Browse Tag: lgbt

Queer Women of Color Still Face Racism During Pride, Among Other Things

In response to mainstream prides everywhere, including both the racism and sexism that pervades the larger gay community, Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) hosts OPTIONZ — in its fifth year — tonight, a highly anticipated annual pride party specifically created to provide a space for lesbian, gay,bisexual, transgender and queer women of color and their friends, supporters, and allies during pride. But as excited as I am about QWOC+ Boston’s work in ensuring that we — women of color — are celebrated and visible during pride, that this is not the main subject of my post. If you follow QWOC+ Boston, you may have noticed on Facebook or any of our other social media channels, that our OPTIONZ party needed to be relocated to a new venue.

The reason for the venue change is that, last-minute, the previous venue, Caprice Lounge, presented me with some new terms: “No Hip Hop music, because of issues we’ve had in the past.”

Now, QWOC+ Boston has had a long-standing relationship with Caprice; we’ve been hosting events at their venue for the past three years. The reason, they gave, for the new policy was due to some recent violence that ensued after a Hip Hop show they hosted. Besides the fact that we’ve never had a single fight break out at a QWOC+ Boston event, it seemed ludicrous that the management had decided to villainize an entire genre of music based on a one-off incident. Something else that really pissed me off is that after informing us that we could not play Hip Hop at our party, we were offered a slew of other genres we could play as substitute including… (wait for it)… Rock music. So while we’re on stereotypes, it’s okay to play angry white man music, but not angry black man music? Wow.

Racist stereotypes aside, I was also only told that we could not play Hip Hop music on Tuesday (just two days before our event), which also seemed shady and manipulative. There had been no mention of this during our earlier communications. So, despite the fact that they’d been pushing for a large venue deposit to be made and incessantly trying to get me to sign a contract that would guarantee them two thousand dollars from the bar (of which I’d be liable if it was not met), I’m just floored that they had the audacity to limit whatever kind of music we played at our party.

So, guess what I said? HELLLL NO!

Okay. Not exactly in those words. I needed to be realistic. Despite the outrage expressed by community members after I’d relayed the incident — including the collective push for us to say goodbye to Caprice, I wasn’t sure it would be possible to find another venue, not during one of the busiest seasons of the year — weddings, graduations, prides etc — with just TWO days to go before the event.

So, rather than be seduced by the opportunity to give Caprice a self-righteous middle finger — and run the risk of having to cancel our pride party altogether —  I told the event coordinator at Caprice to send me the contract with all terms laid out; I would look it over and get back to her. In the meantime, I reached out to other venues comparable in size, and after just one day of mass emails and phone calls, I got lucky.

Market Lounge was big enough to accommodate us. Moreover, they weren’t going to charge us an arm and a leg to use the space (since they had no competing events during our event time). In fact, they seemed excited about getting the business of over 150 pride-ful peeps on a Thursday night. We had struck gold! Or so everyone thought…so  the applause began.

Great decision. Excellent. Yay for saying no to racism! But what I didn’t tell people, was that the new venue had a similar (albeit less overtly racist) dress code policy; a variation of the all too familiar Boston ‘dress code’ which goes something similar to “No hats, no sneakers, no do-rags, no athletic wear… women in dresses/skirts, men in collars etc” was prominently displayed on the wall by the entrance to their establishment. Here’s the picture on the right.

Making a decision based on who was less racist seemed impractical, so we went with this new venue because they were responsive, accommodating of our group last minute, the management agreed to not enforce their dress code policy during our event, and most importantly, they weren’t going to charge us an arm and a leg to bring them business (vs. Caprice that was essentially trying to make us pay them to go against our ideals).

Here’s the thing folks… I’ve been an event organizer for over five years, and I know first hand that most — if not all — downtown club venues have similar racist policies intended to keep “those people” out of their clubs. It doesn’t take a genius to note that these policies are overtly racist. In fact, as you read through the banned items of clothing, you’re almost expecting to come across, “No Black People,” towards the end of the list.

Venue policies are a stark reminder of Boston’s deeply rooted history with racial segregation, but racism isn’t the only issue queer women of color have to deal with.

