Browse Tag: equality

Award-Winning African Artist Shishani Releases Video for New LGBT Equality Anthem, “Minority”

Shishani Namibia Lesbian Artist

“You’ve got rules telling me what to do
But is there anybody checkin’ up on you?”

Award-winning acoustic soul artist, Shishani, has just released the music video for her latest single titled, “Minority”, a catchy, upbeat, acoustic track that calls for freedom and equality for all people despite perceived differences.

Shishani got her big break when she performed at the 2011 Namibian Annual Music Awards in the capital city of Windhoek, where it’s still illegal to be gay. And though, she says, she’s made no real attempts to hide her sexuality, she hasn’t come out as an “out lesbian artist” till now.

“I wanted people to get to know my music,” she says, “Sexuality doesn’t matter. It’s like pasta — asking if you prefer spaghetti or macaroni. It just doesn’t matter… I’m an artist first, before being a gay artist.”

Born to a Namibian mother and a Belgian father, Shishani spent her early childhood in Windhoek, before her family relocated. Due to her mixed race ancestry, the curly-haired songstress is no stranger to discrimination, but is candid about enjoying a relatively liberal upbringing in the Netherlands, known for its liberal social policies, including legal protections of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) people.

“Being raised abroad gives you a certain freedom… It took some time before my parents were okay talking about stuff, but eventually we did. I was even able to live with my partner of four years…  But living in Namibia, it became so clear to me how much more people are discriminated against–and for a variety of different reasons, like their ethnicity and sexuality.”

Homosexuality is illegal in a number of countries in Africa, and Namibia is no exception. Even though Namibia has been independent for over 20 years, and its constitution views all people equal under the rights of the law, punitive colonial laws against sodomy (though not enforced) have remained. Thus, LGBTI people risk harassment  and violence due to a strong culture of stigma in part reignited by religious leaders and government officials.

In 2001, past President Najoma’s called for “anyone caught practicing homosexuality to be arrested, jailed, and deported”. And, just over a year ago, Namibia’s first gay pageant winner, Mr. Gay Namibia, was beaten and robbed shortly after securing his title.

But Shishani, who upon her return in 2011, found a safe haven in Windhoek’s art performance communities, is optimistic that the current climate for gays will improve. She recently became an honorary member of the board of Out Right Namibia (ORN), a human rights advocacy organization that aims to address widespread homophobia in the country, and is eager to continue evolving as an artist, while using her platform as a musician to advocate for freedom and equality.

Shishani Singer SongwriterSince her breakout two years ago, Shishani has released indie tracks such as “Raining Words”, an acoustic ballad about a new relationship, “Clean Country”, a soulful, melodious call to action to raise awareness about climate change, and–inspired by Alicia Keys’ chart-topping tribute to New York–“Windhoek”, a song that celebrates the beauty of her hometown.

As a student of cultural anthropology and self-identified activist, it’s no surprise that her music has been described as a fusion of sounds from such socio-political music icons as Tracy Chapman, Bob Marley, and Nneka. “Minority” is the first single through which seeks to address the issue of same-sex love.

Alluding to the potential controversy of her new single, Shishani says, “Two years ago, I was really just trying to get my face out there…. When I returned to Namibia, I started booking my own gigs, performing solo, writing new songs. When I was invited to perform at the Namibian Music Awards, I was afraid to perform “Minority”  because people didn’t know who I was yet. But to make a statement, you have to be strong.”

As an African musician who identifies as being a part of the LGBTI community, the lyrics of “Minority” no doubt challenge the infamous meme “Homosexuality is unAfrican.” But, Shishan insists, her song is about much more than being gay.

“In Namibia, it also makes a difference what ethnicity you are. “Minority” argues for equal rights for all people regardless of their cultural backgrounds, economic status, sexuality, religion,” she says, “There is so much systemic discrimination against people, for so many reasons.”

