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The creation of a group to campaign for gay rights in Liberia has led to a fierce backlash – a house rented by a mother of a campaigner has been burnt down and even the president – last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner – has waded in to say she will never support laws recognising homosexual rights. (Photo: Archie Ponpon says he has faced a difficult time since founding Modegal)
Archie Ponpon and Abraham Kamara set up the Movement for the Defence of Gays and Lesbians in Liberia (Modegal) in January to defend the rights of homosexuals in Liberia which, like many countries across Africa, is socially conservative and outlaws homosexual acts.
The move became the talk of the town, dominating discussions on radio talk shows, street corner teashops and university campuses in the capital, Monrovia, especially their call for same-sex marriages to be recognised.
Leading Pentecostal leaders and other religious figures came out in condemnation of any attempts to liberalise anti-gay laws.
We are only strengthening the existing law”
Jewel Taylor Liberian senator
Even a priest officiating at a marriage at St Anthony’s Catholic Church in the Gardnersville township of Monrovia commented on the debate.
“Man-to-man marriage will not hold,” he said during the wedding service last month.
The congregation went wild in applause as he went on to refer to “the nonsense that we keep hearing on the radios”.
And in a reference to overseas aid, which some Western leaders have linked to recognising gay rights, he added: “They can take their money; we will live; we have vast natural resources.”
The two Modegal campaigners have been mobbed at least twice, causing them to seek safety at one point at the police headquarters.
When they attempted to hold a talk on gay rights at the campus of the University of Liberia a few weeks ago, they were chased away by angry students.
“They are silly,” a sociology student said.
“Is it everything that is good for the West is good for us here? Nonsense,” she shouted.
Last month, the home of Mr Ponpon’s mother was set alight – during the height of their campaign.
He suspects it was an arson attack by people who do not support his stance.
“Since this incident, my mother has been in hiding,” he says.
When the two activists tried to get their organisation officially registered by the government, Mr. Ponpon says their “article of incorporation was denied”.
“We wrote to the president complaining, but she has not responded,” he says.
Such were the tensions over the topic that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was inaugurated for a second six-year term in January, came out to assure people that she would never sign a bill granting same-sex marriages or gay rights.
“The president is clear on this matter – she will not sign such a bill,” Norris Tweh, a Liberian government spokesman, told the BBC.
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