Browse Tag: lesbian

A Letter To My Plagiarist

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, I thought it only appropriate to post this response to the plagiarist who thought they could get away with stealing my words.

I admit that I wrestled with responding at all; the pain of knowing that a fellow African LGBT activist, who I knew personally, had done this to me was a lot to bear. In the wake of David Kato’s murder, a prominent LGBT Ugandan activist that was murdered in January, the last thing that I needed — that the Queer African movement needed — was internal conflict. Aside from the infuriating suggestions from people (including other writers– wow) that I “let it slide for the greater good”, I just couldn’t shake the feeling, that my words — the only things I have in this world — had been taken from me. I felt violated.

At one point, I had to say it out loud to believe it, “I’ve just been plagiarized, blatantly, by someone who knows me.” Seriously, verbatim. This woman (who was a journalist so couldn’t claim to not know better) had lifted a whole three paragraphs from the blog post I’d written about David Kato and read it as part of a speech in public forum (at a vigil held in NYC in his honor – starts at 2:00 min), no citation, no credit, no mention that her speech even contained excerpts from an ‘unnamed’ source. I found out in the worst way possible, on effin Twitter. I happened to click on a link to video coverage of the event she spoke at in NYC and there she was, speaking my words verbatim, being so inspiring it took me a few takes to realize why her words resonated so much… they were mine. Wow.

Of course I confronted her about it. I sent her a very nice but stern email that said I know what she’d done and I was giving her a window to take responsibility, apologize, and do something about it i.e. email the media outlets that quoted her with my words in my mouth and ask them to make corrections AND post in a public place (her blog for instance) that she’d taken my words without permission and was going to give appropriate credit to make it right.

At first she apologized and agreed to make things right, but then she did a switcharoo, all of a sudden getting annoyed that I was making all these “demands” of her and decided she was going to investigate on her own if she’d actually done anything wrong. Despite her new-found confidence in barreling through the issue without taking responsibility, I gave her several more chances after that. But all she ended up doing, to add insult to injury, was put up this deliberately condescending message about how trials as an activist on the day she had to give that speech, and oh by the way here’s this person Spectra who writes about Africa even though she doesn’t live there, and here is a link to her blog. I’m linking her here to “lift her up with visibility.” I was LIVID. But also incredibly hurt.

The experience, I admit, shook me. I only just realized recently that I hadn’t been writing and sharing as much content online. The fear of violation like that again, even the fear of being accused of not thinking about the “bigger picture” (i.e. going after a ‘fellow’ whatever) held me back; it become a subconscious trigger anytime I was about to post something online. I’m a writer first before anything else. I don’t want my words stolen. And certainly not from people who claimed to love, admire, care about me. But I’m done with the silence. It’s stifling. I’ll have no more of it.

Aren’t I the person that always tells it like it is, regardless of which ‘community’ I’m supposed to be aligned it? Aren’t I miss warrior woman, outspoken, no-bullshit, no-nonsense, no tolerance for injustice? If I don’t stand up to a bloody cyber plagiarist, then I fail all those people I’m constantly encouraging to speak up — writers, artists who believe their work is important enough to protect, to value, activists who feel trapped by petty politics, anyone who’s ever felt betrayed or violated by people that are supposed to be supporting them.

We must speak out against bad behavior, even within our movements. In doing so, we will find strength and healing we didn’t know was there, like I have. It is too important that we hold our communities — and each other — accountable, lest we begin to silence among ourselves.


Dear Plagiarist,

I must admit, you swept me off my feet.
Charmed me with flattery,
used words like “passionate”, “prolific”,
game changer, you seduced me,
sanctioned the urgency in my voice
just when I’d’ begun to shrink under the weight of accusations,
“aggressions unwarranted,” they said
even though our people were dying;
this “angry black woman” was on the brink of depression when you showed up,
offering verbal bouquets in my mother tongue.
You spoke friend, and I listened,
awakened my senses so that I could smell the bullshit from these white people
who only loved me when I was tame,
only loved me when I was game for banter,
could only stomach me placed neatly between the black and white lines of their own agenda
— I spit at their podiums.

