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  Rights Stalemate

Liberia’s Nobel Prize-Winning President in Testy Exchange: I Won’t Decriminalize Homosexuality

You’ve got to give it to Tamasin Ford, reporter for the UK’s The Guardian. Granted an interview with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in connection with Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative, Ford pressed them both hard on the issue of gay rights in Liberia.

Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, has said she will not sign legislation to make homosexuality a felony, as was proposed last month by Liberian senator and former first lady Jewel Taylor. But “voluntary sodomy” is still a misdemeanor in Liberia, punishable by up to one year in prison. So will Sirleaf decriminalize it?

Apparently not, according to this rather uncomfortable interview:

Tamasin Ford for The Guardian Madam President, what’s your position on decriminalizing homosexual acts in Liberia?

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf:  I’ve already taken a position on that, that we’re not going to sign any such law.

TF:  You won’t sign any law to decriminalize —

EJS:  I won’t sign any law that has to do with that area. None whatsoever. We like ourselves just the way we are.

TF:  And what about decriminalizing the current law?

EJS:  Quite frankly, I’m not quite sure even if we can see a law go through our legislature on that, so I doubt it seriously.

TF:  But at the moment, I mean, voluntary sodomy is illegal at the moment. So in essence, homosexuality for two gay men, under the books, is illegal in Liberia.

EJS:  We’ve got certain traditional values in our society that we’d like to preserve.

(awkward pause)

TF:  So you’re saying you wouldn’t decriminalize that current law.

EJS:  I’ve just said to you: We’re going to maintain our traditional values.

TF:  Mr. Blair, [U.N. Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon has urged African leaders to stop treating gay people as second-class citizens and criminals, given that good governance and human rights go hand in hand. What is your advice to Madam President and Liberia on this gay rights issue?

Tony Blair:  You know, one of the advantages of what I do now is that I can choose the issues that I get into, and the issues that I don’t. So, you know, for us [with the Africa Governance Initiative], the priorities are on power, roads, jobs, delivery. I’m not saying these issues aren’t important, but the president’s given her position, and this is not one for me.

TF:  So good governance and human rights don’t go hand in hand?

TB:  Tamasin, you know how long I’ve been doing these types of interviews?

TF:  I do know —

TB:  Right, okay. So I’m not giving you an answer on it.

Photo by Antonio Cruz/ABr

By:           Dan Allen
On:           Mar 20, 2012
Tagged: , , , ,

  • 33 Comments
    • Bob
      Bob

      I wonder if anyone who openly discriminates against Blacks, Jews, Latinos…etc. would be able to keep their Nobel Peace Prize? They should just snatch it back from this bitch.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 11:37 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kev C
      Kev C

      Austin Powers would have grabbed her headwrap and pulled it off. That’s a man, baby!

      Mar 20, 2012 at 11:52 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • The Realist
      The Realist

      definition-Liberia

      From the Latin “liber” meaning free.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Chuck
      Chuck

      Is that Tracy Morgan in drag?

      Mar 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • J
      J

      I actually thought that was James Earl Jones.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • JayKay
      JayKay

      Did James Earl Jones steal Aretha’s inauguration hat?

      Mar 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Fitz
      Fitz

      So aside from venting here, can you please call your senator’s office and tell them that you don’t want US Govt $$ going there?

      Mar 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Cam
      Cam

      Guess the Nobel committee doesn’t give a shit.

      Here’s a thought, don’t donate anything to any group giving aide to Liberia.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 3:27 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Wil Kuhlmann
      Wil Kuhlmann

      We can replace that Noble peace prize with a chicken wing.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • drums
      drums

      @Bob: Don’t be naive. They gave a Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger, and that man has been accused (with really solid proof) of murder, torturing, and conspiring to prolong the Vietnam War.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 4:05 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Belize
      Belize

      “We like ourselves just the way we are.”

