Thursday, March 12, 2015 / Labels: , , , , , ,

A gay man’s story of persecution, fear, isolation and imprisonment in Gambia and Nigeria

March 12, 2015 /LGBT News

Editor's note:

The information above is presented “as is” and “as available”, and we expressly disclaim any liability for errors and omissions regarding it. 

The LGBT News welcomes letters from readers for possible publication. Letters should be no more than 300 words. We are also interested in your views on local, state, national and international LGBTQ issues. Columns usually run 500 to 700 words. Email your letter/column (with photos where possible) at

To gain exposure for your LGBTQ-related events, services or products, please check our Submit a press release section.

My name is David Berihun Kohen and here is my story.

I was born on November 11, 1997 in Tortola, British Virgin Islands (stateless) during vacation trips of my parents. My families are Beta Israel/Ethiopian Jews from Gondar regions of Ethiopia.

My middle class families for generations lived in North and North-Western Ethiopia in more than 500 small villages spread over a wide territory among populations that were Muslims and predominantly Christians. Mostly concentrated in the area around Lake Tana and North of its in the Tigray regions; among the Wolqoyit, Shire and Tselement and Amhare Regions of Gondar regions; among the Semien province, Dembia, Segelt, Belesa and Quare.

In the late 20th century, our Jewish communities made contacts around the world with other Jewish communities, followed by a massive aliya to Israel – under the law of return between 1979 – 1990. At that point in time, my young parents were faced with two most important decisions (considering at that time secured a professional cooking job aboard a cruise lines)
(a) Make Aliya from Ethiopia to Israel
(b) Work – travel aboard a cruise line and make aliya at a later date.
My parents decided to work – travel aboard the cruise vessels. But not long after that they were faced with challenges of raising a family aboard a cruise lines. They abandoned the ship and headed to Gambia for a lucrative private tutoring job.


Gambia is an enclave country in West Africa mostly surrounded by Senegal with a short strip of its coastline bordered by the Atlantic Ocean at its western end. It is the smallest country on mainland Africa. Its area is 10,689 square kilometers (4,127 square miles) with a population of 1,882,450 at the April 15th 2013 census. Banjul is the Gambian capital, and the largest cities are Serekunda and Brikama.

My parents reside in Banjul, providing private tutoring to some of Gambian most richest families. On November 1997, my father took my pregnant mother on a short trip to the Caribbean Island of British Virgin Island. I was born November 11, 1997 in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Since none of my parents hold Belonger status of British Virgin Islands, I was not eligible for citizenship. In essence I was born stateless until I derived citizenship through Gambia.  Raised in Banjul, Gambia along with my sibling. We were all home schooled but unlike my siblings I graduated at the age of 14 years through St. Augustine’s Senior Secondary School (All Boys School) Banjul North, Gambia in 2011 with a presidential scholarship as a gifted student to read medicine at School of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Gambia, Serekunda, Gambia. However, that dream never came to pass – because I was gay.

My Persecution in Gambia

Growing up gay in Gambia is the most difficult ever – I officially came out to my closest friends and family in February 2006 but I come out a little more every day – it’s a journey. I feel like my sexuality has unfolded slowly, starting from the time I was home schooled. I remember playing with my best friend and how it felt to kiss him when we intended to be husband and wife. I remember getting dressed in gym with my home schooled classmates and letting my eyes linger on their bodies for too long and then feeling like something was wrong with me. I remember having a 15 years old boy friend, who was gay, when I was 10 years old and how comfortable and right it felt to be with another man. For a time I thought I was gay too but somewhere deep inside it didn’t feel right – it’s still a journey. And now at 18 years old, after I realized that I had more than “friendly” feeling towards one of my closest friends, who came out a week before I did, I know that I am gay.

I now accept that fact that I am a man who loves other men. I am gay and its okay. Coming out openly is supposed to be a beautiful thing – a self realization and personal fulfillment but not in Gambia. When you are gay or lesbian in Gambia, you are facing life in prison.