The release of “Minority” is timely; January is the month in which outspoken Ugandan LGBT activist, David Kato was bludgeoned to death in an anti-gay attack three years ago, sparking an outcry from fellow African human rights activists. January is also the month in which people in the U.S.–perhaps even all over the world–celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a powerful civil rights leader and icon. His call for freedom and equality of all people has been taken up by activists all over the world, including Shishani, whose lyrics echo his principles of love and unity.

“Homophobia all over the world comes from the same place; colonialism, apartheid, racial segregation. All our struggles are connected.”

When asked about being a visible lesbian African artist, especially in light of the hardships experienced by LGBTI people in countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, she says:

“My music is becoming more popular in Namibia. I’ve been working hard and trying to make my mark, so I feel stronger, now. I may lose some fans, but it’s okay. So many others have it way worse than me. So many others activists are risking much more. It is an honor to be viewed as a role model. So, if I can contribute to the movement through my music, I’m happy to, and I will.”

Check out the video of Shishani’s new single, “Minority” below. To learn more about Shishani, visit her website at


Spectra Speaks on “The Power of Storytelling: LGBT History, The Media, and the African/Black Diaspora”

Dear Readers,

Here’s a brief synopsis of one of my talks, “The Power of Storytelling: LGBT Rights, The Media, and the African/Black Diaspora” in case you (or someone else you can refer me to) would like to bring me to your high school, college or university campus, or conference. It’s the very first talk based on my Africans for Africa project traveling through southern Africa and supporting African women and LGBTI women in their use of social media. Please share, forward, disseminate!

Due to your continued support of my work, I’ve been able to maintain my status as a frequently requested speaker at schools, universities, and conferences around the world. I couldn’t be any more grateful to you, and have recently committed to consolidating/packaging information about my work to make it easier for you to advocate for my presence in your spaces. So, sign up for my mailing list to receive information about more talks, presentations, and workshops, and of course, my appearances near you!

As nearly 100% of my speakers fees gets re-invested back into community projects, such as my latest, Africans for Africa, by booking me, you’ll not only be bringing smart, insightful, thought-provoking, and engaging conversations to your space, but supporting my work overall which aims to amplify the voices of marginalized communities.

If you have any questions at all, click the Contact Me button on the right! Or, send me a message.


The Power of Storytelling: LGBT Rights, The Media, and the African/Black Diaspora
an informal talk/presentation on the Africans for Africa project, by LBGT and media activist, Spectra Speaks  

There is an African proverb that goes, “Until lions write their own history, tales of the hunt will continue to glorify the hunter.”

If one were to go by the media’s portrayal of LGBT rights in Africa, the queer history of an entire continent would most likely be reduced to a series of atrocities, with a speckle of sensationalized triumphs as determined by the west. This phenomenon is far from trivial, as the relationship between what the media says and what policy does is entrenched in government. Hence, it is important to ask not only, “Which stories are being told?”, but also, “Who are the storytellers?”

As a counterpoint, in the US, queer people of color, who have historically been erased from LGBTQ narratives, are steadily, yet aggressively reclaiming their chapters in history, producing media that more authentically portrays their complex lives, and weighing in more loudly than ever during national discourse about LGBT rights.

The growing popularity of new media has contributed to the leveling the playing field; from independent indie films that have been funded via crowdsourcing platforms, to YouTube web series offering eager audiences alternative narratives, new platforms are emerging through which the LGBTQ Diaspora can tell their own stories.

As a queer Nigerian writer, and new media consultant, I have made it my responsibility to cover the progress of LGBTI Africa at the grassroots level; to document our history as told by us (vs. through the eyes of western imperialists or saviorists); and to amplify the voices of changemakers in our communities who are leading the way.

As a juxtaposition to white-/western narratives about the LGBTQ Diaspora, this interactive presentation will take a look at a few of those stories, with a special focus on emergent narratives challenging western depictions of LGBTI Africa.

