By Vincent Desmond
LAGOS, June 24 (Openly) - Gabon's LGBT+ community said on Wednesday they feared a homophobic backlash after the lower house of parliament voted to legalise gay sex, less than a year after making it a crime.
On Tuesday, 48 members of parliament voted to revise a 2019 law that criminalised same-sex relations, while 24 voted against and 25 abstained. To become law, the Senate also needs to approve the proposal.
"The major part of the citizens are against it," Leslie Obuo, an LGBT+ journalist based in Gabon, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the west African nation.
Gabon's government did not respond to requests for comment.
Gay sex is illegal in most African countries. Botswana and Angola decriminalised same-sex relations in 2019 but large populations of religious conservatives in Africa, including in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria, oppose LGBT+ rights.
Gabon passed a law in July 2019 that punished sex between people of the same gender with up to six months imprisonment and a fine of 5 million CFA francs ($8,664).
While Tuesday's vote to allow same-sex intimacy was met with glee by many in the LGBT+ community, others feared a backlash.
"It is a good thing that this has happened and I am happy. But I will not be surprised if there's a riot in the near future and that forces the government to put the law back in place," said Didier, a gay Gabonese man.
"Some said the president should lead the way and become gay since he wants to turn the country gay - because that is what they think this move means," said Didier, who declined to give his full name for fear of homophobic violence.
Thibault, a gay lawyer in the capital, Libreville, who also declined to publish his full name, said he was surprised at the government's U-turn, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Just them starting this has stirred up homophobia and when or if it is passed, I expect that the law will be met with resistance from the general population," he said.
"Riots and violence against the community will probably peak and eventually the government might do another U-turn." ($1 = 577.0900 CFA francs)
(Reporting by Vincent Desmond, @vincentdesmond_; Editing by Rachel Savage and Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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