But you…
I felt like I knew you.
Your accent, thick with struggle through colonial diction,
that awkward ensemble of western clothing gave you away
an immigrant attempting to recreate themselves in a foreign country,
I stood under you when you needed uplifting,
welcomed you into my house, unsuspecting
I fed you. Nurtured you when I myself was starving,
simply because I was thankful for the company,
for the ability to lock eyes in a sea of white guys who misused the truth for their own gains;
“We are Africans, the longest surviving population on the planet,”
I proclaimed, “… and we don’t need saving.”
We need solidarity.

In the aftermath, I wrote:
“David Kato, in the face of violence, we must never abandon hope for fear.”
…in the face of violence, we must never abandon hope for fear,
and you cheered for me in private,
clapped your ashy hands at the gall of this Naija woman
to inspire healing through pain as ego clouded your vigil;
you pounded your fist on the table as I vowed to share the truth,
that these westerners preached too god damn much to listen,
gave our fathers reason to say, “Homophobia is a white man’s problem.”

So I didn’t mind when your sound bites
had bitten off too many of mine
We were sisters, and what was mine was yours,
but when I heard the media applaud your thievery I saw it plainly:
my sister had maimed me,
ripped words like cheap clothes from my naked body,
and waved them in the air for glory.
You betrayed me.
I didn’t see it coming.

But see, the thing about being a warrior woman
is that I’ve been bitten one time too many
by snakes disguised as allies standing right next to me;
You must bleed to beat the poison,
You must bleed to win.

Val Kalende — What, thought I wouldn’t put you on blast?

At your best you were a thief,
impostor playing journalist stealing other people’s stories,
media sob story turned professional token — you have lost your footing
and now, your head bows low enough to be petted by the same jokers I wipe the floor with,
the same cowards who cower under the bass of my voice when they piss me the fuck off.

…and trust me when I say, that I am pissed the fuck off.

If you thought I would go sulk in a corner
a good girl ashamed to report her abuser
for fear of being accused of seeking media attention
damaging your “stellar” reputation out of envy,
then you must not know me.

I am a warrior woman,
a freedom fighter, truth seeker,
liberator of all who’ve been double-crossed by oppression,
I will make an example of you.
Run and hide behind the podiums these white people have given you,
a house kennel for the stray dog that you are
— no rhetoric will shield you, no eulogy will save you —
You will NOT escape my wrath.

Reflections of a Straight Girl: What Does It Mean to Be an Ally?


My sister Zara, wrote this recently for me (it is also posted on her blog @ If you have siblings, parents, family members etc, that haven’t yet come around, I hope you find inspiration in this piece, to be patient (and brave) enough to remain open to their own journey of moving closer to you so that one day, you’ll be as fortunate as I am to know what it means to be loved by an ally.

Summer 2006, my world was redefined by a simple act of bravery.

My sister Spectra, sheepishly and hurriedly flung a letter at me while I slept ever-so-lazily on her frame-less futon, amidst the fur balls also known as her tuxedo kitties, and then exited the room. For a second, I thought I had dreamed it, but noticed the curious expression of the dude-cat as he put his wet nose to the paper.

As I sat up and began to read, I wondered, “Geez! What could I have done this time?” since my sister had taken to reprimanding me through written notes ever since I started living with her so as to avoid full on conflict. I was greatly unaware of the depth and power of the words on the page I held in my hands, words that would reshape the world as I knew it, and raise my personal level of consciousness. By the time I finished reading what I now regard as the “Coming Out Letter” (which I still have in my treasure bag of memorable goodies) I was – simply put – instantaneously changed; and for the better.

At first I felt relieved, grateful, even flattered that she would share something so personal with me at all, given our shared understanding; that in Nigerian culture and society, it is both socially unacceptable and illegal to be gay. As in, literally, illegal! I am thoroughly embarrassed and saddened to admit that a gay person is seen as spiritually abominable, emotionally unstable, mentally ill and generally perceived as decadent. No doubt, these perceptions are hypocritical and outrageously revolting to me — especially since there is so much that is truly decadent about the greedy puppets that control (and perpetuate further corruption of) Nigerian society. But how would my sister have known how I felt? Am I not Nigerian — like her? Did we not both grow up in the same homophobic environment riddled with discriminatory vocabulary, aggressive ignorance and deep-rooted disapproval of the gay community?

