Gay men from the Ivory Coast were outed by the U.S. Embassy when they came to pay their condolences to the families of the Orlando nightclub victims.
The U.S. Embassy thought they were doing the right thing by putting together a condolences book for the families of the victims in the Orland0 nightclub shooting, but their good deed soon turned the lives of other gay men into a nightmare.
When the Embassy posted a photo of closeted gay men signing the book on Facebook, they added the caption,
“LGBTI community signing the condolence book.”
As harmless as this may seem, the action caused a whirlwind of trouble for the gay men in the photo that had not yet revealed their sexuality to their friends, family, and community.
Two out of six of the men in the widely shared photo were assaulted and harassed by mobs of people shouting anti-gay slurs at them. Four of the men were forced to flee their homes after their non-supportive family and friends found out about their sexuality.
One of the men that was physically attacked told Reuters that the anti-gay mob had pushed him to the ground, beat him, and robbed him of his phone and wallet. In the phone interview, the 36-year-old said,
“I don’t have a life anymore. I can’t go out. I don’t know who might recognize me.”
The man expressed fears of never being able to return home after his brutal beating and the resentment from his community.
Press Officer Elizabeth Ategou expressed regret for the violent backlash to the photo and told CBS that the men were told that the photo had been taken and would be published on Facebook. However, when asked if this was true, all of the men insisted that they were never personally contacted or asked for permission to post the picture. Since the photo looks candid in nature, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that the men didn’t even know the photo was taken.
According to CBS, three different LGBT organizations were contacted to ask for permission to post it and all three gave their approval. However, none of the organizations were in attendance at the event and it seems wrong that they should give the approval on behalf of men they likely never met.
One anonymous leader of an LGBT group that gave the approval said that he would have never given the go-ahead if he had been informed of what the caption would say because it ultimately outed gay men.
Same-sex relationships aren’t against the law but there is a stigma surrounding gay relationships that results in violence and hate crimes towards LGBTQ people. Many of the crimes go unreported because the victims are afraid of further repercussions. There are no legal protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexuality, giving gay people more of a reason to never come out.
A 2011 report by the U.S. State Department found that gay men were repeatedly subjected to violence and that the Ivorian government didn’t take any action to combat anti-gay violence. The report explained,
“[The] societal stigmatization of the LGBT community was reportedly widespread, and the government did not act to counter it during the year. Gay men were reportedly subjected to beatings, imprisonment, verbal abuse, humiliation and extortion by police, gendarmes and members of the armed forces.”
Considering the backlash these men were likely to receive upon posting the photo, the U.S. Embassy should have more thoroughly investigated whether the post was necessary and that all those involved would remain unharmed. Instead, these gay men that dropped by to pay their respects were thanked by being turned away from home and becoming the victims of anti-gay violence.
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