Browse Tag: lgbt

Making It In Media, Accidentally: One Queer African Writer’s Journey to Paradise

I recently spent some time reflecting on my work as a media activist and advocate.

This reflection came partly in preparation for my feature at New York University’s “Making it in Media” panel, a lunchtime panel series that provides an opportunity for students interested in careers in media to connect with media professionals of diverse backgrounds.

I had been looking forward to sharing my experience as a media activist with students, and hopefully, making a case for the importance of alternative media as a tool for advocacy as well as a worthwhile career path. But as the event approached, and I tried to think about what I’d say to students who were just starting out, I realized I wasn’t quite clear on what I would say exactly.

My career path in media hasn’t been linear or conventional by any means.

I went to MIT to study Mathematics, which I thoroughly enjoyed before realizing that I really enjoyed writing and had to “come out” to my parents as an artist hoping to end up with a liberal arts degree from a science school. (It went well, considering…)

In an effort to earn my stripes as a certified nerd (and rid myself of immigrant parent guilt — “you mean we sacrificed so much for you to attend the best science school just for you to be a “writer”?), I worked in the software industry for about five years. I hated it. Yes, hated it. So I channeled all the frustration that came with working 60-70 hr work weeks into my passion for new media and social justice, which culminated in my founding and growing a social networking organization for Queer Women of Color in Boston, then later on, QWOC Media Wire, a media hub for LBTQ women of color and the Diaspora.

When the recession hit and I lost my job, I realized I still had a reason to get up every day and ‘go to work.’ My organization had grown, and was receiving national exposure due to our social media campaigning efforts. So, even though I wasn’t getting paid for my work (whether as a writer or activist) the show had to go on.

With new media as my focus, I continued down the path of social justice, and very quickly, the successes in my community work earned me a reputation for “applying” what I knew about media and diversity. People started inviting me to come speak, train, coach on how to use social media for thought leadership, community outreach,  and online fundraising. I couldn’t work with everyone that asked, so I relaunched this blog, and began writing about the issues I was working on, sharing my ideas.

What Does Success in Alternative Media Look Like?

Flash forward a few years, and here I am with an international blog readership, a few more accolades, and the privilege of making a decent living through various writing, consulting, and media projects for good.

I raised over $15,000 in less than 30 days for my Africans for Africa project this year; I was just offered a contract position to advise a prominent foundation on how to re-write their site’s content to make it snappier, more engaging, and reflective of their brand; and I’m constantly invited to sit on panels that indicate people think I know a thing or two about “How to Make It In Media.”

I know my parents are proud of me, but I’m also pretty sure that this isn’t quite what they had in mind when they dropped me off at college. They hadn’t banked on my tendency to strive to be the best at nearly everything I did to manifest as my becoming the “gayest Nigerian ever” (seriously, my site stats report that this is what someone searched for one day and found my blog). And, to be honest, this isn’t what I’d imagined my life would be like either. Thus, when people ask me, “How does one make it in media, exactly?” I’m not quite sure how to answer.

I get emails all the time from younger people who want to know how it is that I get to do what I do. What did I study? What courses would I recommend? How do they get started in their own media careers?

What to tell them when my own “career path” (it feels so weird to even think of it that way!) hasn’t been straight-forward? I don’t have the answers. I’m not even sure I can say that I’ve actually “made it”. I posed the question of #howtomakeitinmedia on Twitter followers and got a few great responses. I’ll share my favorite one from Soli Philander:

“I think what’s most important is to define what “Making It In Media” means for you.”

Because I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life, “Making It In Media”, for me, has meant using media to connect with “my people”, whether African women, Nigerian feminists, LGBTI Diaspora, queer bois, and more, for the purpose of affirming each other’s experiences, growing and healing together.

“Making It In Media” has meant being able to build for myself and others, a support network, so we all can feel less alone, using my voice to advocate for people who don’t have as much access to resources as I do, filling the spaces between the black and white of political agendas with the personal stories that are often missing from policy implementation, a result which when botched, impacts marginalized communities the most.