The talk will also share some findings from my Africans for Africa project, a crowd-funded initiative to train and support LGBT African activists and nonprofits to harness the power of social media in telling their stories, and in so doing, amplify their work, and thought leadership.

Format: Talk/Presentation featuring highly interactive slides w/ media (i.e. photos, videos, quotes).

Duration: Ideally, 1.5 Hrs (w/ Q&A), but can be reduced to a 45-60 min talk without slides.

Audience: General / All Levels, High School or College Students, Student Identity Groups (GSAs, African Students Association, Women’s Groups etc), Activists, esp. for “Allies”

Possible Venues: Keynotes, Conference Presentations, Sessions, Classroom Visits

Departments: Women’s and Gender Studies, Media and Communications, Black/African Studies, History Departments


Spectra Speaks, Bio:

Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer, women’s and LGBT activist, and thought leader behind the afrofeminist media blog, Spectra Speaks (, which publishes global news, opinions, and stories about gender, culture, media, and the Diaspora.

She founded Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), a grassroots organization that creates safe spaces for LGBTQ women of color, including immigrants and the African diaspora. Six years later, she launched the QWOC Media Wire, a national media hub run for and by LGBTQ women of color, in order to strategically address the dearth of voices represented in mainstream media.

Spectra speaks widely on diversity, movement building, and a media as a tool for social change. She’s currently travelling through southern Africa collecting untold stories from women and LGBT communities for an upcoming anthology. Follow her blog at, or her daily musings on Tumblr ( and Twitter @spectraspeaks.

Note: Downloadable press kit coming soon. 


My Straight African Brother’s Reflections on a Very Queer Christmas: “Two Couples and a Sibling”

My Dear Readers!

Sibling love forever...

This post — written from my straight, Christian brother — is what I got for Christmas, and I am so thrilled to share it with all of you! My brother spent the holidays with me, my partner, and our two very good friends and, it seems, felt so moved by how much of a great time he had that he announced he would be writing about it. We didn’t believe he would — maybe he’d been caught up in the moment (after several glasses of wine, and so much turkey!) — but then this afternoon, I received his post in my inbox.

I’m in tears as I write this; both my siblings have now contributed to my queer afrofeminist blog. It’s surreal — first my sister in Confessions of a Straight Girl: How to Be an Ally, and now my brother.

I can’t say this any plainer: I never would have imagined this possible. But look at this… look what happens when you stay holding on to hope.

For any of you feeling hopeless about your families coming around, I want you to read this post and see this as your future, see this as where your own family members can arrive after going through their own journeys of self-reflection. They will get there. You will get there. We will all find happiness.


“Two Couples and a Sibling” (guest post by Spectra’s Brother)

For quite some time now my sister has been wanting me to either read at least one of her blog posts (I know, it’s shameful that I haven’t been as engaged), or write something for her that she could put on her blog. I can’t say why I haven’t been paying closer attention to her writing up until this point but at least I’m finally doing it. I think for whatever reason I always felt that she was writing for the masses and not for me; that I wouldn’t learn that much from her writing as I would from the many conversations we have, one on one. I know … crazy, especially from someone who prides himself on how much he learns from reading books! But anyway, let’s move on.

A few days before Christmas, my sister (spectra) woke me up at 7am to ask me a huge favor: she wanted us to spend Christmas with a couple — we’ll call them Sukky and Shana — that she and her partner were very good friends with. She explained that they were both still struggling to find acceptance within their respective families, and would appreciate being among friends. I had met these particular friends briefly at a birthday celebration and they seemed nice enough, so I figured why not. The visit seemed very important to my sister or she (not being the warmest fuzziest person in the world) wouldn’t have given me a puppy dog face as well and a huge hug after realizing that I’d actually be up for an 8-hr roundtrip drive to New York. So on Christmas morning, we set off early, really excited at the idea of spending time with what Spectra described as “intentional family.”

The ride down to the city was great! I’m a speed demon so leaving early on Christmas day meant no cops. Saweet! (If any cops are reading this post I apologize for doing an average of 95mph which is why we got to Brooklyn in just under three hours — hey, wasn’t like I was the only one).