If I turned my nose up at every venue that had a racist policy, homophobic and/or sexist staff etc, QWOC+ Boston would never have succeeded in pushing the physical boundaries of our community and creating new safe spaces for LGBTQ people of color in the manner in which we have. I daresay our willingness to push through the discomfort of so many tough, frustrating, awkward interactions has created more “ally venues” today for LGBT people of color — and the larger gay community as well as evidenced by a number of organizations / producers hosting events at venues after we’d done so successfully — than if we immediately walked away whenever we faced policies we didn’t agree with.

But this is not to say that we should ignore blatant signs of discrimination. There are venues that I’ll never send a dime of business (and LGBT organizations that I simply refuse to work with) until they’re willing to meet us halfway on the issue of white privilege/racism, male privilege/sexism etc. However, if we are to charter new territory, we must be patient, and more importantly, we must learn to speak the language of the gate keepers. In this case, that means knowing how to use money to send a message.

You should know that once I told Caprice that I was moving the party to a new venue, they came back with an O.K. to play whatever we wanted. This made for a great opportunity to explain that we would NOT be working with them this time around. And whereas, the loss of business may not result in the dissolution of their policy, the owner will remember that he lost a big event — a pride event, big dollars consumed at the bar, ouch — because he dared to broach the subject to the queer women of color who had been repeatedly giving him business for the past three years. (Incidentally, we first worked with Caprice during the second year of OPTIONZ, because we were in a similar situation; the venue we’d been in talks with slapped us with a racist dress code last minute, and wouldn’t budge on enforcing it. Caprice opened their doors to us then, and we’ve been working with them since. Isn’t it ironic, that the venue that has been the most flexible and easy to work with as far as hosting QWOC+ events, is the one being villainized for being racist today?)

I keep going back to the strong push I felt from our community to say F-U to Caprice and stand against racism, and can’t help but wonder if another ism or form of discrimination would have been met with the same level of engagement (and anger). What if I told you that via my work as an event organizer, I’d run into minority-owned/run venues with similar racist music / dress code policies? Can we remind ourselves that in women’s spaces /feminist circles, there is still so much language riddled with homophobia and transphobia? Shoot, I still pray for the day when sexism will be met with as much anger and outrage as racism from Boston’s LGBT community, when the political war being waged against women (via Planned Parenthood funding cuts, the GOP redefining rape etc.) will be treated as seriously by QPOC as they do AIDS/HIV prevention.

It’s easy to call out isms when the perpetrator is perceived to be a straight white man — the icon of patriarchy, which most of us can relate to wanting to take down. But the reality of being a queer woman of color is that you’re burdened with calling out offenses and violations against multiple facets of your identity, and forced to reckon with the harsh truth that your allies in one arena can be your oppressors in another.

Activism, for so many of queer women of color, is a constant negotiation of which ism to address. We don’t have the luxury of snubbing everyone that offends us, or we would have no where to go. We can’t — and shouldn’t have to — fight everyone. As a direct consequence, for queer women of color, standing up for what is ‘right’ in the face of racism, sexism, transphobia, xenophobia — all issues that significantly impact our community — can sometimes mean drastically limiting access to resources that we need as a community. So, whereas we should never compromise our ethics (as in this case — for the sake of a good party), QWOC+ Boston’s work isn’t just about one event, not just about today. I don’t think that I speak out of turn when I say that we all work our asses off so that tomorrow can be better, for everyone.

So, as we march, rally, dance, and speak out during pride, let us not forget those of us who are marginalized within the gay community, those of us who don’t have the luxury of approaching “Equality. No More. No Less,”, per the 2011 Boston Pride theme, as an isolated single issue. Most of the time, I hear louder, more aggressive forms of activism (against one kind of ism) encouraged and celebrated. But today, I feel humble as I reflect on the patience and perseverance that must have been maintained by my mentors and predecessors against so many injustices, that have enabled me to come this far. I celebrate you. I salute you. And I wish you all a happy pride.