Her bravery was deeply touching and evoked an emotional response in me. I began to cry; not because she let me in on something so delicately significant, but because she had taken the monumental step to face, accept and explore the truth about the person she is; a spirit that will not, cannot be dictated by society or even manipulated by an intelligent, yet societally programmed mind; this person she was revealing to me could only ever be expressed and seen by an open heart.

I felt I had been given the ultimate gift: a chance to Love.

Even more beautiful than having somebody love you is having someone to let down their armor, open a door to let you love them in return; when they say, “This is me and I am giving you permission to know and love the entire person that I am” it is nothing less than absolute power bestowed, and that comes with a depth of responsibility.

My sister had kept out of sight, watching my expression through the hinge cracks, no doubt nerves on-end as I read the letter and began to cry. She peeked into the room, and as I sniffled confirmed that it was safe to enter. As she crouched next to me on the carpet, crying and reaching out for a hug, I remember, I said to her — a little choked up, how “I had never loved her more.” I meant it, and her relief in form of free-flow weeping confirmed that she understood, but I am not sure she truly grasped my words or the meaning behind them. Still, I recognized the moment for what it was; a beginning. And, I promised myself I would evolve along with Spectra and be a better sister to her — to every aspect of who she is so that one day she would come to know those words of mine to be as deeply true.

The transition has not been entirely smooth. I had to banish any and all remnants of cast-off ignorance that lingered in my system and get to know my sister all over again, as queer; this is still and always should be work in progress. And by work, I mean ‘work’ from both parties. I’ve been resourceful — what would I have done without my handy cousin Google, the L Word, Will & Grace, and a whole lot of QWOC+ events?! It helped that my sister was constantly inviting me to ‘see’ her, to be a part of something she’d once been afraid to share. Whether it was a QWOC+ event she wanted me to help her with, a lesbian film she wanted to watch (and could actually relate to, “Saving Face”!), a book for me to digest and discuss with her, etc, she always showed me that she wanted me to be a part of her life. I’ve had many illuminating conversations with Spectra herself, but I’m sure she will agree that we’d never have gotten to the point where we are now — sisters, friends, and loyal allies to each others causes — if I didn’t keep pushing myself to learn, and grow.

It is easy to not notice prejudice when you have the luxury of not needing to do so. It is easy to overlook, neglect and breeze over things that “do not (directly) concern you.” It is even easier to not acknowledge your own privilege, dismiss obvious inequalities under a countless number of justifications and excuses, because in so doing, you rid yourself of the only humane course of action — to take a stand for something.

Sure, it’s not that hard to continue pretending (especially to yourself) that you are all that and a bag of gummy bears when it comes to your “open-mindedness” and “inclusivity” (“Hey, look, I’ve got so many gay friends!”), but you cannot escape the truth; it will always find you and test you in the most personal way. What then will you do? When “the truth” cannot be hidden under a phony political discussion over cocktails to make you appear like the conscious intellectual sort? What will you do when the “issue” is now a “person” that you know and claim to love?

Before Spectra really let me in, I honestly felt like I was “for” the “gay community”, but now I understand that being an ally is way more than just a social or political “stance” on an “issue” — it is truly personal. When it comes to justice and equality for human beings, there is no in between, no neutrality; passivity might as well be aggression for you are either for or against. Period. I am a person who loves my sister, all parts of her, and will stand up to anyone, movement, person, or drunken slurr-throwing a**hole to protect her. There’s nothing political about that.

I do, of course, recognize my privilege in the knowledge that I am a straight, petite “girly” young woman who loves stilettos and baby doll dresses with a heterosexual preference for men that is globally accepted, but I passionately honor my personal linkage to the fight for LGBT equality and for the right for anyone to express the “self” by speaking out in spaces in which my sister is not as comfortable or present. It’s one thing to be an ally at QWOC+ events, it’s another thing to be an ally when you’re outnumbered by narrow-minded and/or ignorant straight men and women. But trust, l am always ready! Lock and Load! *half-kidding*

I may not be a direct member of the community–but I am sure as Helen a sister to it because at the end of the day, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, gender-queer and everyone in between who refuse to adhere to “labels” are human beings like me; we are all just people. And we all should have the right to be ourselves. We are all human beings and citizens of this interesting (and often twisted) world of ours. So — my sister aside — that is reason enough for me to care enough to want to read a book (or RSVP “yes” to all 300 QWOC+ events on Facebook).

