The Origins of Senegalese Homophobia: Discourses on Homosexuals and Transgender People in Colonial and Postcolonial Senegal

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African Studies Review

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homophobia, Senegal, homosexuality, sexual minorities


African Languages and Societies | Gender and Sexuality | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies


This article traces the history of homosexual and transgender behavior in Senegal from colonial times to the contemporary period in order to demonstrate the flimsiness of the claims, made by many political and religious leaders and scholars, that homosexuality is "un-African." Such claims, which appear as reactions to neocolonialism and Western intervention in African affairs, usually are homophobic discourses that invoke patriotism, cultural difference, and morality in order to justify the subjugation of homosexual and gender nonconforming individuals (goor-jiggens) living in Senegal. In an attempt to understand the roots of Senegalese homophobia, the article analyzes several depictions of homosexuals and transgender people in contemporary Senegal and traces them to similar representations in European writings of the colonial period. As this approach reveals, homosexuals and transgender people in Senegal, from colonial times to the present, have been constructed as scapegoats, first of the French mission civilisatrice (civilizing mission) and then of Senegalese political and Islamic backlashes. Although they have always cohabited with the rest of the society, homosexuals and transgender people in Senegal have been treated largely as strangers in their own land. By analyzing the discourses of both French colonials and Senegalese, one finds a persistent binary opposing the West and Africa and denigrating sexual and gender variances and subcultures in Senegal as pathological European imports.


Cambridge University Press