We Will Not Be Unwritten: Preserving Queer Women of Color History

A few weeks ago, the Fenway Women’s Health Team posted a blog on Bay Windows about their upcoming 2nd annual women’s health fair. QWOC+ Boston had organized and tabled at this event for the past three years. Yet, written in an authoritative third person omniscient voice was the line, “Thanks to the dedication of a single woman, Fenway Health is proudly hosting its 2nd Annual LBT Women’s Health Fair…”

The women’s health fair wasn’t in it’s second, but third year, and long before the dedicated efforts of a single woman, an entire community of queer women of color, myself included, had worked with Fenway Women’s Health Team via a series of conversations and community-building initiatives to delimit access to health resources for queer people of color. This ultimately led to the planning and execution of the first health fair, appropriately titled, “A Little Less Talk, A Lot More Action,” and hosted collaboratively by Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), Queer Asian Pacific Alliance (QAPA), and Somos Latinos (now Unid@s, under the umbrella of Boston Pride).

But, if you’re one out of the 55,000 people that follows Bay Windows, firmly established as New England’s largest LGBT newspaper, you wouldn’t have known any of this.

A Brief History Lesson: The inaugural health fair took place on Thursday April 30th, 2008, exactly three years ago, during which various organizations tabled at the event, presenting a plethora of resources from free breast cancer screenings, safe sex toys, HPV vaccination information, and acupuncture. The main part of the event, the panel on the impact of stress, addressed health disparities between women of color and white women, from varied perspectives, including public health, mental health, socio-economic status, and more.

Additionally, the inception of the first health fair happened almost four years ago at the inauguration of QWOC+ Boston’s Pride Festival — QWOC Week — during a panel focused on health issues in WOC Communities. The QWOC Week Panel featured inspiring and touching personal stories and perspectives from an older generation of Black Lesbian activists (a few of who are my mentors/sheroes — Lula Christopher, Jacquie Bishop, Reverend Irene Monroe), Lisa Moris, a local community organizer in housing development, and was moderated by Dr. Konjit Page, then a Psychology PhD candidate focused on the mental health of queer women of color. The room was bursting with inspiration and empowerment when the panel ended. So much so that Reverend Irene Monroe even published a piece about it called Sisters are Doing It For Themselves

The chronology of these dates, collaborations, and events are important to note as they weave together an important part of history for Boston’s queer women of color community, highlighting the actionable steps that we took together to improve access to health resources for queer and transgender communities of color.

Yet, in one line, history had been omitted, or in this case, un-written.

It is also important to note that even though our initiative had originally set out to empower LBTQ women of color, the language that had been previously used to indicate a conscious targeting of this marginalized group had been dropped completely, however inadvertently, under the umbrella of empowering all women.

Given the context around the origination of the health fair (at a queer women of color festival), and its subsequent success — a small but important piece of history — you must imagine my deep disappointment at the ability of a single blog post to completely erase almost four years of hard work that had actually resulted in a tangible benefit for LGBT people of color.

But let me be clear: I don’t for a second imagine that this near erasure of history happened intentionally. The blog about Fenway’s Women’s Health fair sought simply to highlight the efforts of their team to preserve the health fair in the face of funding cuts and limited resources. And, for that, they have my deepest gratitude and support. Without their hard work and dedication, there would be no women’s health fair at all, and the future we’ve worked so hard to create would dissipate right in front of us.

Still, as our community continues to push against the walls of oppression, whether funding cuts, racism and homophobia in the health system, and other social justice fronts, we must remember that preserving the stories of our past is just as important as fighting for a better future; history is the only way the world will ever know about the many battles we have fought, about the battles we have won, and most importantly, the only way we can leave a clear path for the generation behind us to follow. In the words of Audre Lorde, “ It’s a struggle but that’s why we exist, so that another generation of Lesbians of color will not have to invent themselves, or their history, all over again.”

It is from this place that I could not stand by while the contributions to the improved livelihood of queer women of color in Boston by community members — including my own mentors, women whose shoulders I am proud to stand on — were at risk of being erased, and not just due to an inadvertent error with dates. Perhaps Fenway failed to appropriately contextualize the event, but Bay Windows’ carelessness (or complete absence of) fact-checking, and the general callousness that I find in mainstream media outlets when covering issues affecting women, people of color, transgender people etc., isn’t a problem that I see going away any time soon.

So, as a leader I have to acknowledge my own role (or lack thereof) at arriving at this juncture i.e. my neglect for the past five years to formally document gains QWOC+ Boston has made as far as increasing visibility for queer people of color and the movement of embracing diversity we’ve created in Boston, save this blog.