On reaching the couple’s apartment we were immediately greeted with a shriek from one of the girls (Shana) because her partner (Sukky) had kept it a secret we were coming. It’s a very nice feeling to be able to surprise good friends especially on a day like Christmas. And you must understand this too, any friends of my sisters are automatically friends of mine so I was equally as thrilled with the response. The entire day was spent cooking, laughing, cracking jokes, playing cards, taking naps, and for me specifically watching five basketball games back to back … ! Absolute heaven. Plus, I also had a few double Blacks on ice to take the edge off.

I don’t know if I’ve had such a good time quite like I did with these four girls. But in reality it had nothing to do with any of the things we did but everything to do with the people that were in that apartment. And I guess here is the message I wanted to communicate to whoever may be reading this: I’m a straight guy, a straight black guy, a straight black conservative guy, a straight black conservative guy from Nigeria, a straight black conservative guy from Nigeria who happens to have a queer black sister, who is in love with a queer Latina from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic! My world got turned upside down when my sister came out to me a number of years ago, but I can’t say I was surprised.

I’m the middle child, and only boy. I never had a brother who I could borrow or steal stuff from. I never had any hand-me-downs either. My dad is 5’5 and I’m a little over 6 feet tall so that definitely wasn’t happening. But for as long as I can remember my younger sister was always stealing stuff from my older sister (Spectra), and Spectra in turn was always stealing stuff from me! I remember out of all the items of clothing she had she was always more excited about the more masculine items: the jerseys, the large T-shirts, the boots, etc. All this never quite made sense until she came out to me.

But, please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying here. Just because I had a feeling I knew what she was going to tell me doesn’t mean that when she finally told me it didn’t put my life on pause. My personality didn’t allow me to act alarmed. In fact, my reaction was the total opposite. I was extremely calm and told her that I’d known for a while, which was true. What I didn’t know was how I really felt about it.

It has taken me years of getting to know my sister again, years of getting to know her new community of friends, years of challenging my own beliefs (pay attention to this people), not for some “greater good”, or because it’s “politically correct”, but for the sake of having a real relationship with my sister. I went through years of self-reflection, years of pushing myself towards personal growth, and of course years of asking the question, “Why?” And here’s what I have concluded:

When you really love someone, when your sister or brother or whomever tells you they’re queer or gay or whatever (I’m still learning there are many different ways gay people describe themselves), it simply shouldn’t matter.

I’m so glad I had enough wisdom to realize that love isn’t love if it’s conditional. If you’re ashamed to affiliate yourself with someone because of how you think other people are going to perceive YOU … I feel very sorry for you and you need to go into whatever wound you have that is keeping you from experiencing life to the fullest. If there are two things I know for a fact it’s this: the quality of your life will be directly related to the quality of the relationships in it, and you will be miserable until you get over worrying about what other people think about you.

This Christmas was the most amazing Christmas I’ve EVER had. I was a single straight guy with two queer couples, and I had a blast. Why? Not because I spent time learning about an “issue”, but because I was with real people, who were really in love; who had real problems and real challenges, real arguments and real fears about the future, real hopes and dreams, and, quite frankly, that’s way more important to me than the fact that they identified as “queer.”

After this experience, I find myself hoping even more that people are braver; that they find the courage to engage themselves in learning more about how to love, and less about how to control. Because any question of “why” that comes from your own small sphere of beliefs — which by definition is egocentric — is absolutely a question of control. For me, slowing down my beliefs and just simply getting to know Spectra’s friends led to a bittersweet realization: I had way more in common with them than I do with a lot of people I have known for years.

