2 weeks (so far) in Cameroon prison for being trans

While LGBTI communities are celebrating today’s International Transgender Day of Visibility, a 16-year-old trans girl has been held in Ebolowa prison in southern Cameroon since the weekend of 18 March just for being trans.

By Erin Royal Brokovitch

The city of Ebolowa is located south of Yaoundé in southern Cameroon. (Map courtesy of Wikipedia)

The city of Ebolowa is located south of Yaoundé in southern Cameroon. (Map courtesy of Wikipedia)

On the night of Tuesday, March 14, 16-year-old L. was invited to go out with her foster sister and her sister’s boyfriend. Another boy came along with them and, as the evening progressed, became enamored with L.

At the end of the evening, he proposed that he and she should walk home together. On the way, he stopped at a shop to make a purchase. As L. waited for him outside, she was attacked and stripped of her clothing by a hostile crowd.

When the boy returned, he discovered that L. was not the woman he thought she was. Agitated, he took L. to the police station in Ebolowa and left her there.

Cameroon's location in Africa

Cameroon’s location in Africa

Because L. is a minor who had lost contact with her foster sister and the rest of her family, a social worker was called in. With no adult to support her, she was detained by police until she could be taken before a judge on Friday, March 17.  From there, she was sent to Ebolowa prison starting on the weekend of March 18.

L. is an orphan who had been doing restoration and maintenance work. At the end of her contract, her former employer accepted her as his foster child. As far as the family knew, she was a girl. Her appearance, her behavior and her attire were traditionally feminine. It was as a girl that her foster sister invited her to accompany her on March 14.

The case of L. came to the attention of Cameroon’s human rights defenders. It was taken up by attorney Jathan Ndongo, who works as legal counsel for a Global Fund project, but he did not get the case until L. was already in prison.

On March 24, he traveled to Ebolowa and met with L. and with the judge. He plans to return to Ebolowa on April 6, which is when L. is scheduled to appear in court again.

The whole affair as troubling as well as depressing. Cameroon has no law against non-traditional gender expression. So why is L. in prison?

Erin Royal Brokovitch, the author of this article, is an activist for LGBTI rights in Cameroon who writes under a pseudonym.

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