Compiled by Richard Ammon
Not surprising there is virtually no recent insight about LGBT life on this small two island nation. There is one short story, posted below, about a gay man in 2003 whose experience and attitude were expressed thus: “Several people here know I’m gay, and it has NO bearing on my daily life. The overall philosophy being ‘Live and let live’, no one seems to care. I was approached once by a local and that relationship lasted a while. People knew – or at least suspected – what was going on, and it affected no one’s life, in or outside the bedroom.”
That was in 2003. Since then homophobia has spread across Africa like a plague and countless LGBT people have been killed or persecuted. On the mainland homophobic legislators are trying to outdo one another with proposed anti-gay statutes, especially since 2008. However, Sao Tome & Principe are geographically separated from the bigotry and prejudice by hundreds of miles. And thankfully the island nation is also distinct and separate in their attitude toward homosexuality–at least at the government level. In 2011 they voted to decriminalized same-sex relations although homophobia still threads through the culture.
São Tomé and Príncipe, officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, is a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa. It consists of two islands: São Tomé and Príncipe, located about 140 kilometres (87 mi) apart and about 250 and 225 kilometres (155 and 140 mi), respectively, off the northwestern coast of Gabon. Both islands are part of an extinct volcanic mountain range. São Tomé, the sizable southern island, is situated just north of the equator. It was named in honor of Saint Thomas by Portuguese explorers who arrived at the island on his feast day.
With a population of 163,000 (2010), São Tomé and Príncipe is the second-smallest African country (the Seychelles being the smallest). It is the smallest country in the world in terms of population that is not a former British overseas territory, a former United States trusteeship, or one of the European microstates. It is also the smallest Portuguese-speaking country. (Wikipedia: Sao Tome & Principe)
Your Basic Little Paradise:
Short Commentary about Gay Life in Sao Tome & Principe
Behind the Mask
November 6, 2003
Sao Tome and Principe is a tiny two island African nation, near the equator, off the coast of Equatorial Guinea. Luis has lived and worked there for several years and finds that the ‘live and let live’ attitude of the country means that while there are no facilities for gay people, there is little to bother them either.
A former slave trading outpost, under Portuguese colonial rule the country turned to sugar cane and cacao production. Upon independence from Portugal in 1975 the small nation (the second smallest in Africa after the Seychelles) was left with little by way of infrastructure or trained personnel. Nowadays there is widespread poverty but hope, and trepidation, on the horizon in the form of newly discovered oil fields. “The politics are very peaceful, despite a bloodless coup last July,” says Luis. “It’s your basic little paradise.”
Luis is committed to the country and its development and works for an NGO there. I asked him about life for gay people in STP? “If you can imagine a time warp of about 100 years when LGBT issues weren’t yet issues, then you’ve captured STP. The issues simply aren’t there – well, of course they’re there, just like they were for Oscar Wilde – but they’re not there because no one discusses them. They do exist, but they’re not part of public – or even private – discourse. Several people here know I’m gay, and it has NO bearing on my daily life. The overall philosophy being ‘Live and let live’, no one seems to care. I was approached once by a local and that relationship lasted a while. People knew – or at least suspected – what was going on, and it affected no one’s life, in or outside the bedroom.”
Luis told me that there is no organising around LGBT issues as a result of the “non-issue” of gay and lesbian people. There are no support groups and LGBT people stay largely in the closet. As for a social scene? “If you are gay, there are no places, at least that I’m aware of – and I’ve lived here for 8 years – to meet or socialise. We’re all ‘main-streamed’ here!”
While there is little or no discussion of the topic in the media Luis revealed that when the topic does come up it usually concerns foreign news. “Like the New Hampshire gay bishop.” He illustrated. “And true to form, I haven’t heard a single criticism of his ordination.” Luis, who is a white American, continued. “The closest is perhaps: ‘My, you folks do things differently, don’t you?’ – much as if your sweet old grandma asked you why you got a punk haircut. Interested and curious, up to a point – judgmental, not at all.”