For instance (and don’t laugh), the highlight of my visit was bonding with Sukky (a tomboy like my sister) over the film 300 about the Spartan army that stood up to the Persian empire in ancient Greece! I was pleasantly surprised to find that she shared my passion for the raw, over-the-top masculinity of the men portrayed in the movie. It was such an eye-opening moment for me because I always felt that the movie in itself could only be really appreciated in that way if you happened to be a straight guy! But, once again, my belief-system was challenged and I am all the better for it.

I urge you this coming year if you have been closed-minded about anything in your life, dare to think and dare to love. If the human race did more of those two things there’s no doubt in my mind the world will be a better place for our children, their children, and generations to come.

... and ever :)

I titled this entry, “Two Couples and a Sibling,” simply because that is exactly what was most important about our time together, the memories I created with Spectra, her partner, Sukky, and Shana. This Christmas, for me, wasn’t about “two interracial gay couples and a straight black guy.” None of those things are as important. Two couples and a sibling — two families coming together to celebrate life and the future together; that’s important.

I hope other guys get this message. It’s really not that complicated. 

Happy Holidays!

Obama, Apparently Your Gay Card Has Expired Due to Inactivity

Politics is not my cup of tea, but I just read a series of Facebook posts about an article posted on the Advocate about the LGBT community’s “Disappointment” with Obama that kinda got to me today. This article is certainly not the first of its kind that I’ve come across; negative commentary on news is always current news these days and I’ve tried to ignore all the political jargon that’s been flying back and forth in cyberspace.

To be sure, these politically polarized online conversations often find ways to invade neutral social spaces offline. I should be used to this by now, but lately — perhaps due to the heightened sensitivity around hte political climate — it’s become even more difficult to avoid (or at least compartmentalize) the experience of becoming an accidental participant, much less an incidental spectator. Despite “Hiding” all the Facebook perpetrator Boo-Obama status updates in my News Feeds and RSVPing “(Hell) No” to radical political action committee meetings where at least two people are bound to punctuate their rhetoric with fist thumping on a non-profit budgeted table, I’ve found myself stumped for words on more than one occasion.

No one — gay or straight, liberal or conservative — should be so presumptuous as to slip in a last minute toast to “Electing a president with some balls the next time around” right before a first round of drinks, or offer the lean-in-with-deep-earnest-eyes-and-place-hand-on-one-shoulder gesture while they try to convince you that, “He’s just like all the others.” I don’t sport any visible Proud Obama Supporter merchandise, so I’ve often been confused about what typically prompts the latter (It’s cause I’m black, init?), but I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I should invest in a “Back Off, I Love Obama!” T-Shirt, lest I get taken by surprise when I’m having a really bad day and respond less than tactfully.

To cut to the chase, I’m not another queer liberal who’s angry with Obama. However, today, as I scrolled through Facebook News, digesting bits and pieces of social commentary in the anger, disappointment, humor, and hate categories, I was forced to think about whether or not I should be.

Is there evidence that members and supporters of the LGBT community should be angry? Yes. Is there evidence that Obama has made promises (ENDA, DADT) that he’s (so far) failed to keep? Yes. Should we hold our leaders accountable at any and all costs? Most definitely.

I whole-heartedly understand and empathize with where people are coming from. We certainly all have the right to be mad for one reason or the other. However, I’m losing patience with people that presume to think that I’m down with taking down “the Man” on a single issue just because I’m part of the LGBT community at large. “Do you think Obama has kept his promises to the gay community?” I answer, No. But…

Dear angry (and mainly white) liberal gay community, I’m more than just a single poll vote — I’m many polls and many votes. Shoot, I’m a database of hard facts about privilege in this country. I’m one of you, one of “them”, many of “other” — a whole and complex being — so please remember that there are too many other political and social issues at stake (for me, for my family, and for my community) for me to burn Obama for side-stepping a hot potato that’s been baking for far too long in the granite-counter-topped kitchens of rich white gay men.