Examples in Gambia

LGBT persons in Gambia face legal challenges not experienced by non LGBT residents – both male and female same, same-sex activity being illegal in Gambia.

The Gambia Criminal Code, as amended by the Criminal Code (Amendment) Act, 2009, provides as follows:

Section 144. Unnatural Offenses
1.     Any person who –
a)             Has carnal knowledge of  any person against the order of nature; or   
b)            Permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature; is guilty of felony, and is liable to imprisonment for a term of 14 years.
2.     In this section – “Carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature “includes
a)     Carnal knowledge of the person through the anus or the mouth of the person;
b)    Inserting any object or thing into the vulva or the anus of the person for the purpose of simulating sex; and
c)     Committing any other homosexual act with the person.

Section 147 states that if a man commits an “act of gross indecency” with another man, he is liable to imprisonment for a term of five years. The same applies to females who commit “acts of gross indecency” with other females. The term ‘act of gross indecency’ includes any homosexual act.

Gambia President Yahya Jammeh said in May 2008 that laws “stricter than those in Iran” would soon be introduced and vowed to “cut off the head” of any homosexual caught in the country. On May 15, 2008 Jammeh gave homosexuals 24 hours to leave the country. He also commanded “all those who harbor such individuals to kick them out of their compounds, noting that a mass patrol will be conducted on the instructions of the (Inspector General of Police)--- and the director of the Gambia Immigration Department to weed bad elements in society”. He said, “Any hotel, lodge or motel that lodges this kind of individual, will be closed down, because this act is unlawful. We are in a Muslim dominated country and I will not and shall never accept such individuals in this country”.

In June 2008, two Spanish men alleged to be gay, Pere Joan, 56 and Joan Monpserrat Rosa, 54, were arrested by Gambia police and detained at Koto police station.

On 23 December 2008, Frank Boers, a 79 – year old man from the Netherlands, was arrested at Banjul’s international airport when officials found him in possession of pornography, including nude pictures of himself and some Gambian men. A Banjul court found Boers guilty of indecency with those men and sentenced him to pay 100,000 Gambian delasis (Euros 2,500) in lieu of a two year prison sentence.

On 10 April 2012, a court remanded 18 of us alleged homosexuals (16 from Senegal, 1 from the Gambia (David Berihun Kohen), and 1 from Nigeria. We were arrested on April 9 2012 at a bar in the Tourism Development Area. We were “charged with indecent practice among themselves at a Public Place”. According to the police testimony in court in July 2012, the arrests were made because we were wearing women’s clothes, carrying handbags, and “walking like ladies”. On August 2012, the prosecutor dropped all charges for lack of adequate evidence in the case. As a result of this incidence my scholarship to medical school was also revoked.


Criminal code of the Gambian was recently amended again that creates a broad and vague offence of “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life imprisonment. The amendment to the criminal code was approved by the National Assembly and signed into law by the President on 9 October 2014. It targets among others, so-called “serial offenders” (meaning individuals with a previous conviction for homosexuality), could be imprisonment for life.

So I decided to depart somewhere – anywhere but Gambia. That was how I came to Nigeria.


Nigeria is often referred to as the "Giant of Africa", owing to its large population and economy. With approximately 174 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world. Nigeria has one of the largest populations of youth in the world. The country is inhabited by over 500 ethnic groups, of which the three largest are the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Regarding religion, Nigeria is divided roughly in half between Christians, who live mostly in the southern and central parts of the country, and Muslims, concentrated mostly in the northern and southwestern regions. A minority of the population practice religions indigenous to Nigeria, such as those native to Igbo and Yoruba peoples.

