Metro Weekly

U.S. Senate approves gay man as ambassador to Cameroon, where homosexuality is criminalized

People convicted under Cameroon's anti-LGBTQ law can face up to 5 years in prison for engaging in consensual sex.

Christopher Lamora – Photo: Courage Ahiati/U.S. Embassy Ghana.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed an openly gay man as the ambassador to Cameroon, despite the country’s laws criminalizing homosexuality.

Christopher Lamora, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who recently served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, was one of more than three dozen nominees selected by President Joe Biden or various ambassadorships, who saw their nominations blocked earlier this year by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Cruz had refused to agree to move forward on diplomatic nominations to protest the Biden administration’s policy on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. The Biden administration opposes the pipeline, but has not issued sanctions for fear of worsening the United States’ relationship with Germany, reports Politico.

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Cruz, meanwhile had argued that the United States needed to take a tougher stance on the pipeline, fearing that the arrangement will strengthen Russia’s financial standing and make Germany beholden to Russia, which has recently been threatening to interfere in Eastern Europe, including sending troops to the Ukrainian border for what some analysts fear will be a military invasion.

On Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced a deal in which the Senate would vote on legislation sponsored by Cruz to sanction the pipeline in mid-January.

Cameroonian LGBTQ rights attorney Alice Nkom praised the confirmation of Lamora, who has previously served overseas at various U.S. embassies and held various positions within the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, reports Erasing 76 Crimes, a blog focused on the impact of laws criminalizing homosexuality across the globe and the effort to repeal them.

“Incredible Joe Biden. We love you!” Nkom said, according to news website Actu Cameroun. “Welcome, Ambassador Christopher Lamora! Welcome to Cameroon, land of tolerance, hospitality and brotherhood!”

Yet despite Nkom’s elation, Cameroon’s penal code punishes those convicted of consensual same-sex relations with a prison term that can range from 6 months to 5 years. That law is still being enforced, most recently against Shakiro, an online trans celebrity, and her partner, who were sentenced to 5 years in prison in May. With Nkom’s help, they were released in July, pending an appeal.

When Biden first nominated Lamora for the position, Etienne Bakaba, a Catholic priest from Douala, Cameroon, urged the Cameroonian government to refuse to accept Lamora as ambassador.

“In 2015, the Pope refused a gay ambassador to the Vatican. Shouldn’t the Cameroonian state refuse the accreditation of the gay ambassador that Joe Biden is sending us? As a reminder, homosexuality is a crime according to Cameroonian law, the divine natural law,” Bakaba said.

See also: Laws criminalizing homosexuality increase the risk of gay men acquiring HIV

Lamora, who is married and has been open about his sexual orientation, previously described himself as a “proud member of the worldwide LGBT community” at a 2019 Gay Pride reception at the U.S. Embassy in Ghana. In that speech, he acknowledged the fear that LGBTQ people often feel about disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity and whether it will limit their options in life, while also praising the gradual growth of acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

In his statement to the Senate about Cameroon, Lamora avoided touching on the subject of LGBTQ rights specifically, but did speak about the need for “substantial work to be done to promote democracy, and human rights” in the African nation, especially as it relates to violence in its English-speaking western region and its far northern region, where Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist organization based in Nigeria, has launched several attacks, including suicide bombings, against civilians.

“We condemn violence in all its forms, regardless of who is perpetrating it, and call for an end to the suffering of the civilian population regardless of their location or affiliation,” Lamora said in his statement. “No one undermining peace in Cameroon has our support or tolerance, whether members of the security forces or of armed separatist groups.

“In that same vein, there is still substantial work to be done to promote democracy, and human rights, combat corruption, and ensure accountability of those who violate Cameroonian laws or the citizens’ trust. We must continue to press on all these important issues while helping the Cameroonian government and people, including civil society find a path to peace.”

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