From where I stand: “Being LGBT means fighting against prejudice and violence every day”

Helen Tavares knew she was different, but it took her a long time to accept her own sexual and gender identity because of societal pressure and expectations. Although homosexuality is legal in Cape Verde, LGBT people suffer discrimination and violence. Same sex marriages are not recognized and there is rampant discrimination against LGBT people in employment and housing.


Helen Tavares. Photo: Free and Equal/Kriollscope
Helen Tavares. Photo: Free and Equal/Kriollscope

Since a very early age, I felt that something about me wasn't like the other kids, I just didn't know how to explain what it was.  I always liked the "masculine" style and because of this, I was bullied at school.

At 14 years old I fell in love with a friend at school, that's when I discovered that maybe I was a lesbian, but in my head, it was wrong to feel that way.

I began to go out with boys as a way to "correct" the wrong that was in me. To me, this is a tremendous form of violence, when we do not accept who we are because we are afraid of what society may say. My heterosexual relationships didn't last long… finally, I started to hang out with LGBT people, but it wasn’t easy for my family to accept me.

Today I have a relationship with Natalina and we live together with my four-year-old daughter, but it is not easy because in Cape Verde, homosexual relationships are discriminated against. Being LGBT means fighting against prejudice and violence every day.

Thanks to the support of the Free and Equal Campaign coordinated by UN Women in Cape Verde, the LGBT Association in Santiago has been the voice for young LGBT people and is protecting them from violence.

We, [as LGBT people] identify with this global movement #MeToo because we are often not heard, and we face violence simply because of who we are.”

SDG 5: Gender equality

Helen Tavares, 29 years old, is the president of the LGBT Association in Santiago, Cape Verde, which is supported by the Free and Equal campaign, coordinated by the UN system in the island nation. Launched in 2015 and coordinated by UN Women on behalf of the UN system, to raise awareness of LGBTI rights and fight discrimination based on sexual orientation, the campaign is the only one of its kind in Africa. This story shows that to truly leave no one behind, the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and eliminating violence against all women and girls, including lesbians, bisexual, transsexual and gender non-conformists, must be achieved.