As a teenager, it’s difficult to travel to Nigeria from Gambia but I got a surprise help from a good Samaritan who helped me escape from Gambia so I can stay with my uncle who teaches at the Faculty of Science, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi State, Nigeria. Less than five months later, we were arrested by Bauchi State Sharia Commission (State Penal Court Charges – which carry a death penalty) and aiding and supporting gay organization (federal charges) which carry 10 – 14 years in federal prison. We were detained, beaten and arraigned before Bauchi State Sharia Commission Judge in the morning of January 18th 2014 in Bauchi State, Nigeria. Most of this were minors and have no legal representations. Various sentences were handed down by the judge which including anywhere from flogging, 2 years sentences but I was detained under special circumstances as a foreigner. The evidence against me was overwhelming – computers, cell phones, pictures, newsletters were collected from my apartment. Some of us were released, while others went to prison, and I was handed over to the Nigeria Police Force and subsequently transferred from Bauchi state to the care of Assistant Commissioner of Police Mr. Rasak Abdullraheem, Criminal Investigation Department, Airport Police Command, Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja Lagos, on February 10 2014.

Gambia Embassy was notified of my arrest, detention and charges. The Gambian authorities requested that I should be extradited from Nigeria to Gambia so I can be tried under Gambian Laws as an aggravated homosexual behavior. On March 5th 2014 I was granted bail and released. Court date was set March 17th 2014 for extradition hearing and consolidation of charges.

On March 17th 2014 I absconded. I skipped bail for my safety rather than face life imprisonment in Gambia. I went into hiding – running to safety.

Anti-gay and lesbian legislations in both Gambia and Nigeria violate my fundamental human rights – among them the right to privacy, to freedom from discrimination, from arbitrary arrest and detention. It adds to the stigma, hate and death threats I face every day just because I am different. I believe governments have a sacred duty to protect people from prejudice, not to add to it.

My name is David Berihun Kohen and that was my story. A story of systemic persecution, of mistreatment, sufferings, harassment, fear, isolation and imprisonment just because I am different.

Editor's note:

The information above is presented “as is” and “as available”, and we expressly disclaim any liability for errors and omissions regarding it. 

The LGBT News welcomes letters from readers for possible publication. Letters should be no more than 300 words. We are also interested in your views on local, state, national and international LGBTQ issues. Columns usually run 500 to 700 words. Email your letter/column (with photos where possible) at

To gain exposure for your LGBTQ-related events, services or products, please check our Submit a press release section.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015 / Labels: , , , , , ,

Intersex Human Rights Fund - Call for applications

February, 11, 2015 /LGBT News/ The Intersex Human Rights Fund was launched by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice to honor the resilience, creativity and growth of intersex activism and ensure the human rights of intersex people. 

People with intersex variations face invisibility, stigma, discrimination and violence. Intersex babies and children are widely subjected to “normalizing,” non-consensual, harmful surgeries and other medical interventions, with life-long consequences, including sterilization and genital mutilation. There are few legal frameworks to protect intersex people from multiple forms of discrimination and institutional violence. While intersex activism has been growing around the world, intersex issues and communities remain starkly under-funded, receiving less than a fraction of 1% of global foundation funding for LGBTQI people and/or women and girls. 

The Intersex Human Rights Fund supports organizations, projects and timely campaigns led by intersex activists working to ensure the human rights, bodily autonomy, physical integrity and self-determination of intersex people. This Fund is made possible through the generous support of seed donors Kobi Conaway and Andrew Owen, and a leadership contribution from the Arcus Foundation. Given the dearth of funding to intersex issues globally, intersex groups/projects based anywhere in the world are eligible to apply. 

Astraea particularly seeks proposals from intersex activists who have never applied for a grant or received foundation funding. Groups with small or no budgets, staff or structures are eligible and encouraged to apply. 

Grants will range from $2,500 – $10,000. 

Proposal Deadline:  20 February 2015

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015 / Labels: , , , , , ,

Kyrgyzstan’s New Anti-Gay Law Is Even Worse than Russia’s

anti LGBT map Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan’s New Anti-Gay Law Is Even Worse than Russia’s, LGBT news

January 21, 2014 /LGBT News/ In a few months, writing these words might get me thrown in prison.

I live in Kyrgyzstan, where soon any public mention of homosexuality will likely be forbidden by law.

