sexual minorities.
But in an interview the Liberian President gave in December of last year, he stressed that his government is one which respects human rights, regardless.
‘Fairy Godfather’ to the rescue
With no roof over his head, Sheriff said he moved on to sleeping in open stalls on the streets until he met an LGBT social worker who provided him an accommodation. “I used to sleep in the booths and wake up early so people can’t know.”
Alfred Jones (not his real name), 30, works for an underground LGBT organization (name withheld) which works to reduce HIV/AIDs transmission within Liberia’s gay community.
Jones said he was introduced to Sheriff by a mutual friend who knew about his plight and was looking for someone to help him, howbeit temporarily.
“When I moved in the community, he started to come around,” he said. “When my friend told me about him, I pitied him. I decided to accommodate him.”
He said Sheriff’s stay is conditional. “When my partner comes to spend the night, he has to sleep somewhere else.”
He added that his magnanimity came with great risk as well. “When I’m walking on the road, homophobic slurs are said to me as well. Most times when I leave it’s when they start to say it. I hope to recognize one of them so I can jail them.”
Resolute to finish high school
Mohammed Sheriff may have had his share of misfortunes, but it hasn’t stopped his determination from trying to complete high school.
Currently a 12th grader at a high school (name withheld) in a quiet suburb, Sheriff says there’s no stopping for him. “I want to study IT [Information Technology] when I graduate from high school.”
That dream, however, would be a bummer if Sheriff cannot raise the $LD30,000 (US$153) he needs to pay before enrolling for semester 2.
“We are closed for second semester and school will soon open. Right now, I don’t have anywhere or anybody to help me with my tuition. I’m appealing to everyone out there who will read what you write to please try to help me.”
It’s difficult to determine what lies in the foreseeable future for Sheriff. For now, it seems completing high school is as important as the conditional accommodation he’s been given with no strings attached.