WATCH: 'Born This Way' Explores Gay Life In Cameroon

7.16.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

Let Eric Ohena Lembembe's death be a teachable moment.

Prominent Cameroonian gay activist Eric Ohena Lembembe was found dead by friends Monday night, a day after mysteriously vanishing. According to initial reports, Lembembe's hands, arms and face were burned and his feet and neck appeared broken. His apartment's door had been padlocked from the outside, but the curtains were left open enough to reveal his body. Someone wanted him to be found, to send a message.

This hideous crime is not an isolated incident. Human Rights Watch informs us that a clinic known to provide HIV services for LGBT was burned down last month, and a human rights lawyer's office was burgled. His laptop and client files were stolen. And no less than 28 people have been prosecuted under the country's anti-gay laws since 2010. Two women were arrested for lesbianism last year. And two men were arrested for wearing women's clothing in 2011. The convictions were finally overturned after two years, just one year less than the amount of prison time gay activist Jean-Claude Roger Mbede received for texting "I'm falling in love with you" to a male friend.

Lembembe's murder, however, is the most gruesome example of anti-gay culture in Cameroon, and the brutality alone should be enough to provoke international outcry and, at the very least, demands for a full, thorough investigation. It would be too easy, and tempting, for police there to let Lembembe's death go unsolved. It's up to the public, including foreign activists and leaders, to make sure they stay on track.

For more on LGBT life in Cameroon, check out the documentary Born This Way, which shows that in the midst of all this terror — and, yes, homophobic attacks like the ones in Cameroon are terrorism — there exists the irrepressible, often revolutionary community and love. Hopefully Lembembe's death will not be in vain and one day the furtive friendships shown here can see the light of day.

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