As human beings, the more we connect to each other; recognize, explore, accept and even celebrate how we differ-the more we see of who we are inside of our own individual selves. I feel connected to more people in the world than I did before and, in turn, my world has expanded, my experiences are more conscious, and I am a much better person.

So I call on all of you, friends, brothers, parents, sisters, school teachers etc., of the brave people of the LGBT/Queer community. Push yourselves. Check yourselves. And grow, via  healthy balance of stepping out of your comfort zones, listening, asking questions, and seeking new ways to learn about the struggles (and victories!) of your loved ones. If you don’t do this — become a more purposeful ally to someone else — for someone you claim to love, then at least do it for yourself.

New Narratives, New Voices: Why I Hate the Word Diversity

I am so excited about this new workshop I’ve designed to highlight new narratives and redefine “diversity”! I’ll be presenting it at the Join the Impact conference this weekend, so if you’re in Boston, register to attend and check out my session!

Thoughts That Came to Me As I Designed This Workshop:

As a bicultural Nigerian, I identify very strongly with the African immigrant experience and obsess about not doing enough for my parents at home.

On American soil, I wear my afrofeminist label proudly, and fight with words alongside other feminists to raise women’s voices on the web (and the page, very soon).

As a queer community organizer, I advocate for the increased visibility of people of color within the LGBT movement (so that it doesn’t get reduced to the current conversation about “black community and black churches”).

To say that I wear “many hats” is an understatement. But in my fight for “diversity”, I’ve often found myself pigeon-holed into choosing one fight — the “people of color” fight — over others (sexism, immigration etc), and losing critical ground on those other fronts as a result.

I am often asked (however inadvertently) by white organizers to compartmentalize my anger, and then intellectualize it (read: “present at conference”, since diversity has become synonymous with choosing one or two issues to orate about). So, when I was casually invited to present on the “(Lack of) Inclusion of People of Color in the LGBT Movement”, I found myself thinking of the many swords I carry, and wishing that I could hold them all in front of me with  both arms, heavy and close to my heart, so that people could see how wearisome fighting for and against  the intersecting communities I belong to can be. It’s not so easy; I often imagine myself crouched defensively in the center of a circle lined by all the isms, privileges, and human rights violations I face — homophobia, racism, americanism, sexism, feminism, transphobia;  blunt and shining swords lay scattered in the dusty ground around me from switching blades and direction too quickly in concurrent battles for social justice, and sometimes, for survival.

But in my ideal world, I would fight for one kind of justice — and for many — with the same sword. I am tired of having to choose which parts of my identity to include or exclude from my rants. So, in response to the invitation, I decided to design a session that explored this new idea: What is Diversity? And how can we redefine it in the context of a younger, multinational, pro-feminist, and trans-positive movement?

Currently, the “LGBT movement” sounds like the white gay man marriage fight (supported by a smart troop of butch white women). The Q is left out. The I is left out, and inquiring about other letters begets played out, trivializing “alphabet” jokes instead of a sincere commitment to make sure everyone get the invitation next time.

“People of color” narratives often focus on the African-American experience and ignore the complexities of the immigrant subset (Latin@s, Africans, Asians etc ) — and let’s not even talk about non-immigrant Native Americans). As a person of color myself I’m often called upon to present comprehensive solutions to this problem (or “facilitate dialogue” about “people of color issues”), as if all people of color were berated equal; I’m Nigerian/African, and quite honestly, I can’t always relate to the black people in this country.

