World

Ivory Coast: Gay Men Attacked for Showing Support to Orlando Shooting Victims

Mourners gather under a LGBT pride flag flying at half-mast for a candlelight vigil in remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando, from San Diego, California, US June 12. Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake/File Photo

Mourners gather under a LGBT pride flag flying at half-mast for a candlelight vigil in remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando, from San Diego, California, US June 12. Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake/File Photo

Dakar: Six gay men in Ivory Coast were abused and forced to flee their homes after they were pictured signing a condolence book for victims of the recent attack on a gay nightclub in, a rights group said on June 29.

The US embassy in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan hosted an event a fortnight ago to honour the Florida victims and published a photo of the six men on its website with the caption: ‘LGBTI community signing the condolence book’.

A gunman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State militant group killed 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub on June 12 in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

Days after the tribute in Abidjan, Louna, one of the men in the photo, was walking in his neighbourhood when a mob pushed him to the ground, stole his phone and wallet, and beat him.

“I don’t have a life anymore,” said the 36-year-old, who only gave his nickname for fear of further attacks.

Louna said he did not know the photo had been posted online until a friend called him and told him that he had seen it.

“I can’t go out. I don’t know who might recognise me,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Abidjan, adding that he fears he will never be able to return home.

Another man in the picture was also attacked after the photo was circulated on Facebook and other websites, said the head of an Abidjan-based gay rights group, who asked to remain anonymous.

The other four men in the photo were verbally abused and all six fled their homes, he added.

While the director of the rights group gave the US embassy permission to post the photo on their website, he said he would not have done so if he had known what the caption would say.

“We are afraid now. There is no security,” he said.

Ivory Coast is one of the few African countries where same-sex acts are legal and have never been criminalised.

While it is considered one of the most tolerant countries for sexual minorities in the region, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face widespread abuse, stigma and violence, rights groups say.

The photo remained on the US embassy’s website as of June 29. Embassy officials were not immediately available to comment.

(Thomson Reuters Foundation)