“Making It In Media” for me means nurturing a younger generation of women (and other marginalized people) to claim their right to their own histories, by writing it; equipping them with one of the most powerful ideas I’ve ever received — that we do not need to sit around waiting to be written about; we can write our own histories, influence policy, and change the world from where we are.

And yes, “Making It In Media” means, also, one day, being interviewed by Ellen. Maybe for winning a Pulitzer.  That’s obviously nowhere near happening yet, but I’m working on it. ;)

So You Want to Make It In Media: Now What?

I don’t know what “Making It In Media” means to you — you who are still reading this, and I might guess, are interested in doing the same. I don’t know where you should begin or where you are. But, I do know this: regardless of who you are, or what your parents wanted you to be, irrespective of what you studied or didn’t study in college, whether or not you event went to college, if you can’t find your ideal job description at your school’s career fair or on Craigslist, you absolutely possess the power, more now than ever, to transform what you love into what you do for a living.

I’m more fulfilled in my work as a writer and media activist than I ever would have been as just another ivy league consultant on wall street. I’ve met smart, passionate, inspiring people from all walks of life who have taught and given me so much. The passion and drive I have for helping others has been so rewarding, and I know it will continue to be as long as I remain true to myself, and lead from within. Maya Angelou puts it best: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

So I offer this to you: Don’t drive your career with someone else’s rear view mirror. Don’t tailgate an externally constructed ambition or let someone else’s version of success distract you from the most important driver on the road… you. 

This is especially true for people you look up to. It’s easy to compare yourself–especially in media–to others who may seem more visible (more press mentions), more influential (more followers), more “successful” than you. Resist the urge to veer off your path chasing someone else, whose destination you do not know.

Be the center that guides your trajectory. Shine brightly enough from within and your path will become clearly illuminated ahead of you. And when that happens, follow it.

Follow it even though it feels endless and like you’re headed nowhere. Follow it when you’re the only one on that road and you see no other cars next to you. Follow it when the voices in your head tell you that it’s time to give up, admit that you’re wrong and turn around. Don’t turn around. Follow it, and one day you will arrive at your very own version of paradise.

I have spent years navigating awkward relationships with my parents, who couldn’t understand why I would invest so much time and energy into something that wasn’t helping me pay my bills. There were times when I went weeks with just eating ramen noodles because I couldn’t afford to go grocery shopping. I worked jobs I hated, took gigs that paid me a fraction of what I was worth. I doubted myself whenever a classmate, or a close friend got a promotion, bought a new car, or took an expensive vacation; whenever my straight friends would ask me why I write so much about LGBT issues all the time, “Isn’t it pigeon-holing you?”

I would ask myself over and over again each morning, “What are you doing?” But what’s most important is that I could always answer, “I’m doing what I love. And I’m doing it as me.” When you are down in the trenches of your own epic movie, and there’s no one to look to for inspiration (for fear of jealousy, envy, or that they’ll see that you’re not quite so sure of yourself), all you have is your own voice. Make sure it’s always honest. Make sure it’s always true to you. Listen to it. Lead with it. And you’ll make it, not the right way, but your way, and find all the love, fulfillment, and pride you were denied in your journey, waiting for you at your destination.

I haven’t “made it”. But I’m proud to say that the gains I have made came with authenticity and integrity; all of me. I’m relieved to know that I will never have to fragment myself to fit into anyone else’s narrow lane, because from the very beginning, I promised to find my own way. I wish for so many of you, the same exact thrill.

Safe journey.

Now, because I do feel strongly about giving out practical advice, I’d also like to share some grounding principles I’ve acquired and tweaked during my “career” that have helped me gain the visibility and influence I do have in my own lane. Check them out via the post “Social Media for Social Change: 10 Tips from a Queer African Media Activist“. I hope you find them useful.

But hey, before you go, leave a comment so I know you’re listening, or relate. It’s always good to know that I’m not the only crazy driver trying to find my way off the main road. :) 

[VIDEO] Teaser Trailer for “Confessions of a Queer African Boi” Poetry and Erotica Chapbook

I’ve been working on a collection of erotica, poetry, and other free-form expressions for a year now and recently printed them into booklet form for editing.

