By Brittany Jones

International LGBTQ Movements

The lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community has struggled to attain recognition and basic human rights around the world.[1] For many members of the LGBTQ community the truth about their sexual orientation can result in homelessness, familial abandonment, prison, and even death.[2] The LGTBQ community is also vulnerable to employment and housing discrimination as well as physical, financial, emotional, and sexual abuse.[3] In many countries, opposition to LGBTQ rights is based on various religious interpretations and cultural definitions of family, gender, sexual orientation, and sex.[4]

It is important to understand definitions that are commonly used within the LGBTQ community and these definitions may be different based on culture and language.[5] In the United States, the following definitions are often used to educate communities on LGBTQ issues: sex is the description of the biological genitalia, sexual orientation is based on a person’s sexual attraction, and gender is how a person views and portrays themselves on a spectrum of masculine to feminine.[6]  These definitions allow for a comprehensive discussion of sexual fluidity and gender expression among the LGBTQ community and heterosexual people. Due to homophobia and a lack of education, it is illegal to engage in same-sex activity in more than 70 countries around the world.[7] In some of those countries it is only illegal for men to engage in same-sex activity—one of those countries is Sierra Leone.[8]

History of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a small country along the northwestern coast of Africa and is home to approximately 7 million people.[9] Roughly 50 percent of the population is literate and Islam and Christianity are the main religions.[10] Until 2002, the country was ravaged by military coups and civil war.[11] The country is also known for its mining industry—specifically the mining of ‘blood diamonds’.[12] Today, more than 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty level.[13] The country is also recovering from an outbreak of Ebola between 2014-2016.[14]

LGBTQ Laws in Sierra Leone

Although the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone guarantees that all individuals in Sierra Leone have the right of “[r]espect for private and family life”—it does not extend to the LGBTQ community.[15] The true history behind Sierra Leone’s criminalization of male same-sex activity but not female same-sex activity is uncertain.[16] Some suggest that the law dates back to the English occupation of Sierra Leone in 1861 and an English law that prohibited bestiality and sodomy.[17] The law is called “The Offences Against the Person Act” and it declares: “Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable Crime of Buggery, committed either with Mankind or with any Animal, shall be liable, at the Discretion of the Court, to be kept in Penal Servitude for Life or for any Term not less than Ten Years.” However, others suggest that the law originates from the country’s common law.[18] Either way, the crime oppresses thousands of men throughout the country.[19]

The most recent estimate of men who have sex with men from the World Health Organization in 2013 is 20,000.[20] As of 2016, the World Health Organization did not have any data regarding the “avoidance of health care because of stigma and discrimination” among men who have sex with men.[21] Moreover, the laws are silent regarding female homosexuality while male homosexuality is a crime that can result in life imprisonment.[22] Data regarding the number of men that have been imprisoned under this law is unknown.

Community Values and Sex

Similar to many countries around the world, homosexuality is viewed as a sin and bad luck in Sierra Leone.[23] For those who are not arrested, discrimination, abuse, and harassment plague their daily lives.[24] Many are forced into sex work to provide shelter and a living for themselves.[25] Yet male homosexuality may be more accepted in the rural communities than in the urban communities. Research conducted between 1967-1973 in rural Sierra Leone indicates that ‘transvestites’ were believed to have spiritual powers and played an important role in womanhood rituals.[26]

Although female homosexuality has not been formally criminalized, it is not uncommon for them to be subject to discrimination and rape to “correct” their sexuality.[27] Fanny Ann Eddy founded an advocacy group—Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association—for LGBTQ in the country. Fanny used the organization’s platform to expose the reality of living as LGBTQ in Sierra Leone with the United Nations.[28] The Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association provided emotional and psychological support services to the LGBTQ community.[29] Fanny addressed the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2004 and spoke about the health risks that everyone in the country were vulnerable to because of the government and the lack of sex education.[30] In 2004, Fanny was found murdered in her office with stab wounds, a broken neck and evidence of rape.[31]