      Great. Then perhaps we should re-route all aid going to Liberia to other countries who are not happy with the way they are. ;)

      You just got to love bigots. No matter what title they have, no matter what kind of reward they have gotten in life, they just can’t hide their stupidity.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Belize
      Belize

      @drums: It’s still a different story, dear. Kissinger (though I am not in favor of the man) was only accused of those things despite hard evidence. After such statements, this woman has proven herself to be a complete violator of human rights.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • perdeep
      perdeep

      @Belize: The US doesn’t send foreign aid to Liberia to…aid Liberia. They do it so they can have influence in the area because they’re afraid of the close ties Liberia has to China. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_relations_of_Liberia#United_States for a brief summary. And what makes you think the US, which has an equally strong anti-gay feeling (helloooooo every Republican candidate…) would make any action of the sort?

      Mar 20, 2012 at 4:25 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • dave
      dave

      What a surprise – a black African bigot.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • CBRad
      CBRad

      The nobel peace prize has been a joke for a long time. (The Nobel Prizes in Science, Physics, Medicine, etc., are still legitimate though).

      Mar 20, 2012 at 9:07 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dorian
      Dorian

      Sirleaf does deserve the prize. She brought Liberia back from one of the most brutal dictatorships in West Africa and a long and bloody civil war, was the first female head of an African nation, and has championed women’s rights across the continent. Is she perfect? No, gay rights is a big area where she isn’t. But look at the society she comes from, African cultures in the post-colonial era (and many post-colonial Latin American and Asian cultures as well) have seen homosexuality overwhelmingly as a negative thing. The brightest spot on the continent is South Africa, which is saying something.

      Sirleaf is a politician, and thus has to represent the views of the society that put her in power, politicans do not lead, they follow public opinion. They can try and shape the views of a population, but stray to far from those views and you’ll find yourself out of power quickly. The most important part, I thought, was the statement that she would not more harshly punish homosexuality in Liberia. Indeed, of the West African countries (nearly half) that do punish homosexuality, Liberia’s punishments are relatively mild, mostly being fines but up to a year in prison. In her own way, Sirleaf is taking a stand by maintaining a status-quo, that while unfair to Liberia LGBTs, is less severe than many in her country would like to see. Sirleaf isn’t perfect, but LGBT acts were still illegal in this country less than 20 years ago. LGBTs will eventually make progress in Liberia, but for now, the most progress we can realistically hope for, is the most important person in the country taking a stand against further punishing people for being who they are. The tide of history will shift eventually.

      PS. I’m not self-hating, a homophobe, a troll, a Republican, a cisgender supremisist or anything of the sort; just someone who has done a whole bunch of development work in West Africa (Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso) and has a better idea about life there than the average commenter.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 9:30 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tom in Lazybrook
      Tom in Lazybrook

      @Dorian: Let West Africa rot. Let’s pull all the aid, all the import preferences, all the visas, etc. Let China or Russia throw their money at these bigots.

      Eventually NEVER comes. I’m not a big fan of dialectics. I say lets just save our money and quietly just pull our aid away.

      LURD, Charles Taylor, Sirleaf-Johnson….Who cares? Lets just stop funding discrimination.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 10:38 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tom in Lazybrook
      Tom in Lazybrook

      Dorian, you are mistaken with your assessment of the climate in Latin America. Attitudes towards Gays and Lesbians in many of the Latin American countries is quite civilized.

      Africa and the English speaking Carribean will NEVER change unless we start holding them accountable for their human rights abuses. If the elites in those nations don’t like it…tough. Let them go to China for aid, send their students to Saudi Arabia for schooling, and they can send their immigrants to Russia. The want to be ‘independent’ on human rights…then let them be ‘independent’ of our subsidies.

      We can allow LGBT persons in those countries to have asylum in the West, then cover the costs of those charges by taxing direct remittances and dockage fees for Liberian flagged ships in our ports.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 10:47 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Marcel
      Marcel

      @Dorian: You’re so articulate! It’s refreshing to see a comment like yours on Queerty. And more in response to Tom, change does eventually come, as we have see in the US where homosexuality was only decriminalized recently. Latin American culture can be quite homophobic, you know, much like Anglo-America, but it has changed a lot in the last decade, so imagining change in Africa or West Asia is not that far-fetched. And let’s be honest, gay culture is quite racist (cf. comment 9), but hopefully that too will change.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 11:16 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • jonjon
      jonjon

      @Tom in Lazybrook: I’m just going to copy-paste comment #13 for you because you just don’t seem to get it. “The US doesn’t send foreign aid to Liberia to…aid Liberia. They do it so they can have influence in the area because they’re afraid of the close ties Liberia has to China. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_relations_of_Liberia#United_States for a brief summary. And what makes you think the US, which has an equally strong anti-gay feeling (helloooooo every Republican candidate…) would make any action of the sort?” We WANT the countries we help to be our allies, because we’re afraid of where we stand in the world. We’re buying their loyalty, we’re not actually interested in helping them.

