Burkina Faso

Ismael perseveres against anti-gay hate

Note: The name has been changed, but the facts have not.

At an early age, Ismael knew he was sexually attracted to males. He did not want to admit it to himself, however, because of his strict religious upbringing in the West African country of Burkina Faso.

Ismael was told by his church that being gay was a disease and an evil spirit. He fasted, abstaining from food and water many times, in an effort to be healed. During Bible studies and family prayers, he was taught to believe that being gay was wrong. 

When he was around 27 years old, Ismael opened up to a cousin about his sexuality. The cousin introduced him to a non-profit that helps people infected with the HIV virus. Ismael accepted a job with the organization.

The work was difficult at first because many gay men with HIV would not come in for assistance. Ismael traveled around Burkina Faso  and provided education about HIV and human rights. He spent a lot of time listening to people talk about their problems. Men often shared how they felt abandoned and disowned after their families found out they were gay. 

Ismael gradually took on a more high-profile role, including interviews with BBC radio and for a front-page newspaper story. He talked about gay rights, discrimination and the lack of education for members of the gay community to protect themselves. He spoke against the idea that gay people were spreading homosexuality, a myth believed by some people in his country.

Administering HIV and Hepatitis B testing was part of his job. It often was done at night because those being tested did not want to be seen in public. One night, he was followed by a car while driving home on his scooter. The vehicle ran into him and knocked him down. While Ismael was on the ground, two men assaulted him, called him names and threatened to kill him.

He suffered injuries, including a broken wrist, as well as psychological trauma. After the attack, he had nightmares of people following him and trying to kill him. 

Ismael fled to the United States in 2016 and has made his home in Portland. Safe Route Immigration filed an asylum application for him later that year, and in March 2019 he was granted asylum status.