On this day in 1945, Alice Nkom was born in the country of Cameroon.
Nkom became the first female lawyer in Cameroon in the year 1969. Working with civil rights cases, her clients were frequently women’s rights activists, victims of police violence, and members of the LGBT community. Despite being threatened by the government, she remained undaunted throughout the years, determined to change the laws surrounding same-sex intimacy. Because being gay is an obvious target of persecution in the West African nation of Cameroon, Nkom took some serious risks defending such a taboo cause.
A straight woman, Nkom is mostly safe from legal prosecution, however, not from acts of violence. She has been threatened with imprisonment, disbarment, and worse. In 2011, she was nearly arrested, however, the public outcry and attention gained from overseas prevented her from this fate. Not all LGBT activists were so lucky, however. In July of 2013, Eric Ohena Lembembe, a fellow LGBT activist, was tortured and killed. The case was never seriously investigated by police; only questioned by other activists.
Within the last decade, Nkom’s popularity soared as she defended several significant clients, most notably Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, a man who spent three years in jail because of text messages that he sent to another man.
Nkom stated, “Men have been arrested and imprisoned for hairstyle and for drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream. These crimes of fashion proved the men were feminine and thus gay and therefore worthy of incarceration. Perception is everything.”