Flipping through the pages for the first time felt like the cold sensation of fingers slowly running down a soft layer of brown skin. These were words I hadn’t yet shared with fans of my writing; they held within them a different side of me many have not been privy to see. And so, with this new chapbook (hopefully being released by December or January of next year), I’ll be taking a very big leap…

I’m known publicly for my personal essays that offer a unique political perspective — one heavily inspired by my mantra, “Love is My Revolution”. But I have actually always been a fiction writer.

My parents will tell you that I’ve been writing and directing plays since I was 7 years old, using my disgruntled younger siblings as props, my mother’s plush pillows as elaborate sets, and my father’s Miles Davis tapes as background music. I wrote my first poem, “Ruler of the Sea”, after watching Steven Spielberg’s jaws. I wrote my first novel when I was thirteen, based on the “Mean Girls” of my secondary school (and the boys they constantly fought over).

At MIT, I added writing as a major in my junior year — studied under Pulitzer Prize winner, Junot Diaz for two semesters — and wrote over a dozen short stories about love, relationships, women, and self-image. I even went on to win two awards; one, for a story I wrote about my struggle with eating disorders, and another that used magic surrealism to explore the spiritual connection between the mothers and daughters in my family.

When I first began dating women, I stopped writing, perhaps because my words have always been my anchor to the world, and I wasn’t yet ready to validate my sexuality (and some traumatic experiences), as part of my reality. When I was finally able to write creatively, I remembered that my words haven’t always just been grounding, but healing, and so I’m excited to share this part of my “recovery” with all of you.

Incidentally, the other night, as I was editing my chapbook, I decided to take a self-care break and do something fun for encouragement: make a video teaser trailer for my chapbook. So here is the result of my late night photo shoot with queer African boi erotica and poetry. I hope you enjoy.

Well, what do you think? Would you read it? Buy it? Please leave your comments/feedback below. But remember, be gentle. To borrow from Erykah Badu, “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my sh*t.”

Our Voices, Our Stories: Training African Women’s & LGBT Organizations to Use Social Media is Critical

“Until lions write their own history, tales of the hunt will continue to glorify the hunter.” — African Proverb

Despite the richness, diversity, and complexities that shape the landscape that is my homeland, Africa is often depicted as one big safari (or war zone). Why is that? Because Africa’s stories are rarely told by Africans themselves.

This is no different for the African LGBT movement. For every western media news story I hear about LGBT Africans being murdered, raped, living in fear etc., there is an untold story of resistance, progress, and change. As a queer Nigerian writer, I have made it my responsibility to cover that change, to document our history as told by us — not through the eyes of western imperialists or saviorists, and to amplify the voices of my brothers and sisters who are leading the way.

For instance, on a recent trip to South Africa, I met an African transgender man who told me that he’d gotten most of his hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgeries covered by the government. In MA, where I’ve been living for the past ten years, we only just recently passed a workplace anti-discrimination law that includes gender identity. Many of my friends still have to work several jobs at  a time, throw fundraisers, and run online fundraising campaigns to pay for their gender reassignment surgery. But before I could congratulate him on such a feat, he dismissed the achievement almost entirely. “They can do better. I’m going to make the government pay for all the surgeries. What nonsense.”

Given all the negative news we hear about gay Africans (as well as either the apathy or aggressive criminalization by African governments), who would ever have suspected that a black, transgender South African would not only have gotten gender reconstructive surgeries covered by the government, but that he would be so bold as to demand for more,  i.e. full coverage for anyone transitioning, when countries like the US are still debating the recognition of gender identity in basic healthcare policy?

I immediately began to interrogate him about his experience advocating for trans-inclusive healthcare, and LGBT activism in general. Soon, we discovered a way we’d already been connected; I’d recently written about his organization in a recent article (“Will Transgender and Intersex Activism Unite Africa’s Movements?“) for Gender Across Borders. Small world. But he’d had no idea. So, before we parted ways, we exchanged emails, and he gave me a T-Shirt with his organization’s name and logo on it. I was so happy to have met a fellow gender non-conforming African, and resolved to keep in touch, and follow his work more closely.