Feminist perspectives often carelessly leave out women of color, though they’re often able (and encouraged) to intellectualize this popular snafu and re-present well-articulated, buzz-word-filled theses about “gender” and “sexuality” to eager auditoriums across the country. Have you attended a Women’s Studies seminar, panel, or conference session lately? I have — and it’s very scary to hear decisions being made, leaders being influenced, and demonstrations being organized in the absence of (all but 2 or 3) women of color.

Radical lesbian feminists (yeah, they deserve a separate title) tend to be a little bit more diversity-conscious and inclusive of women of color (who also claim that title) but side-stepping the ageism that exists within their version of the movement is no easy feat. I was just at Stonewall Communities “Sex and Gender in the City” inter-generational conference, and I remember feeling like I’d been tricked into attending a roast for young people. Every other joke demeaned, devalued, and discredited the work of millennial social activists because apparently we haven’t been beaten or bled enough — and all we do is invent new labels or throw parties. If I’m not yet qualified to speak to (not for) the various experience(s) of queers in my generation then who the hell is?

And don’t get me started with the sexism that is rampant among gay men. Across every social justice issue I care about, there are people who advocate for the inclusion of people of color, but I’m never as chronically overwhelmed by sexism and male privilege as I am within my fight for diversity within the queer community. In my hetero/femme days, white gay men thought I was “fabulous”, bought me martinis, and invited me to their condos for dinner. That changed the instant I went futch. Now, unless I’m introduced by someone from the inner circle, I remain completely invisible.

Meanwhile, the alternative is mother-managing egotistical turf wars between POC-run organizations over whose “good” is “best” “for the community” so that we can at least pretend to these white people that we all play nice (or know each other) and “collaborate”, while behind-the-scenes (and sometimes in public), we’re fighting each other with armor, creating a meaningless number of snazzy acronym-ed programs, reinventing the wheel because we won’t work together, and squabbling for the same seats at the conference table.

And to top it all off, everyone mentioned in the last five paragraphs is failing miserably at even noticing that trans and intersex people — arguably the most ignored/marginalized of us all — are being completely left out of the picture! Aaaaagh!

[… a zen moment of silence.]

The session I’ve designed for the conference is an attempt to bring different voices together, and will explore what it means to define diversity by the narrow lines of “inclusion” or “exclusion”.

As part of a fishbowl conversation, local organizers and allies to communities of color will share their perspectives on the LGBT movement, the role of diversity (or lack of it) and the perceived effects of augmenting / silencing different voices. The fishbowl will be followed by a brief Q&A and open brainstorm around how we can move forward from the popular, yet very narrow discussions of inclusion/exclusion that exist within the LGBT movement.

Diversity is a dynamic collection of perspectives; it is an ideology, a concept, not a quantifiable attribute… or at least it shouldn’t be. To apply diversity (vs. coasting along using it as a buzzword), we MUST recognize that truly including people — as whole beings — implies that we don’t just acknowledge, but address ALL parts of their unique identities, and empower them to fight for all movements to which they belong, because in doing so, we empower the only movement that matters: the human one.

I hope to see you at the session.

Session 4 (3:30PM – 4:45PM)

A Fishbowl Discussion and Workshop Featuring the Big Fish below:

is a Nigerian immigrant afrofeminist queer woman of color, media activist and social commentator at Spectra Speaks, a self-proclaimed “iQWOC”, and the founder of Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston)

ANA CHAVEZ is native to Miami by way of Providence, an Ecuadorian queer woman of color and youth arts educator, and the founder and recipient of the RISD Diversity Awards

CARNELL FREEMAN is a local Bostonian, a gay black professional in finance and HR recruiting, an experienced Connecter and the founder of Men of Color Creating Change (MOCCC)

is a fierce queer femme Puertominican nacionalista, a poet by the name of Idalia, who has a 9-5 fighting for cultural competency around latin@ issues in the corporatized health industry

BONAE L’AMOUR (AKA BAO) is an Asian American queer-identified transguy from New Orleans, a photographer with a consistent blog, and the founder of MAGLOA – a safe haven for academically gifted public school students in Boston

ROBBIE SAMUELS a white, queer, feminist, trans man with extensive community organizing, event logistics and fundraising experience, and the founder of Socializing for Justice, a cross-issue progressive community, network and movement in Boston

Organized by: Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) –

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