The Future

Sierra Leone is not the only country that criminalizes male homosexuality and there is no ‘poster country’ for the worst homophobic laws and policies.[32] Each country that fails to protect and promote the human rights and dignity of LGBTQ people as much as heterosexual people poses a threat to LGBTQ lives. However, it is also important to recognize the important role that poorer, non-Anglo countries have in the international LGBTQ civil rights movement. In many of these countries, the intersection of culture, religion, sexuality, and masculinity are rarely provided an outlet on an international level. Moreover, the non-Anglo LGBTQ community has unique experiences that are not publicized among mainstream media outlets which exacerbates the invisibility of their realities. When and if countries that have suffered immense oppression due to colonialism, civil war, poverty, and disease—like Sierra Leone—decide to include LGBTQ rights within the whole country’s struggle for human rights, then it becomes more safe for people within those countries to have discussions about gender roles, sexuality, religion, and their intersections. It is only after those important discussions begin that homophobic laws in those countries can be repealed without being replaced by more oppressive laws.


[1] Benjamin Butterworth, Commonwealth of homophobia: One billion live under anti-gay laws exported by Britain, Pink News (Apr. 20, 2018, 12:33 PM),; Daniel Berezowsky Ramirez, Latin America Could Lead the Way for LGBTQ Rights in 2018, Human Rights Watch (Feb. 6, 2018, 11;20 AM),

[2] LGBT Rights, Human Rights Watch, (last visited Apr. 24, 2018); The State of LGBT Human Rights Worldwide, Amnesty International, (last visited Apr. 24, 2018).

[3] Id. 

[4] Omar G. Encarnación, The Global Backlash Against Gay Rights, Foreign Affairs (May 2, 2017),

[5] Some cultures recognize more than two or three genders. See Tony Enos, 8 Things You Should Know About Two Spirit People, Indian Country Today (Mar. 28, 2017),; Jeffrey Gettleman, The Peculiar Position of India’s Third Gender, The New York Times (Feb. 17, 2018)

[6] The Genderbread Person v3,

[7] Amnesty International, supra note 2.

[8] Ann M. Simmons, Seven striking statistics on the status of gay rights and homophobia across the globe, Los Angeles Times (May 15, 2017, 3:00 AM),

[9] Suzanne LeVert, Cultures of the World Sierra Leone 7 (2006).

[10] The World Fact Book, Central Intelligence Agency,

[11] Sierra Leone country profile, BBC News (Apr. 5, 2018),

[12] Aryn Baker/Tshikapa, Blood Diamonds, Time, (last visited Apr. 24, 2018). 

[13] Central Intelligence Agency, supra note 8.

[14]  BBC News, supra note 9.

[15] The Sierra Leone Constitution Art. 15

[16] Laws on Homosexuality in African Nations, Library of Congress, (last visited Apr. 24, 2018).

[17] Offences Against the Person Act, (1861) § 61

[18] Bankole Thompson, The Criminal Law of Sierra Leone 165 (University Press of America, 1999).

[19] UNAids, (last visited Apr. 24, 2018).

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Sierra Leone LGBTI Resources, The International Refugee Rights Initiative, (last visited Apr. 24, 2018).

[23] Photos of Sierra Leone’s LGBT community, where gay is a sin, Dazed, (last visited Apr. 24, 2018).

[24] Joe Morgan, Take a look inside the House of Kings and Queens, a LGBTI refuge in Sierra Leone, Gaystarnews (Aug. 28, 2017), (last visited Apr. 24, 2018).

[25] Id.; Sierra Leone: Lesbian Rights Activist Brutally Murdered, Human Rights Watch (Oct. 5, 2004, 8:00 PM),

[26] The International Refugee Rights Initiative, supra note 20.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Human Rights Watch, supra note 23.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Alex Gray, What you need to know about LGBT rights in 11 maps, World Economic Forum (Mar. 1. 2017),