Compiled by Richard Ammon
Any thoughtful study of African homosexuality should start with the well-researched book by Steven Murray and Will Roscoe titled “Boy Wives and Female Husbands: A Studies of African Homosexualities” published in 1998. It is the first work of its kind on the subject of African sexuality offering perspectives from the fields of anthropology and history, along with extensive evidence from ethnographic and literary sources. Clearly it is an academic book with limited appeal to local gay rights activists battling the forces of religious and political homophobia, but significantly it dissolves the myth that LGBT life is an import from the imperial Europeans or brazen Americans.
That said, there is an unusual amount of study and commentary about gay life in Togo–more than is found about much bigger countries such as Chad or Angola.
(1) From Behind the Mask website comes this very unusual story about ‘Togo’s MSM Community Hold a Trans Beauty Pageant‘ in September 6th, 2011. Written by Christian Atato (BTM Correspondent):
“The MSM community in Togo recently organised and held its annual Mr and Miss MSM Togo event in the capital, Lomé. The event is an initiative of the Club of Seven Days, the first LGBTI organisation in Togo, with the sponsorship of PSI (Population Services International) via RAS+ (the network of people living with HIV/Aids in Togo).
More than 250 people, among them guests and members of the LGBTI community from neighbouring countries such as Benin, Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, came to support their friends and brothers in the Togolese MSM community.
Ten candidates competed for the title of Mr and Miss MSM Togo. At the end of the competition candidate No 4 was crowned Miss MSM while the title of Mr MSM went to candidate No 1. The winners in both categories, Mr and Miss MSM Togo said how excited and proud they were to be crowned and vowed to work and raise awareness of the effect of HIV and Aids in the MSM community. In his welcoming speech, the president of the Club of Seven Days thanked the members of the MSM community who attended the pageant in large numbers. Like the other guest speakers at the event, he insisted on reminding those gathered of the danger of the Aids pandemic that is affecting the MSM community in the country. Many musicians from the local MSM community entertained the crowd until the early hours of the morning.”
A second report, also from Behind the Mask, is a sad one about the death of Gerard Selom Ephoe Sasou, a leading Togo LGBT activist and proudly gay, who passed away in September 2010.
October 8th, 2010
A pillar of the MSM community in Togo, Sasou fought all his life for the recognition and the rights of MSM people, and was well known in the West African MSM community.
Although he was very friendly, he also had a strong mind and never let anyone trod on his toes. While growing up, he never hesitated to go to the police station every time someone made fun of him because of his sexual orientation. He knew how to fight for his ideas and projects. Every time he had a project or an idea that could benefit to the community, he tried every door to raise money.
He was well known among the many HIV and Aids organizations operating in Togo such as PSI (Population Service International), ONUSIDA, WHO, EVT (Life Hope Togo) etc. He never hesitated to harass them every time he needed funding or support for all his great work. At the time of his death, he was the president of MEN’S, a HIV/ Aids and Human rights organization. He co-founded MEN’S, two years ago with his friends to raise awareness around issues affecting the MSM community in Togo. Before that, he worked with the Club of Seven Days, the first MSM organization in Togo.
Through this organization, several awareness campaigns and HIV voluntary tests were organized in Lomé, the capital of Togo and Aného, a coastal town 45km from Lomé.
He launched the Miss and Mister MSM event in Togo and later the Diva Evening, a Miss and Mister MSM event intended for senior members of the community.
A 2007 research study about homosexuality in Africa: Myth or Reality? An Ethnographic Exploration in Togo, West Africa (uaps2007.princeton.edu/download.aspx?submissionId=70562)
Same-sex relations are denied in most African countries even though studies have found cultural and traditional practices that demonstrate their existence for centuries. Compared to other regions, Africa has the lowest levels of awareness and communication with regards to male-to-male sex and the most repressive laws against it. Except in South Africa, little is known about how male-to-male sexual activity takes place in sub-Saharan Africa.
The study was conducted in Togo, with a population of about 5.5 million people, in the cities of Lomé, Aneho, Sokode and Kara. The purposes of the study was to discern sexual practices and identify factors related to HIV prevention among MSM. There were 122 MSM subjects who were evaluated for their knowledge and behavior regarding
STIs and HIV/AIDS. Gatekeepers, or social workers, were also evaluated.
The results found that there was still current denial and ignorance among some social workers about ‘native’ homosexuality. Other gatekeepers believed that same sex relations and homosexuality have always existed in traditional societies in Togo. Some believed homosexuality was linked to some magical and mystical practices used to acquire power and test the validity of amulets and charms.
Perceptions of Homosexuality
Among MSM subjects described their experience as a “natural” progression from
childhood sexual play to a homosexual identity in adulthood. “One is born with it. It is not acquired.” Others felt it came from a close friendship need for intimacy or imitation of MSM peers or possibly coerced situations. Most participants agreed that men who are innately attracted to other men remain homosexual for life. Those who have “become homosexual” may change their preferences toward men or women during the course of their life. Twelve percent of the 122 subjects admitted to bisexuality, active with both male and females.
Participants explained that MSM use coded language to identify one another. The
most common local term used to refer to homosexuality is “Zangboin”. Passive
homosexuals are called “Zangbointés” and active ones are called
“Zangbointeurs”. The place where homosexuals have sex is called
There was a unanimous perception among all participants (gatekeepers and MSM) that
community perceptions of homosexuality are negative. This results in discriminatory
behaviors against homosexuals, such as insults and sometimes beatings.
Social networking is used as a survival mechanism for MSM in Togo. Networking
serves to create solidarity among men. Network members have specific places to
meet, discuss and exchange their views.
HIV and STI awareness
Correct knowledge about symptoms of STIs was low (less than 20%).
90% of MSM are aware of HIV/AIDS, but only 40% cited unprotected sex as a
source of infection. The vast majority of MSM (81%) who cited sexual transmission as a source of infection believe that transmission only occurs during sex with a woman and
therefore do not feel vulnerable to HIV infection when having sex with men.
Approximately 60% of MSM cited fidelity as the only means for avoiding HIV
infection. 21% reported consistently using condoms with male partners.
This study demonstrates that male-to-male sexual activity occurs in Togo and that
many MSM self-identify as homosexual. However, their sexual practices put them at increased risk for HV infection.
Further, due to generally negative societal attitudes toward organizations such as Club of Seven Days, the first LGBTI organisation in Togo, PSI (Population Services International) and RAS+ (the network of people living with HIV/Aids in Togo) gays in Togo will have limited choices for support. But at least these few do exist among MSM to disseminate messages, recruit peer educators and make friends. Other west and central African countries have nothing.