But here’s the thing: after I got back to the states, I searched for his organization online and all I found was a website with no content. Not even a contact link. His umbrella organization had an active Facebook page, but the major new initiative he’d shared with me, along with some of the programs and work he’d talked about, weren’t mentiond in their updates. Basically, my new friend — and all his passionate trans advocacy — was invisible.

Two weeks ago I heard about the brutal murder of an LGBT South African, Thapelo Makutle, described by western and African news and media outlets as gay. Thapelo had recently competed (and won) a beauty queen pageant, was seemingly self-described as trans, but I had no idea which pronouns they went by; almost all the news stories I came across had been written by people outside of the  community most familiar with Thapelo’s work. I wondered if my friend had known Thapelo personally. I wondered what he would have written about the crime, and what steps he would have suggested to happen next in order to honor and continue to build on the work of a fellow transgender activist.

As the story spread far and wide, framed as an anti-gay issue in Africa, Thapelo’s trans identity taking a back seat — I began to feel frustrated. Now, news of the crime was being picked up by western media sites, who barely cared to include any details beyond the murder method and a reiteration that South Africa was unsafe. Where were the other less-sensationalized truths? What were they? Who could we trust, then and now, to deliver them to us? And, how will these voices be able to reach us in crucial times such as these?

These are all questions I’m hoping my new project — Social Media & Communications Training for African Women’s & LGBT Organizations — will address. For the next 6 months, I’ll be traveling through 6-8 countries (including South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, and more), hosting workshops on social media, writing and storytelling, branding and communications, blogging, tweeting, and more.

My goal is to support my brothers and sisters in leading the conversation about the LGBT African movement and the impact of their work, so that it isn’t reduced to a series of atrocities and vigils due to the west’s tendency to “re-tell” reductive stories about Africa (and the Diaspora in general). 

However, I must reiterate, that in addition to lending my hand to the fight for liberation at home, I am eager — and excited! — for the opportunity to learn from activists who have been creating change with little to no resources.

As the founder and lead-organizer of a nationally-recognized grassroots organization, and executive editor of a media advocacy and publishing organization, both of which serve queer people of color, including the Diaspora, I’ve had to learn to be resourceful in a variety of ways; but I’ve done all this from a very safe distance away from draconian anti-gay laws that threaten imprisonment and death (at least most of the time). I can’t imagine the hardships queer African activists face under such a climate. Yet, in spite of this, they persist, they survive, and often, against all odds, they thrive.

I will never forget how much the passion and conviction of my friend inspired me that day; it still encourages me to have courage, push through the fear, whenever I begin to doubt myself. I need this trip just as much as my brothers and sisters need my — and all of our — support for healing, for hope, and for affirmation.

So, goodbye to the overly simplistic, dehumanizing narratives western dogma continues to perpetuate about African; and hello to authenticity, autonomy, and self-determination. Instead of constantly being disappointed by reductive narratives about LGBT Africans (in the rare occasion they’re presented at all), I’m focusing instead on arming my community with tools and strategies to amplify of our voices. As far as telling our story of the LGBT African movement? I think we can take it from here.

David Kato. Thapelo Makutle.  And too many whose names we will never know. This trip is my homage to you. 


Support Africa Social Media Project

I’m aiming to raise more than $7500 by July 31st. I’m embarking on this trip completley on my own, and relying on individual donations; no sponsorships, no grants, just me. So, please consider donating if and as much as you can. I’ll be gone for 6 months, and am hoping to not become another “starving child in Africa”!

Suggestion: A good way to calculate a donation would be to think about what you’d be comfortable giving me as a one-time contribution, then multiply that by six.

All details about my project are available at

You can follow my journey @spectraspeaks and hashtag #africansforafrica on Twitter, or my Tumblr blog

Alternatively, you can setup a recurring donation via paypal by selecting from one of the options below:

Africans for Africa Project
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Happy Mother’s Day from a Queer African Daughter to Her Mama

I recently found a poemthing in my journal from about 2 or 3 years ago; I’d written just before mother’s day.

