Gay community under attack in Liberia over Ebola outbreak

Thu Oct 23, 2014 8:40am EDT
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By Misha Hussain and Maria Caspani

DAKAR/NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Leroy Ponpon doesn't know whether to lock himself in his flat in Monrovia because of the deadly Ebola virus, or because he is gay. Christian churches' recent linking of the two have made life hell for him and hundreds of other gays.

Ponpon, an LGBT campaigner in the Liberian capital, says gays have been harassed, physically attacked and a few have had their cars smashed by people blaming them for the hemorrhagic fever, after religious leaders in Liberia said Ebola was a punishment from God for homosexuality.

"Since church ministers declared Ebola was a plague sent by God to punish sodomy in Liberia, the violence toward gays has escalated. They're even asking for the death penalty. We're living in fear," Ponpon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Monrovia.

Ebola has infected almost 10,000 people in West Africa since March, killing around half its victims. Liberia is the worst hit country where poverty, corruption and civil war have left a weak health system unable to cope with the exponential spread of the disease.

Some religious leaders have their own interpretation of the causes of Ebola.

Earlier this year, the Liberian Council of Churches said in a statement that God was angry with Liberians "over corruption and immoral acts" such as homosexuality, and that Ebola was a punishment.

In May, Archbishop Lewis Zeigler of the Catholic Church of Liberia said that "one of the major transgressions against God for which He may be punishing Liberia is the act of homosexuality," local media reported.

Francois Patuel, Amnesty International's representative in West Africa, said there had been reports of threats and violence against the LGBTI community in Monrovia since the incendiary remarks made by the local Christian leaders.   Continued...