Monday, February 19 , 2018, 10:15 am | Fair 51º


Local News

Gambian Student at UCSB Imperiled by Support for Gay Rights

Alagie Jammeh lost his scholarship after African country's government discovered his views; he has since been granted asylum in the U.S.

Alagie Jammeh, an international student from Gambia studying at UC Santa Barbara, faced threats from his homeland because of his support for gay rights. He was granted asylum in the U.S. earlier this year.
Alagie Jammeh, an international student from Gambia studying at UC Santa Barbara, faced threats from his homeland because of his support for gay rights. He was granted asylum in the U.S. earlier this year. (Jenny Luo / Daily Nexus photo)

There was a knock on the window.

“Hey, what are you doing here? Are you sleeping in your car?” a policeman asked Alagie Jammeh, an international student from Gambia studying at UC Santa Barbara.

Jammeh was in fact living out of his vehicle and struggling to feed himself, sometimes going days without food. The officer warned Jammeh he would be ticketed if he continued sleeping in his car on campus.

In September 2014, Jammeh posted on Facebook that “No one should be denied their basic fundamental human rights because of their sexuality.”

Though he took the post down two days later after receiving calls from relatives back home warning him of the government’s reaction to his statement, it was too late.

By November, his presidential scholarship from the Gambian government was cut off.

Jammeh said he desired to be part of a community that embraces all people, irrespective of their gender identity. As a result of his newfound convictions, Jammeh found himself ostracized from his homeland and fearing for his life.

“I was scared the Gambian government is going to send someone in America to kill me,” Jammeh said. “I was terrified that some people who disagreed with what I said on Facebook would eventually hunt me down.”

Located on the west coast of Africa with a population of approximately 1.9 million, Gambia is one of 70 countries in the world that can imprison citizens for their sexual orientation.

President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh — a distant uncle of Alagie — stated during his address to the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 that homosexuality is one of the “biggest threats to human existence.”

“The president of the Gambia has been saying that any gay person that come to the Gambia — we will slit your throat. We will kill you. You will go to jail for the rest of your life. We will not allow gay men or gay women in our society,” Jammeh said.

Jammeh’s view on the gay community began to change after he learned his roommate and good friend was gay. He was further influenced by his friend Alexandra Brabson, who told him that individuals are born gay, rather than choosing to be so later in life.

“I couldn’t see any single thing that is ungodly or that is mean about gay people, so I decided that it was something that I was going to change my views on. I put myself in their situation,” Jammeh said, adding that if people were to insult him because he is black, he “would feel like someone had violated [his] basic human rights.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified Jammeh on April 17 that he had been granted political asylum.

“You can stay here and work here and go to school here, without worrying about being deported,’” Jammeh recalled his lawyer telling him. “I am still trying to get used to it, because it feels like this is unreal; it feels like I am still dreaming.”

[Click here to read Jammeh's full story in the UCSB Daily Nexus]

Megan Mineiro is editor in chief of the UCSB Daily Nexus.

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