I hadn’t officially come out to my mother, then, but suspected that she’d known for a while that I was dating women; she’d been acting all weird and funny, speeding through our conversations with trivialities, idle gossip, and placing a suspicious emphasis on work/career updates (whereas she’d previously spent 80% of the call alluding to the lack of a boyfriend, and thus, the likelihood of her future grandchildren).

But as I was now spending so much time “saving the world” (too dangerously close to LGBT advocacy), she’d stopped asking about that, too. At one point we were literally only talking about the weather, what her and my father were eating for dinner, and Oprah. Our conversations had become filled with so much pain, so much we weren’t saying; I literally felt like I was choking each time I called home.

However, since deciding to be honest with my family about my life — my beautiful queer partnership, and my pursuit of a career around the arts and philanthropy (vs. the traditional route — doctor, lawyer, banker) — the relationship between my mother and I has slowly been improving.

She’s now at the point of constantly asking about my partner’s well-being, intentionally including her in conversations — even asking her to join in on Skype! My father has had his hiccups, but he too seems to be more at ease; he was going on and on the other day about how pretty my partner looked (since I’d sent them pictures from our France vacation). Okay, Dad. I get the point. We can now share a joke about both having good taste.

After coming out to my parents, I never would have imagined a good relationship with them would be possible. There’s always still so far to go — as I’m sure many of you know — but staying with hope has made the journey, so far, a rewarding one.

I’m sharing this poemthing I wrote, not because we haven’t moved beyond the place from which it was written (we have), but because I feel for everyone who’s ever had to feel estranged from their parents because of who they are, especially on a day like this. So much love going around about Mothers, while I know many Mothers and Daughters are sad they’re not more connected, closer to each other to enjoy the day.

If you are one of those people, know that you are not alone, love. I am thinking of you today. And praying for stregth and courage for the BOTH of you to reconnect soon… someday very soon. Happy Mothers (Who’ll Eventually Get It Together) Day :)

Oh, that’s right.. the poem thing. Here it is:

Happy Mother’s Day from a Queer African Daughter to Her Mama

On this day
when children, grown
call their homes
to  remind the women who raised them
they still remember:

the birthday parties,
school recitals,
and warm bosoms that welcomed the aftermath of puppy love,
mean English teachers,
playground fights,
hot baths after ballet,
proud smiles at As, Bs, and sometimes Cs,
words of wisdom by burning stoves,
the weight of the words “I love you”

on this day,
I am afraid
to be reminded of
the pain,
the regret,
the shame,
in your voice
that’s prevalent these days
— the hello that reminds me,
“I have failed you.”

On this day,
when children, grown
are calling their homes
with good intentions,
I’m making preparations for my defense:
the silent backlash of my “choices”
and your alleged “mistakes.”

Exhibit A)
I was gay before I went away,
America isn’t to blame for my choosing,
every single day,
to love the woman I now call home

Exhibit B)
I still believe in God,
the voice that stayed my toes
on a night I chose to believe
my life wasn’t worth living,
the voice that whispered gently,
you could still love me.

Exhibit C)
I do want children, eventually
Though I may not carry the three I promised you
I’d never shun motherhood,
or the chance to love unconditionally,
and outshine you.

Exhibit D)
I never dreamed you would question this love
Mother, after all that you’ve done,
the rings and pretty chainlinks you’ve sold,
the pride you’ve put aside to claim me,
in the face of ridiculue,
I, your daughter,
“the rogue lesbian”
never believed I would be the reason you bowed your head to mongrels

Exhibit E)…?

On this day,
as I prepare my defense,
against the silent conversation
we have over our phony mother-daughter role play,
I’m desperately hoping,
that in the event
either of us is caught off guard
by the white elephant,
I won’t have to use it.

On this day,
as I tell myself
over and over again
“I don’t care”
I’m desperately longing to hear
“I love you”
yet anxiously fearing the bareness
of “It’s you…”
followed by the nothingness I’ve grown used to
ever since you learned the meaning of “queer”

On this day,
I remember your lessons:
to stand strong,
always say the truth,
and remember,
even those who love you,
will do you wrong.

