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Coming Out

Desiree Cooper

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Pape Mbaye
(Courtesy Papa Mbaye)
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This weekend is National Coming Out Day. This week also marked the tenth anniversary of the murder of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepherd. He was the victim of a brutal hate crime. It's a reminder that coming out can still be dangerous. But perhaps not as dangerous in the United States as it is in Senegal. Pape Mbaye is a well-known Senegalese entertainer. He is also openly gay. Despite rampant homophobia in Senegal, Pape was able to forge a lucrative career. But in February, a magazine published photos of him attending an underground gay marriage. That started an onslaught of threats and attacks. When a gay friend was murdered, he fled to Gambia. But he had to return to Senegal after the Gambian president announced that all gays in his country would be killed. With the help of human rights organizations, Pape has attained refugee status in the United States. He's been living in New York for a month. Weekend America's Desiree Cooper caught up with Pape in New York and his lawyer, Chris Nugent, who's in Washington, D.C.

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Desiree Cooper: Pape, I want to start with you. What happened in May that made you finally leave Senegal?

Pape Mbaye: In the month of May, the newspapers reported that Pape Mbaye had returned to Senegal, and the population was following this news. They came to my house to confront my mother. My mom and my family told them I wasn't there, but the people broke into the house. They entered the house by force and started beating my family. I realized then that I didn't have any further security to stay in Senegal because they were after me.

Des: Chris, how prevalent is Pape's experience in West Africa?

Christopher Nugent: We have many clients who have suffered systemic persecution by government authorities or civilians that the government is unable or unwilling to control.

Mbaye: Yeah, it's a big problem in Senegal. Me and my friends have many problems.

Cooper: Pape, what can you do now as an openly gay man in New York that you couldn't do in Senegal?

Mbaye: I can wear whatever I want to wear. I can move around however I want to move around without persecution, without having anyone prevent me from living my life.

Cooper: [To Nugent] Now, you helped Pape get refugee status in the United States based on persecution relating to his sexual orientation. How prevalent is that?

Nugent: Oh, it's a rarity. Pape is one of the luckiest gay people in the world. Pape benefited from the fact that Human Rights Watch in Dakar contacted us immediately and we were able to evacuate him to Accra, Ghana. He was attacked in Accra by Senegalese because he was so well known and vilified in the Senegalese media. The United States government took extraordinary steps to expedite his resettlement to the U.S. within a month. It was the fastest resettlement case I've ever seen.

Cooper: Wow, you were recently in New York with Pape. What was that like for you two to be together in the states?

Nugent: Well, it's always an incredible experience because I work with clients overseas. So when we finally meet, we had this incredible bond. So, in New York, we went to a club and met people in the music industry. Then I dropped him off at a gay nightclub where he stayed. It was way past my bedtime. I went back to the hotel, but he stayed on.

Cooper: Had he been to a gay nightclub before? Were there any in Senegal?

Mbaye: No, no, no, that's not accepted at all.

Cooper: So what was it like to be in the club?

Mbaye: I felt so good, so honored. I've found my life in New York.

Cooper: That's great. Thank you, Pape and good luck.

Mbaye: Thank you.

Cooper: And thank you Chris.

Nugent: It's my pleasure.

  • Music Bridge:
    Khali
    Artist: Alejandro Franov
    CD: Khali (Staubgold)

Comments

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  • By Mary Mbaye

    From Brooklyn, NY, 06/09/2009

    even if he got anasylum in US he will never be accepted God did create man and women when you read the bibble or the Koran no were you will find that gay is accepted God kes the day he was born

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