Carine, a 26-year-old Cameroonian lesbian, was released in September 2016 after four years in jail because of her sexual orientation. Now she wants to resume a productive and happy life.
In November, recently released from prison, Carine (a pseudonym) visited the Douala offices of PEP Sans Frontière (Peer Educators and Promoters Without Borders, or PSF), an organization that provides multifaceted support to vulnerable and at-risk people such as Carine. PSF supported her with a small sum for short-term housing and health needs.
Those funds came from previous donations. Now PSF is looking for funds to allow Carine to start a business, allowing her to take control of her life and avoid the risks of idleness.
Carine currently lives in the city of Yaoundé, the political capital of Cameroon.
At the age of puberty, Carine found that she was attracted to girls rather than to boys. She was arrested by the police on Oct. 5, 2012, on homosexuality charges. She was convicted, imprisoned and finally released from prison on Sept. 5, 2016. During her four years in prison, Carine received no visits from any of her family members. She was left to herself.
That is not unusual in Cameroon, where LGBT people are often rejected by their families. They are considered to be outlaws.
Carine is an orphan, without father or mother, rejected by her uncles and aunts. She raised her orphaned little brother and little sister by herself. Before her arrest, Carine owned and managed a little shop.
In addition, in 2012 Carine learned that she is HIV-positive.
At least in the past, many LGBT people with HIV lived in fear of being arrested; they preferred to hide and die.
These days, there are more support organizations for HIV-positive LGBT Cameroonians, but they still are frequently the victims of many types of human rights violations, which everyone sees and everyone knows.
PSF interviewed Carine at its headquarters in Douala:
PSF: How did you learn that you were a lesbian?
Carine: At the age of puberty, I was attracted to girls rather than to boys, but I was afraid of confronting that fact. My first experience was on the birthday of a friend’s big brother. I kissed her cousin, and I realized I was a lesbian.
PSF: What was the reaction of your friends?
Carine: You know we are in a country where it is not legal! Nobody around me liked it. For them, it was a scandal.
PSF: Did any of your acquaintances support you?
Carine: No one. I am alone. I am even rejected by my family, except for my little sister, who is 18 years old. She understands me and visits me from time to time.
PSF: Why does she support you?
Carine: She has loved me from the start. I am her father, her mother, her idol, her star and she knows that this is a natural phenomenon in me.
PSF: How did you live on a daily basis?
Carine: I get up, I do my housework, I wash and I go to bed.
PSF: What do your new neighbors to your sexual orientation? [For her security, PSF had advised Carine to move to a new, quiet part of the city.]
Carine: I am new there, but I already feel dissatisfaction about the fact that I am there.
PSF: Is there anyone who provides you with financial support?
PSF: Have you ever had an HIV test? What was the result?
Carine: I had it in 2012. It was positive. At first I was given tablets, but then I was asked to stop because my case was not severe.
PSF: Your immediate needs?
Carine: Housing, health, nutrition.
PSF: What business do you want to launch?
Carine: The sale of clothes and shoes. Mixed clothes for men, women and children. Mixed shoes of all kinds. The money [that she hopes for] will allow me to take care of myself, my housing, my health, my nutrition, my few needs — in short, to be independent.
PSF: Do you have observations of your own?
Carine: If I put into practice the advice that I received from PSF, I should be OK.
In cooperation with Erasing 76 Crimes