*Pour le texte original en français, cliquez ici*
I received this cri de coeur on Facebook, along with a few hundred other people, from a young woman I know in Burundi who has connections in Burundi’s small, closed LGBT circles. In Burundi, having consensual sexual relations with someone of the same sex is a crime punishable by “no more than 10 years” in prison. As far as I know, no one has actually been charged under this law since it was passed in 2009, but the simple fact of the law’s existence has sent an understandable wave of unease and fear through the LGBT, questioning and allied community in Burundi.
Here’s one woman’s story…
I’m going to tell you one girl’s story. For safety reasons, we’ll just call her Dominique, because she has had to deny who she is to keep from going to prison. Dominique is a Burundian girl like any other. She loves her friends and family more than anything, but for her Burundi is nothing but a big hospital where she has been quarantined ever since the police told her she was sick and abnormal. She has all it takes for a successful future in communications or in multimedia, she loves books and the arts, but to society she’s contagious. They don’t want her to live happily anymore. Her family supports her but tells her to lay low, to leave this country. Burundians aren’t used to that. That’s what she hears every day, go biragoye kumva*. One day, she wants to dazzle this country where she was born, this country that she loves and respects. How is it her fault if she would rather have Joëlle than Christophe? Recently she’s been living in her bubble, because outside she feels their stares; they’re looking for evidence to lock her up. When her friends protested the injustice, they were accused of letting her contaminate them. They were afraid they would be quarantined, so they stopped. Every evening they still bring her the news and gossip from Bujumbura, so she holds on, but she would really love to be able to go out again in peace without Officer Michel from the judicial police tracking her every gesture and hoping to see her crack. She hangs on, because there’s nothing else she can do. As soon as she goes out, it’s terrible. She scares people, she’s contagious, people judge her for her clothes and for her walk. She is a target, but her spirit is invincible. She has values and dreams of peace and humanity. She can shout all she wants that she’s normal, that she’s whole, that she can’t stand it when people treat her as if she is fighting them, that she doesn’t deserve to be deprived of the right to live and love freely. How can people judge love? She brings shame on society. She’s the enemy. She’s danger itself. Because she’s a 24-year-old Burundian woman and she loves another woman.
Since the original French version of this text was published on Facebook, it’s received dozens of commentaires, almost uniformly positive. For example, from one young man:
I’m truly sorry for Dominique! She’s being hunted as if she owes some kind of debt to society! But what’s being said about all of these “honorable personages” who pillage millions from the state’s coffers and condemn the entire country to rattle along in indescribable poverty, who kill or order the killing of poor and innocent people, and who despite their rotten reputations can calmly stroll down the streets of Bujumbura, and have no need to live in hiding like young Dominique?! I think we’re creating problems where there are none!! Let’s not act like President Museveni** next door who manipulated an entire people and made the “gay problem” his political warhorse for purely populist and electoral purposes!! As for the gentleman from the Judicial Police, his role is to come down hard on people who spend their time stealing, killing, raping, who pollute the whole of society with their behaviour, not to make life unlivable for people like Dominique who are only asking to live in freedom and dignity!!
*Go biragoye kumva: It’s hard for people to understand.
**President Museveni: Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed a law this past February that criminalized homosexual relations and even instituted penalites for straight allies who associated with LGBT people and failed to turn them in. The law was influenced by the teacings of fundamentalist Christian sects inside and outside Uganda. A few months earlier, Museveni himself had called the law “a fascist bill.” Fortunately, the bill was invalidated on a legal technicality, but the homophobic sentiment that led the bill to be passed is still a reality in Uganda. The US-made independent film God Loves Uganda (available North America-wide on Netflix) looks at the role of US evangelical groups in spreading fundamentalist ideology.
This Amnesty International report shines a light on the problems encountered by LGBT people, queer and questioning people and allies in Sub-Saharan Africa. Same-sex relations are a crime in 38 African countries and in some countries and regions may be punishable by death.
I wrote this article in 2011 for the Canadian GLBT magazine Xtra, focusing on the hard work being done by a small group of male Burundian activists. To their credit, most of them are still at it.
Someone has created a Facebook group, Dominique ntaco azoba (You’ll be all right, Dominique) and a hashtag (#ntacoazoba) to support Dominique and others like her. The page has gathered nearly 300 likes in four days of existence.
A Facebook group won’t change the world overnight, obviously. But let’s come together, like, share and show our solidarity, if only to let all the Dominiques know they’re not broken, and above all that they’re not alone.
I have been surprised and overjoyed by the reaction to the original French post. If you would like to SHARE, REBLOG OR TRANSLATE this material, go ahead! With a few small conditions:
-Text in Italics: (c) Dominique ntaco azoba. Text in plain text: (c) Ruby Irene Pratka Image: Wikimedia Commons
-Please share your translation or reblog in the comments here and/or on Dominique ntaco azoba.
– Dominique’s statement should remain in its entirety.