That’s because in October, the Kyrgyz version of the notorious Russian law against “gay propaganda” passed its first reading by a vote of 79 to 7. Following one more reading, the bill will reach President Almazbek Atambayev’s desk, where it is almost certain to pass into law. Legislators even proposed that the minimum sentence for making reference to homosexuality be increased from one year to three.

Kyrgyzstan’s close affiliation with Russia inspired the law, and the Kyrgyz version is even tougher. To protect “traditional Kyrgyz values and families,” the law states, any “positive image of nontraditional sexual relations” will be prohibited. Anyone caught distributing a photo, writing an article, or posting on Facebook about homosexuality will face up to a year imprisonment.

The law will effectively make it illegal to advocate for, provide information about, or even organize a peaceful assembly in support of LGBT rights. Human rights organizations like my own will cease to exist as our current activities will be deemed unlawful.

This violates Kyrgyzstan’s commitments under both international law and its own constitution, which protects the right to peaceful assembly, free access to information, and freedom from any form of discrimination. In a society as homophobic as Kyrgyzstan’s, the law will only encourage more anti-gay crimes. In fact, one form of speech that’s not criminalized under the new law is homophobic hate speech.

Being LGBT in Kyrgyzstan today means being exposed to blatant violence. In the past, cases of violence were sporadic, but today they are systematic, premeditated, and executed by groups. Since 2008, human rights organizations in Kyrgyzstan have documented over 200 cases of homophobic attacks, ranging from beatings on the street to raids of the offices of LGBT rights organizations.

The crimes begin in our own families, which disown us and force us out of our homes. Many among us have suffered horrific sexual violence, including so-called corrective rape. If you dare to report these crimes to the police, the abuse continues.

Severe and prolonged beatings, threats of rape, and denial of food and water are some of the testimonies from victims whose only crime is being gay or bisexual. A report by Human Rights Watch released earlier this year suggests that these abuses by the police have on occasion risen to the “level of torture.”

The space for the LGBT community in Kyrgyzstan is shrinking. If passed, this discriminatory law will serve as an instrument for even more repression. It’s not just about LGBT rights. It’s about the broader, long-term implications for our country. Outlawing any public expression of identity threatens the fundamental rights and freedoms of Kyrgyz society as a whole.

Written by Syinat Sultanalieva for the Open Society Foundation

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Sunday, January 18, 2015 / Labels: , , , , , , ,

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Thursday, January 8, 2015 / Labels: , , , , ,

Nepal to issue passports with third gender for sexual minorities

January 8, 2015 /LGBT News/ The Nepalese government is to issue passports with a third gender option for citizens who do not identify as male or female.

'We have changed the passport regulations and will add a third category of gender for those people who do not want to be identified as male or female,' Lok Bahadur Thapa, chief of the government’s passport department, told Reuters.

The decision comes after a 2007 Supreme Court ruling in the country ordered authorities to amend legislation to include a third gender.

Nepal joins a handful of countries that recognize a third gender: citizens of Australia and New Zealand can choose from three genders for their passports - male female or indeterminate, marked by an "x" in the passport. 

South Asia nations appear to be ahead of the curve regarding the right to identify as third gender on official documents. Court decisions in Pakistan in 2009 and India in 2014 both cleared the way for people who identify as being of indeterminate gender to do so formally.

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Monday, January 5, 2015 / Labels: , , , ,

Leelah Alcorn's suicide note: 'My death needs to mean something. Fix society. Please.'

January 5, 2015 /LGBT News/ Leelah Alcorn’s suicide has been grabbing headlines since the transgender teen took her own life on December 28. 

Born Joshua Alcorn, the Cincinnati-area 17-year-old walked in front of a tractor-trailer in Warren County.

A suicide note posted on Leelah's Tumblr page - through scheduled publishing just a few hours after her death - blamed her parents for isolating her from support systems. (Leelah's Tumblr post was later deleted by her parents.)

Leelah writes that although she was born a boy, she began identifying as a girl at the age of four.

