The leader of a small West African nation that receives American humanitarian aid has warned that any gay or lesbians found in his country will "regret" being born.
Yahya Jammeh, who has been president of Gambia since a bloodless coup in 1994, is not shy about expressing his anti-gay opinions. The president's latest rant came during a speech on March 28 at the opening of the country’s parliament, according to Gambia's Freedom Newspaper Online. In an interesting juxtaposition of themes, Jammeh called for continued peace in his country, promised to root out criminal activity and warned homosexuals to stay out of the region or suffer severe consequences.
“Homosexuality is anti-humanity. I have never seen homosexual chicken, or turkey," Jammeh said, according to the Freedom Newspaper. "If you are convicted of homosexuality in this country, there will be no mercy for offenders."
He continued thus:
Homosexuality is anti-god, anti-human, and anti-civilization. Homosexuals are not welcome in the Gambia. If we catch you, you will regret why you are born. I have buffalos from South Africa and Brazil and they never date each other. We are ready to eat grass but we will not compromise on this. Allowing homosexuality means allowing satanic rights. We will not allow gays here.
These statements, while extreme, are in line with the president's previous comments on the subject.
In April 2012, for example, the leader opened the legislative year by maintaining no foreign aid incentives would ever cause him to change his mind on homosexuality, a criminal offense in the predominantly Muslim country.
“Sometimes you hear of a lot of noise about the laws of this country or my pronouncements," Jammeh said at the time, according to The Point Newspaper in Banjul, Gambia. "Let me make it very clear that, if you want me to offend God for you to give me aid, you are making a great mistake; you will not bribe me to do what is evil and ungodly."
And in 2008, Jammeh said he would "cut off the head" of any gay person caught in the country, a threat he later retracted, according to Agence France-Presse.
Despite Jammeh's anti-gay stance, the United States still maintains an Embassy in the country. Having lifted sanctions in 2002, the U.S. provides humanitarian, democracy-building and education assistance, according to the U.S Embassy website. The Gambian government, meanwhile, "has provided steadfast, tangible support for the war on terrorism," the U.S. Embassy notes.
Dr. Stefan Baral, a public health specialist and human rights advocate who has studied Gambia's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population, said in a phone interview that Jammeh is not just a talking head. Baral told The Huffington Post that Gambians don't ignore pronouncements like Jammeh's last week, especially since such statements come with the backing of the country's powerful Imams.
Anti-gay rhetoric is also a developing public health issue, according to Baral, as HIV prevalence in Gambia is relatively high. The people the government should be supporting are the people it is discriminating against the most, he told HuffPost. Countries like the U.S. might consider this a human rights issue, he said, but Jammeh's attitude is the LGBT community is not human.
The Gambian Embassy in the U.S. did not respond to a request for comment.