Africa

Novel explores cruelty of Gambia’s anti-LGBTQ laws

 

The novel "The Order of Nature" is available from bookstores and from Amazon.com.

The novel “The Order of Nature” is available from bookstores and from Amazon.com.

The new novel The Order of Nature invites readers into the lives of characters trapped by a society’s anti-LGBTQ laws

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The Order of Nature:
New novel explores the unjust cruelty of anti-LGBTQ laws

By Josh Scheinert

Yahya Jammeh, the homophobic former leader of the Gambia, is currently living in exile in Equatorial Guinea. (Photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

Yahya Jammeh, the homophobic former leader of the Gambia, went into exile this year in Equatorial Guinea. (Photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

I don’t remember the precise moment. It may have been when Uganda’s parliament was once again flirting with its notorious anti-gay legislation, or when then-Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh uttered another threat against his country’s LGBT population. All I remember thinking was, not again…

After periods abroad — volunteering in Uganda and teaching law at the University of The Gambia — I wanted to try and raise awareness in my community about the lack of LGBTQ rights in places around the world. I started writing op-ed articles to do just that, and suggest some policy responses. But I felt that repeating similar arguments over and over was not the most effective way to shed light on an issue that deserved more attention.

So I decided to tell a story.

Josh Scheinert reads from "The Order of Nature" at a book signing. (Photo courtesy of Josh Scheinert)

Josh Scheinert reads from “The Order of Nature” at a book signing. (Photo courtesy of Josh Scheinert)

When it comes to the struggle for global LGBTQ rights, much of what is reported is mostly in the abstract: this many were arrested here, a raid on a local gathering happened there. There are excellent resources and groups, like Where Love Is Illegal, but I wanted to humanize the struggle; I wanted readers who would not otherwise have an opportunity to confront characters trapped by a society’s anti-LGBTQ laws.

The Order of Nature is what followed.

Set in The Gambia, the novel follows two characters – Andrew, an American college graduate, and Thomas, a Gambian bartender at a hotel frequented by expatriates. Andrew is sheltered and shy. Wanting a change from his suburban life, he sets out for Gambia to volunteer for a year. At first, things went as planned. He did good work, made friends, and started to break out of his shell. But then, unexpectedly, he meets Thomas. Thomas has run away from his homophobic village, and understands all too well how unforgiving his country can be to people like himself. He has one friend and nowhere safe to be who he is.

The Order of Nature follows Andrew and Thomas as they navigate an environment where their love is illegal. At first, they believe it’s possible to develop a relationship in even the most trying circumstances. But as their relationship strengthens, the homophobia that envelops them becomes more hostile; the politics of prejudice catches up. Exposed and arrested, they are forced to confront what it means when your existence is considered a crime, your love against the order of nature.

Map of Africa shows the West African location of The Gambia

Map of Africa shows the West African location of The Gambia

Despite my having lived in Gambia, the novel is not autobiographical. A number of the physical settings in the novel were taken from places I’ve been to while I lived in the country. It made the writing more real for me to know that I wasn’t talking about a fictional setting. The characters in the book draw upon different influences. Mostly, they are products of my imagination. Still, I’ve been fortunate to come to know not only many people in Gambia, but also numerous LGBTQ activists from around the world who’ve inspired me – bits of their personalities have found their way into some characters. Most research I conducted related to the portion of the novel that deals with aspects of Gambia’s criminal justice system.

After reading the book, my hope is that readers will ask themselves what it means to live a life that’s illegal, to be born into a community where you don’t belong.

Each society follows a unique trajectory when it comes to human rights. In Canada and throughout the West, protection of full LGBTQ equality is incomplete; it is also incomplete for a host of other vulnerable groups. It’s this fact, I believe, that allows people to see the struggle of global LGBTQ rights as part of an evolution, something that will happen, but with time. And while this might be the case, a part of why I wrote The Order of Nature is to demonstrate that while we wait, while that trajectory unfolds, there are real consequences.

Living in The Gambia was a wonderful experience for me. I enjoyed my work and made friends that I have kept to this day. My students, and other locals I met, showed me nothing but kindness and hospitality. As a gay man in the closet there, I never felt unsafe. But I knew that if there ever was a problem, that if word got out and my safety was at risk, I could leave and return home, back to Toronto. That luxury – being able to retreat to a home that brings comfort and security – is missing for too many people. And though this book probably won’t change that, a goal in writing it was to humanize that tragic reality, and motivate more readers, organizations, and governments, to support the local activists working to change hearts and minds and overturn anti-LGBTQ laws.

The Order of Nature is available with all major book retailers, and online through amazon.com and its other global sites.

Josh Scheinert is an international lawyer, writer, and former lecturer in law at the University of The Gambia. His writing has appeared in Erasing 76 Crimes, Slate, Roads & Kingdoms, Toronto Star, National Post, and elsewhere.

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