Now, about this article. Richard Just writes:

“Obama argues that he is against gay marriage while also opposing efforts like Prop 8 that would ban it,” he writes. “He justifies this by saying that state constitutions should not be used to reduce rights. (His exact words: ‘I am not in favor of gay marriage, but when you’re playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that that is not what America is about.’) Obama appears to be saying that it is fine to prohibit gay people from getting married, as long as the vehicle for doing so is not a constitution.

Really? This sounds like a critical reasoning paragraph from the GREs (sorry I’m in grad school application mode). Perhaps I need to brush up on my reading comprehension skills but this sentiment doesn’t describe how I’ve been reading Obama at all. How do we go from a president who’s clearly come out against the amending of the constitution to further legislate taking away basic rights from gay people to trivializing his position with semantics? How do we call someone who’s actually been decent about providing transparency (even if it means we see/hear him go back and forth vs getting to hear PR-proofed-and-puppeteered statements) a liar? Didn’t we hear over and over again that he would not be pushing through gay marriage, but rather, working with us to ensure that civil unions were protected? (read: please don’t force me to jeopardize my candidacy, I’ll do what I can, since no one else is doing it anyway).

NEWS FLASH: Obama is a politician. This shouldn’t be surprising, and it certainly shouldn’t constantly be used to insult him (or anyone else for that matter), especially since politicians are the only pawns we can elect into office. (Outspoken freedom fighters like me do our job on the ground because we wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the world of politics, and that’s the TRUTH). We should try to remember that politicians are subject to politics, bureaucracy, endless debate, soap box fails, and most importantly, our conditional love and support at best. It shouldn’t be so hard for us to see — as leaders ourselves — that sometimes you’ve gotta walk the thin line between proponent and opponent to get to the other side: progress.

I started paying close attention when he didn’t make the daft mistake of running the presidential race on a “black agenda” platform despite pressure to come out and do/say more about the experience of African-Americans in this country. He’s clearly fence-sitting, trying not to cause too many ripples so as not to jeopardize a possible re-election (during a future period where increased tolerance and awareness would better aid us). To do so would mean that he won’t be there to continue digging out the shit from the hole we threw him into in the first place.

And yet, every other day I log into Facebook, some angry liberal is posting about not voting for him, throwing him in the same category as Bush (really? George Double-yuh??), and helping our real opponents, extreme right-wing conservatives, burn him at the stake. I can understand your disappointment. Hell, sometimes I want to wring his neck and shake him into taking a god damn position… like I would do. Sometimes, we need to kick and scream and throw tantrums because this simply isn’t fair… to “us.” But we must never lose sight of the big picture, which includes ALL of us, and I’m not talking about our neighbors or check-box mates. I’m talking about recognizing that we are a part of many different communities that Obama HAS been fighting for — the middle class who can’t afford insurance, small business owners, WOMEN, educators etc. We should Thank Him for his progress in those arenas, rather than continually put him down for areas where his record could show a little more improvement. Isn’t that what good mentors do? Isn’t that what smart citizens should do?

This single-issue approach to ratings and slandering politicians just isn’t helpful. Moreover, it’s hypocritical. If we’re still having discussions about negotiating when and where to come out (based on safety, the age of children in schools, appropriateness in the workplace, generational attitudes re: elders etc), then we shouldn’t expect our president to be excited about outing himself to a sea of still predominantly conservative political voices and media.

And before you retort with, “Well, I’m not the president, it’s his job to…” please think about whether or not you would switch positions with him today, if given the opportunity. If you won’t accept the offer to be Obama for just one day — to be required to listen and engage the voices of over three hundred million people — then fall in line, and support him, especially if you voted for him. If we don’t stand behind our choices, we’d be no better than conservatives who threw Bush to the dogs the minute they ran out of rhetoric to distract the country from his complete and utter failure.

If I lose my gay card because I don’t “hold Obama accountable to the marriage issue” then so be it. One card can’t define me, and shouldn’t define the president of (still) the most powerful country in the world, where citizens are a sum total of the issues they care about. I still choose any president that’s brave enough to approach leadership with this in mind.

Now, don’t let me down, Obama.

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