Of the hundreds of thousands of spectators pouring into San Francisco to celebrate Pride and the strides of the gay community this weekend, one spectator will have an even greater sense of its meaning.
Like many of those celebrating, Cedric Tchante made the decision to "come out" as a gay man. But that decision carried with it additional risks and dangers in his native Cameroon where he grew-up, and where homosexuality is strictly frowned-upon.
Following the revelation of his sexuality in his college years, his life was filled with frequent threats, beatings and discrimination. But the threats only deepened his commitment as an LGBT activist, in a country where gay sexual activity is illegal.
“When you choose to be an activist in Cameroon,” Tchante said in the San Francisco office of Climb Real Estate where he works in marketing, “you decide to live with the danger.”
Danger certainly set its sites on Tchante back in Cameroon. Gangs of anti-gay thugs beat him on several occasions outside his home. There were death threats. But it was when those threats took aim at his family that a line had been breached.
“So when they begin to touch people I love,” Tchante said, “it was something I can’t accept.”
Back in Camerooon, Tchante sat in a dark room hurriedly packing his belongings, pondering a future far from home in the U.S., a country where he’d heard homosexuality was mostly accepted.
It was far from the atmosphere in Cameroon where he worked as an activist comforting and supporting others facing the same anti-gay discrimination — visiting police stations to rescue gay arrestees — listening to Sunday sermons where preachers would warn that gays were inhabited by the devil.
In that moment he weighed his decision to appear in a documentary called Born This Way, a film about his underground activities rescuing and supporting gay young people — all under the weight of the personal threats to his own life. In one scene he gripped a note that read “You think you can run, we will find you.”
“So I decide to be in the documentary because it was very important for me and my community,” Tchante said without a trace of regret.
The film wasn’t shown in Cameroon. But clips made it onto YouTube. He could no longer operate from the periphery — he was now out there. Under the cover of darkness he fled his country and eventually made his way to San Francisco where he now lives and works.
His boisterous laugh regularly echoes through the offices of Climb Real Estate — where co-workers slowly learned of his backstory.
“I think he’s got such an interesting story as an activist,” said Climb Real Estate co-founder Chris Lim, ”as a person who’s overcome insurmountable struggles.”
Though Tchante’s re-location to the U.S. took him far from the threats of Cameroon, it didn’t end his activism. After work each night he heads home to his computer where he continues to advise LGBT activists back home while providing support for the young LGBT Cameroon community still grappling for acceptance.
“I always ask them to be strong, to always be happy,” Tchante said. “When you’re happy, you make your enemies mad.”
Tchante’s enemies would probably be furious if they could see him now, joking and brimming with excitement at the new life of acceptance he’s found.
“His joy is infectious,” said friend Jenny Raymond, “and I think that’s just an incredible thing given where he’s come from.”
The tears still come when Tchante thinks of home, and his mother who still lives in Cameroon — whom he fondly describes as “the only woman I’ve ever loved.”
But now as he walks down the street of the Castro neighborhood where he lives, his eyes are aimed firmly at the future — no longer looking over his shoulder.