Great news! I was recently interviewed by BET.com about my work as an LGBT activist. The piece highlighted my new media volunteer project, which has been training African women and LGBTI organizations to use new media to tell their own stories. #win
My favorite part of the interview has got to be the title, African Gay Rights Activist Rewrites the Story of a Struggle.
Because I’ve chosen to lend my talents as a wordsmith to social justice and philanthropy, and am often very immersed in discussing (and being recognized for) the issues I’m writing about, even I sometimes forget what is that I’m actually doing i.e. writing to change the world, and encouraging others to do the same.
Above anything else, I’m a writer and a storyteller. So, even though the title of the interview felt a tad grandiose (and made me do a double take: “Whoa! Is that me??”), I really am honored that BET.com decided to recognize my efforts and profile me in such a generous way.
I must admit, however, that the opening line from the article gave me pause: “Believe it or not, it’s good to be gay in Africa.”
I should probably point out that the aim of my work isn’t just to see more “positive” news about LGBTI African in mainstream media; I believe that “Being gay in Africa is bad” and “Being gay in Africa is good” are both overly simplistic, reductive narratives we should avoid in mass scale. Instead of “positive” stories, I want real stories, authentic, complex stories. Thus, even though it was refreshing to see a positive slant to LGBTI Africa coverage, I wouldn’t be enthused if LGBTI Africa was constantly depicted wearing a smiley face.
Now, with so much sensationalism and victimization of LGBTI African people in the media, it’s understandable that a fervent call to the media to share more stories of resistance and empowerment could be taken as saying “all is good.” But let’s be clear: all is not good. While the current narrative (i.e. “Being gay in Africa is bad”) reinforces stigma within communities and chips away at the already dwindling hope of young queer Africans living on the continent, the reverse could do just as much (if not more) harm.
For instance, the BET.com article highlighted a few of the organizations I’ve worked with who are leading change; Iranti.org, a media advocacy organization based in South Africa, and WHER, a community-building organization for queer Nigerian women, to name a few. Many of these organizations would not be able to operate in the absence of international support; LGBTI Africans are barely permitted to exist in certain countries, let alone organize.
What if funding for LGBTI organizations like SMUG of Uganda and TIER Nigeria were left at the mercy of their homophobic governments? How would activists such as Zanele Muholi, continue to receive support from individuals overseas for her work photographing south African black lesbians in the townships if the story of LGBTI Africa was presented as “all good”?
Last I checked, all is not good. But my point is that all is not bad, either; we need complexity, we need balance.
Check out an excerpt from the interview here:
With the spread of technology and social media, today’s African LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) communities have greater access to resources and their greatest asset to speak of: each other.
However, given the mainstream news coverage of Africa’s many LGBTI communities that exploits the narrative of a sad, shameful Africa, it’s hard to imagine that anything other than repression and brutal violence is happening. Nigerian LGBTI activist Spectra says that although Africa has its issues, gay rights activists on the continent are seeing success in their movement for equality.
“We’re constantly hearing about people being murdered, constantly hearing about women being raped,” Spectra told BET.com. “It’s the very, very reductive, very simplistic narrative, and what’s missing is everything else quite honestly.”
Final Thoughts: The more stories we have in the media, the more likelihood we’ll see the range of experiences needed to reflect what is wholly true about LGBTI Africans; that our experiences are neither good, nor bad, that we face challenges from our governments and from each other, that there is pain and suffering, healing and joy in being queer and African, in being human; no single “positive” or “negative” story is capable of conveying our humanity.
My story is one of many, just as the BET.com article is one of many that contributes to LGBTI Africa’s depiction in the big picture. There’s still more work to be done. Let’s get “write” to it. ;)
Relevant Links on My Blog:
- Africans for Africa Project: Social Media Training for LGBT Groups (aka How It All Began)
- The Power of Storytelling: LGBT Rights, Media, and the African/Black Diaspora (Relationship between Media and Policy)
- Saying No to Saviorism: Celebrating Africa’s Resistance (How Saviorism in Western Narratives Impact Africa)
- Celebrate LGBTI Africa Every Day, Everywhere (Not Just Uganda) (Impact of Western Narratives on LGBTI Africa History)