Oil and Tourism Threaten to Treble Rate of HIV Infection in Five Years
From: Behind the Mask
By Irin News
May 10, 2005
Sao Tome – The HIV prevalence rate in Sao Tome and Principe could treble over the next five years as tourism and the development of offshore oil bring thousands of people flooding into the remote island state in the Gulf of Guinea, a prominent local AIDS campaigner has warned.
Antonio Amado Vaz, executive director of the Sao Tome Association for Family Protection (ASPF), an NGO heavily involved in the local campaign against AIDS, told a press conference last week: “Unless immediate preventative measures are taken, the number of HIV positive people in the country could treble in less than five years.”
At present, the government’s AIDS control programme in the twin-island state 300 km off the coast of Gabon is floundering.
Amado Vaz, a Cuban-trained doctor, quit as director of the government’s National Programme to Fight Aids (PNLS) in December in protest at bureaucratic wrangling that is holding up the disbursement of a World Bank grant to help fight AIDS in the country.
He protested last week that although Brazil had provided antiretroviral (ARV) drugs last January to treat 100 people living with AIDS free of charge at a special clinic in Sao Tome’s main hospital, poor organisation meant that fewer than 30 patients were so far receiving these medicines, which can improve the health of people living with AIDS and prolong their life.
Although the HIV prevalence rate is Sao Tome is officially estimated at a modest one percent, Amado Vaz said recent evidence suggested it was much higher.
He said there were 159 officially registered cases of HIV/AIDS on Sao Tome island, with none so far declared on its small sister island of Principe, 150 km to the north.
But Amado Vaz said it was likely that between 3,000 and 6,000 people in Sao Tome and Principe were HIV positive.
That would represent between two and four percent of the islands’ 140,000 population.
Tourists and Oilmen
Tourists are increasingly attracted to Sao Tome by big game fishing in the islands’ well-stocked coastal waters, a handful of exclusive beach resorts and the unspoilt scenery and endemic bird life of the island’s volcanic mountains, which are covered in tropical forest.
But there are concerns that some of those arriving on flights from Portugal and South Africa are simply attracted by the easy attitude to sex in Sao Tome and Principe, where polygamy is a way of life and many men have multiple sexual partners. A Portuguese paedophile was jailed in Sao Tome last year and there are fears that many other visitors to the country are also attracted to the country by the prospect of easy sex with children.
At present, Sao Tome is linked to Europe by two flights a week to Lisbon and a weekly charter to Johannesburg. But as more hotels spring up on the country’s pristine beaches fringed with coco palms, Amado Vaz fears that the present trickle of a few dozen tourists each week could soon rise to several hundred, increasing the island’s exposure to sexually transmitted infections.
He is also concerned about an imminent invasion of Sao Tome by oilmen drilling the deep offshore waters of the Joint Development Zone shared with Nigeria. “The country is not prepared for this in any way whatsoever,” he said…
(Read full story)
And finally some recent good news:
Sao Tome and Principe to legalize gay sex
by Rex Wockner
Originally printed 2/17/2011 (Issue 1907 – Between The Lines News)
Sao Tome and Principe, an island nation located off the west coast of Africa, will decriminalize gay sex in upcoming revisions to its Criminal Code, its representatives said Jan. 31 at the country’s United Nations Universal Periodic Review session.
“Obviously there is a concern about sexual relations between persons of the same sex in our country,” the delegation said. “Currently the Criminal Code goes back a very long way when the situation was entirely different and so the courts actually don’t apply the penalty anymore. So, despite what’s there in the text of the law, it’s not applicable because it runs counter to constitutional principles. The new Criminal Code which we’re drawing up does not penalize sexual relations between persons of the same sex.”
The new code should be in place within four months, the delegation said.
The Universal Periodic Review, a project of the U.N. Human Rights Council, officially analyzes the human-rights record of each of the 192 U.N. member nations on a rotating basis once every four years, and urges reviewed nations to protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.