Sitting on Carey Street well dressed in a pink shirt with a matching tie and a blue pair pf trouser, Leroy Archie Ponpon hands out a brochure of his burgeoning movement, which was launched on the campus of the University of Liberia, to listeners and passers-by who are interested in his cause.
His group, Movement of the Defense of Gay and Lesbian Rights (MODEGAL), is gaining a bit of popularity.
He’s wanted on every talk show. Since the pronouncement by Hilary Clinton that African nations should honor gay right or be denied aid, you cannot talk about it without mentioning Leroy Archie Ponpon.
He has become the new kid on the block. He’s no longer stoutly defending the policies of the Congress for Democratic Change.
Known to be a controversial figure, he has shifted his attention to something considered a taboo in Africa: defending gay rights.
Gay rights appear to have become a new frontier in diplomatic relations between Western powers and African governments, with the United States and United (US) Kingdom (UK) warning they would use foreign aid to push for homosexuality to be decriminalized on the socially conservative continent.
Speaking to FrontPage Africa he says: “I’m the latest activist for same sex marriage. This thing must happen and it’s going to happen in this country.
It is enshrined in article 14 of the constitution: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, religion and that no other person shall and that no other person shall hinder these rights…this is why I’m campaigning for the issue of same sex marriage.
"My brother, this thing is happening all around Liberia; the only thing we’re asking for is, let give them the protection. We must not discriminate these people; they have human rights. What they want to do let them do it and let society tolerate them.”
Asked by FrontPage Africa whether he is a gay Ponpon said: “I don’t have to be a gay before I know people are being discriminated against.”
Ponpon is of the strongest conviction that the same sex legislation, when presented before the legislature, will be passed into law. “It will CERTAINLY be passed. It WILL pass --- for the survival of Liberia.”
‘Another Sodom and Gomorrah’
Sonnyboy Bropleh sees the issue of gay right reawakening of Sodom and Gomorrah in Biblical times. “I don’t support it-- first of all, it will be the reawakening of Sodom and Gomorrah -- I don’t support it in any terms.”
But is Ponpon making use of the ‘opportunity’ that has been afforded by Western governments? According Ponpon’s comrades who are closer to him, Ponpon is trying to gain his one minute fame.
“Look, Archie is trying to gain fame. He sees this as an opportunity to seek asylum. When did he realize that gay rights were cardinal,” remarked a comrade of Ponpon on anonymity.
Ponpon, a student of the University of Liberia and a resident of West Point, was involved in the burning of what turn out not to be the Norwegian flag at the European Office in Mamba Point as President Sirleaf was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.
Since gays in Liberia are afraid to come out of the closet and champion their cause, it seems Archie will continue to remain ‘Devil’s advocate’, at least in the eyes of his colleagues. A gay Liberian speaking to FrontPage Africa on the condition of anonymity startlingly revealed that Archie’s advocacy “isn’t for nothing”.
“I’m a gay and in the entire gay community, I don’t know him and I doubt whether he is a gay. But from what I gathered, some big people in Liberia and abroad are supporting his group. Not that I’m against his advocacy, I don’t know what his intentions are,” he wondered.
Liberia catches cold from America
Whenever America sneezes, Liberia catches cold. During World War I, through the urging of America, Liberia broke diplomatic relations and declared war on Germany, a major trading partner. During the regime of former William V.S. Tubman, all voting done by Liberia at the United Nations was on how America voted.
Fast forward to 2011, barely 48 hours following calls made by Hillary Clinton that African nations should break diplomatic ties with Libya under the then rule of fallen Libyan leader Moammar Kaddafi, Liberia was one of the first African nations to break ties with a man who gave 30 million United States towards the failed ADA/LAP project.
As President Sirleaf gets set to be inaugurated on January 16, 2012, this is the first test to her administration from the powers that be as Liberia is desperately in need of handouts, according to critics.
Critics say that there is no doubt that Sirleaf will pass the legislation as her party has swept the leadership in the Legislature. According to critics, Sirleaf is willing to go the extra mile to please her benefactors.
“Obama promised Sirleaf that he will visit Liberia. Mind you, Obama is not going to visit any African country that has downplayed the issue of gay rights. That ol’ ma desperately wants Obama to visit and she is bent on making sure that not even gay rights become an obstacle for Obama to not come here.”
It can be recalled recently, while addressing an audience of diplomats in Geneva, US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton called for the rights of gay people to be respected. "Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world," Clinton said.
She however, did not outline sanctions for countries that fail to reform same-sex laws, but an official memorandum directs US government agencies to consider gay rights when making aid and asylum decisions.
The US Secretary of State comments follow a recent warning by UK Prime Minister David Cameron that his Country would reduce some aid to Nations that refuse to recognize gay rights.
However, credible but unconfirmed information spreading across Liberia suggest that few group of Liberians in the Nation are currently pushing for gay rights in the Country.
The source of the information is yet unknown but there are speculations that a bill seeking to legalize same-sex marriage in Liberia has been crafted for onward presentation to the 53rd legislature for passage into law.
The bill has not yet surface in the corridors of the first branch of government but some lawmakers including Maryland County Senator, John Ballout has already condemn the act of same-sex marriage.
“I will not support any bill that has to do with gay rights. I am a Christian who believed in God and as such, I cannot vote for such bill”, the Senator noted.
Ballout, on the other hand, stated that “while it is true that I will not support it, but those who think act is right, they should be given their rights”. Another lawmaker who strongly expressed opposition to gay right is Lofa County Representative, Clarence Massaquoi.
According to Massaquoi, “I do not think that such bill will ever enter this Capitol Building for passage into law but if it does enter the legislature, we will throw it out in less than a minute.
“It is totally against our tradition as a nation. Remember, Liberia is religious nation built with cultural values and standard so we cannot pass any gay right bill”, said the youthful lawmaker.
"Nobody is going to support the US on this issue. Not even non-governmental organizations”, Massaquoi concluded.
Many African countries have condemned gay rights. Currently a bill is at the lower house of the Nigerian parliament and when pass into law, same-sex couples entering into either marriage or cohabitation would face jail terms of up to 14 years, and those "witnessing" or "abetting" such relationships would also face custodial sentences.
Meanwhile, some analysts believe that Mrs. Clinton's emphasis on gay rights is directed at a liberal domestic constituency ahead of elections next year, and is also intended to counter the growing influence of right-wing evangelical groups in Africa - some of whom have also opposed the use of condoms on a continent with high rates of HIV/Aids.