And when they do:

Remember love.
Remember love.
Remember love.

I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.


Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer, women’s rights activist, and the voice behind the African feminist media blog, Spectra Speaks, which publishes global news and opinions about all things gender, media, diversity, and the Diaspora.

She is also the founding director of Queer Women of Color Media Wire (, a publishing and media advocacy organization that amplifies the voices of lesbian, bisexual, queer, and/or transgender women of color, diaspora, and ethnic and racial minorities across the globe.

Follow her tweets on diversity, movement-building, and love as a revolution on Twitter @spectraspeaks.

The African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women: Progress and Pitfalls for LGBT Rights

Given the recent news about Liberia’s president fence-sitting on the issue of current anti-gay Liberia law, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address gender bias within an African context.

(I maintain that “traditional” gender roles haven’t been adequately explored as the root cause of many intersecting societal problems, e.g. sexism and homophobia,  and that Africans — straight or gay — should work together towards their elimination if we stand for true progress. Here’s my explanation.)

My search for information on successful models for promoting gender equity in Africa led me to an article about The African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women, the first comprehensive legal framework for women’s rights in Africa, and an international governing tool that seeks to “improve on the status of African women by bringing about gender equality and eliminating discrimination.”

From the UN Women West Africa’s blog:

The Protocol is the first human rights instrument to call on state parties to legislate against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices and also provides for the right to health and reproductive rights. The Protocol is also the first human rights instrument to explicitly provide for the right to a medical abortion when the pregnancy results from rape or incest or when the continuation of pregnancy endangers the health or life of the mother. It also provides for the right to property and inheritance, equal rights in marriage and divorce, and the rights of elderly and disabled women.

In the above summary, I noted almost instantly that there weren’t any explicit protections / provisions made to advocate for sexual minorities (i.e. LGBTQI Africans), which is unfortunate if true (Note: still waiting for comment from UN Women, and will update once I hear back) because the protocol seems to be working; to date, 32 out of 54 African states have taken steps in accordance with the provisions and have implemented strategies to combat the mistreatment of women.

For example, per the protocol, several countries including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania, have legally prohibited the practice of Female Genital Cutting, and  Zambia’s newly established Division of Gender in Development now reviews existing laws that discriminate against women.

In fact, the pace at which many African countries have embraced the opportunity to improve the conditions of women in their countries has been encouraging enough that UN Women and Equality Now (on behalf of pan-African organization SOAWR, Solidarity for African Women’s Rights Coalition) have launched a new initiative to train lawyers across Africa on the protocol’s application using this manual.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if African lawyers were also trained in legal advocacy for non-heteronormative women who are mistreated or denied basic rights for not conforming to dogmatic gender roles? I think there is a case for this, as well as using this framework to hold governments in Africa accountable should they choose to promote or sanction the criminalization of LGBT African people.

For one, a clear stance against using culture as an excuse for the mistreatment of women is already included in this protocol. In fact, President Sirleaf of Liberia arguably earned her presidency on a platform that challenged tradition; her work advocating for the rights of women has even earned her a Nobel Peace prize. (Ironic, that this same position is what is keeping her from walking the talk when it comes to providing protections for LGBT Liberians.)

But, more importantly, as a media activist primarily concerned with movement building among African women, I believe that a push to include protections for sexual minorities within the protocol would provide a way for African women’s organizations (including those which are focused on LGBTQI issues) to work together, rather than in separate caucuses.

I foresee some resistance to this of course. In my experience, many African women (even those doing human rights work), much like Liberia President Sirleaf, still view discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation as separate from women’s issues, often paralleling them when they should be discussing them as intrinsically connected. But the same “traditional” gender roles that keep women trapped in abusive relationships (even at the expense of their lives) are the same ones that cause men to view corrective rape of lesbians as a justifiable lesson in womanhood.

So, before we — as African women – can begin making demands of our leaders, perhaps we need to have more conversations among ourselves. Luckily, we don’t need a charter to do this.

“My sisters, my daughters, my friends – find your voice.” — President Sirleaf

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