In Benin, I met with three people who identify as transsexuals and are also Christians from different backgrounds. They wanted to be interviewed together. Their words were heartfelt as they told me that all they wanted from the society and the church is acceptance. Benin does not have any anti-gay laws, but LGBT people are often disowned by their families, if their sexuality becomes known. People who are known to be LGBT are seldom employed.
The three explained that the Catholic Church, which is the dominant faith in the country and holds great power, influences social attitudes and fuels homophobic prejudice. The thing, which saddened me the most, was to hear that if a known homosexual dies, he or she is buried in a different cemetery from everyone else, a place where outcasts are buried. Marginalised and hated in life, marginalised and hated in death. The three interviewees wept as they spoke. One of them named Abib asked me to be honest in my reply and to tell them that if they died would they go to hell or heaven? “Priests say that transsexuals are demons in the kingdom of the devil.” This was very shocking for me to hear. In my years living in Nigeria and Togo I have heard much homophobia, and know well the negative attitudes of church and society towards gay people, but this priest’s words still shocked me. At this point I stopped interviewing them and spent the rest of our time together teaching and reassuring them of the unconditional love of Christ, and telling them that all baptised members of the church regardless of their sexuality, sex or gender identity are welcomed into the Kingdom of God.
Mary is a parent of a 21-year-old gay man living in Port Nova. She is a practising Catholic and told me that she knew that her son was different right from the age of 12. “He always wanted to play with girls and never with boys, loved wearing girl’s clothes and often told me he was a girl.” Initially Mary was worried about his behaviour and consulted her priest who advised her to give him time to grow up, but continue to pray for her son. She once was told by a fellow parishioner that her son’s female behaviour was because of a lack of a father figure in his life. This was so offensive to Mary that she reported it to her priest, but nothing happened as the priest agreed with what the parishioner had said. She feels angry about the attitudes of the church towards homosexuals and 4 single parents. “I love my church and my country, but I love my child more and I will do everything to protect him.”
Many LGTB people fear that their family will disown them if their sexuality was ever known. Many are subjected to pressure from their parents to get married and have children especially if they are the firstborn son. Dossou, a 39-year-old travel agent, is so concerned about this that he is currently trying to get a job in Nigeria where nobody knows him. He understands that Nigeria is also a difficult place to live if you are homosexual, but is not planning to come out any time soon. “I want to stay in Nigeria, improve my English and then find a way to travel to Europe where I can be free to be myself.” He feels that the church, which is supposed to be a place of hope, has taken the lead in discriminating against people like him. He ends by saying, “I will always be a Catholic, just as I will always be a homosexual. I know that I am loved by God.”
“Voices from LGBT Catholics in Western Africa” – Davis Mac-Iyalla