'When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. 

'I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong.'

She was taken out of school and barred from using social media, thus isolating her from friends and a support network. She was taken to see therapists but, Alcorn noted, only to 'Christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help'.

She ended her suicide note with a plea for action: 'The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.'

In the aftermath of their child’s death, Leelah’s parents have continued to express their disapproval of her gender identity.

'We don’t support that, religiously,' Carla Alcorn told CNN, adding: 'But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.'

For those who want to read Leelah's final words, here they are, in full:

If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.

Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in … because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.

When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to Christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.

I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight Christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.

So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.

At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.

After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

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Thursday, November 27, 2014 / Labels: , , , , , ,

Study: National Trends in Public Opinion on LGBT Rights in the United States

November 27, 2014 /LGBT News/ Public support for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ( LGBT ) people in the United States has increased significantly over the last three decades, according to a new study released by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. 

Over 325 national surveys dating back to June 1977 were analyzed that ask the public their opinions on five issues including: general attitudes toward LGBT people, legality of same-sex relations, legal recognition of marriages for same-sex couples, extension of adoption rights to same-sex couples, inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination policies, and support for open military service. In addition, the report explores whether attitude change is primarily driven by inter-generational cohort change or other factors.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Public support for lesbians and gay men has doubled in the past three decades, more so than public support for any other group surveyed about over the same time period.
  • While support for marriage equality was static from the 1980s to the early 2000s, it has more than doubled since then. It is most likely that people are changing their minds on the issue of marriage equality as opposed to generational change.
  • A majority of the public supports adoption rights for same-sex couples and support has more than doubled since 1992. Support currently stands around 63 percent.
  • Although a national non-discrimination law has yet to be passed and twenty-nine states do not have non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity, 72 percent of the public support laws protecting lesbians and gay men from job discrimination and 75 percent support laws protecting transgender people from job discrimination.
  • About 48,500 LGB people are actively serving in the military and reserve. Public support for open military service for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals has increased from about 50% in 1993 to about 70% in 2012.

Public opinion data on all five issues was not always available for transgender people and bisexual people. The few surveys that do ask about support for transgender and bisexual people indicate that support has increased over time, but not at the same rate as for lesbians and gay men.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 / Labels: , , , , , ,

The Comedy Minute With Jason T. Gaffney Season One

September 16, 2015 /LGBT News/ Award winning writer-producer and out gay actor Jason T. Gaffney again teams up with small or LARGE Productions to present his new web series, The Comedy Minute With Jason T. Gaffney.

Written and produced by Gaffney, season one of the sketch comedy series has just been released. The TCM cast regulars feature Gaffney, along with two other out gay actors as well as two bisexual actors.  
Conscious of the need for more diversity in improv and sketch comedy, Gaffney created The Comedy Minute after being inspired by the Upright Citizen’s Brigades policies to diversify the comedy world.
Screen Shot Romantic Night At Home
“I wanted to create a series where gay men could show off their comic chops,” Gaffney said.
Jason T. Gaffney
Jason T. Gaffney is one of the writers, producers, and leading actors in small or LARGE Productions’ hit LGBTQ film, The Perfect Wedding.  
“I came out when I was fifteen and my family was completely supportive,” Gaffney said.  “And while I appreciate conflicted and angsty coming out stories and closet comedies, I honestly don’t relate.  I’m very lucky, I know that, but I also know that there are more and more young gay men like me.  And we naturally want to find our reflection in the movies that we watch -- we want to see ourselves represented.”  
So Gaffney pushed his co-producers and movie-writing partners to write a boy-meets-boy romantic comedy in which the gay main characters have loving families.  The result was The Perfect Wedding, an award-winning comedy that found distribution with Wolfe Releasing, and has gone on to garner over 50,000 reviews on Netflix.
Screenshot of Sexy Neat Freak
The Comedy Minute with Jason T. Gaffney is now available on YouTube with eleven episodes. Sexy Neat Freak is the featured gay sketch in season one.

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