      Mar 20, 2012 at 11:52 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • InscrutableTed
      InscrutableTed

      “Quite frankly, I’m not quite sure even if we can see a law go through our legislature on that, so I doubt it seriously.”

      I think that’s your answer there. She’s not going to fight that battle because she doesn’t think she can win it. In fact, it might even backfire and make things worse.

      She’s under pressure to criminalize homosexuality more than it already is, so she’s doing us a favour by shutting down such discussions rather than opening them further.

      I’d say her statements are evasive, rather than homophobic. I don’t think it’s fair to label her a bigot.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 1:27 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • InscrutableTed
      InscrutableTed

      @Tom in Lazybrook says: “Let West Africa rot. Let’s pull all the aid, all the import preferences, all the visas, etc.”

      Oh yeah, because that will totally help the GLBT population of West Africa.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 1:32 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • jason
      jason

      Tony Blair is a piece of British shit. He goes around the world making nice with African leaders who oppress us.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 8:32 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mark Moscow
      Mark Moscow

      Why didn’t the journalist ask her, if she thinks that homophobic traditions of Liberia are similar to rasist traditions of western countries that existed 50 years ago, or are similar to sexist traditions that existed 100 years ago?
      According to this traditions black and women could not vote or rule a country.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 11:35 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Cam
      Cam

      @Dorian: said..


      Sirleaf does deserve the prize. She brought Liberia back from one of the most brutal dictatorships in West Africa and a long and bloody civil war, was the first female head of an African nation, and has championed women’s rights across the continent.”
      ____________

      So basically…she got hers….so everybody else can go fuck themselves.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 11:44 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tom in Lazybrook
      Tom in Lazybrook

      @InscrutableTed: It won’t help the LGBT population of West Africa. Neither will continuing the aid.

      If there is no accountablity for our aid, then there will be no change.

      Pull the aid.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tom in Lazybrook
      Tom in Lazybrook

      @jonjon: Who cares about China’s influence in Africa. They can waste money there if they so choose.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 12:17 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Erik
      Erik

      Ellen Johnson may be the President of Liberia, but ignorance is obviously the King.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 12:27 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Ken
      Ken

      @Bob: It just shows you the fallacy of the Nobel Prizes in general.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 1:43 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • steven gaines
      steven gaines

      trashy comment. i guess we gays can be hypocrites with racist comments like this one. How ironic, given the site we’re on. Oh well…

      Mar 21, 2012 at 7:05 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • David
      David

      Im sorry but I find it funny when people are like people need to be open minded then say that all Republicans are against Gay Rights, I’m a Republican and I dont think there is anything wrong with equality across the board.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 7:25 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • H. Coin
      H. Coin

      @Bob: It’s much more that she’s trying not to throw her country to the dogs, though, isn’t it? She’s not discriminating, only protecting the rights of gays as far as she can without committing political suicide. This article might want to include this link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/19/nobel-peace-prize-law-homosexuality?intcmp=239 if they want to inform people more than what they have. I mean, it’s a travesty that she can’t do that, but she is making fronts on protecting women’s rights, and children, and many other things, too, and all of that would go away if she stepped too far. Liberia right now is pretty full of anti-gay hate, and you can’t just change that with repealing one law. She’s honestly doing the best she can, is all I’m saying.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 7:34 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • H. Coin
      H. Coin

      @Dorian: I have to completely agree with your comment. Thank you for giving this comment section some actual thought, and reminding us what the main point of the article ACTUALLY was, instead of what we all seemed to take from it.

      Mar 21, 2012 at 7:40 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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