As LGBT people (esp. members of marginalized groups: women, people of color, transgender, disabled etc), we all need to do a better job of telling our own stories, and in effect, writing ourselves (back) into history. As I learned from this experience, we’re not just at risk of being completely ignored by mainstream media, but about having our history being talked over, our pronouns mixed up, our hard work being told in passive voice i.e “It happened.” We do a disservice to each other when we fail to affirm the actions of the generations closely following behind us, when we fail to let them know that “We were here,” and as such, that they can do it better, and get further down the path to equality than we ever imagined possible.

I can’t say this enough: Get to it. Start a blog. Create a Youtube channel. Write a book — you can self-publish. Support organizations like the LGBT History Project who work tirelessly to record our histories (orally if need be). But whatever you do from this point, remember the words of Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you,” or the words of my mentor, Letta Neely, if you like your wisdom plain, “Write that shit, down!”

Kitchen Table Conversations: LGBT African Diaspora Speak on Culture, Queerness, and Media

In partnership with Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!), I’m hosting a virtual panel that features the perspectives of LGBTQ African Diaspora on African culture, queer identity, and the media.

The focus of the panel will in part be driven by pre-submitted questions from listeners, but will also aim to highlight the panelists’ experiences with various kinds of activism, including the use of new media to promote awareness and social justice issues surrounding Queer Africa.

I couldn’t be more excited (and nervous!) about collaborating with WAM! (to whom I owe much of my passion and enthusiasm for advocating for the increased role and influence of women in the media), and for the opportunity to share stories and reflections with my fellow queer African friends and colleagues.

I’ve called the event “Kitchen Table Conversations” because I’ve found that I’ve experience the most thought-provoking, enlightening, and inspiring conversations, literally, at my kitchen table… or in my living room, on the train, at the back seat of a cab.

Too often, right after a juicy pow wow with friends who are also African, queer, women of color etc., during which each of us weigh in on whatever issue it is — dating, family, politics, white people, westerners, “political correctness” and the like — by making a podium of the stove, delivering truths with the nonchalance of throwing salt into stew, and thickening our accents for dramatic emphasis, I’ve slammed my fist on my wooden kitchen table in frustration, shocking everyone with an American, “Dang! I should’ve recorded this.”

The Kitchen Table Conversations happen so frequently, that now my friends and I actually joke about doing just that — recording ourselves over dinner — before we begin; it’s become somewhat of an adventure to see what political insights we may discover before our eventual end-of-dinner gamble with wine (which we’ve found can either fuel or extinguish the uncensored passion we all carry underneath; the burden of having to feign resilience or resolve is washed away). I live for these moments, when our eagerness to speak and be affirmed causes us to interrupt each other, constantly, so that we share the experience of telling and shaping one story, our feet planted comfortably into soil. I wish I could share this with the world.

I doubt that a facilitated e-panel without food, wine, or in-person comraderie will serve to recreate the Kitchen Table Conversations that I’ve come to look forward to during almost every half-potluck (some cooking must take place before hearts bleed). But I do wonder what would happen if people could actually listen in to us at our most vulnerable, most desperate. I wonder what people would do if we dared say what we say over jollof rice, fried plantains, pepper soup, and egwusi… if we let loose the rawness we’ve been trained to sugar coat as tokenized peoples at podiums in western conferences.

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of havinIn any case, it’s Women’s History Month, which makes this panel featuring Queer African voices — and this on-going series (yes, I intend to keep hosting conversations like this) — even more important. Despite a variety of forums and media honoring women this month, queer African women (past and present) aren’t being celebrated for their work and their bravery. But whose fault is that? Mainstream media’s? Psssh. I gave up on that a long time ago. In fact, I’m grateful for the lack of coverage I see, and thus, the motivation to continue encouraging queer African women and trans people everywhere to continue making waves, making media, and making trouble.

So mark your calendars for Wednesday March 23rd (12PM-1PM EST), and stay tuned for more from the Kitchen Table Conversations series. It’s going to be fun!

#VivaAfrika

—————

Kitchen Table Conversations: LGBT African Diaspora Speak on Culture, Queerness, and New Media

Spectra, the sassy host and moderator of this panel, is an award-winning queer Nigerian writer and women’s activist. She is the founding director of Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), a nationally recognized grassroots  organization serving the needs of LGBTQ people of African descent and allies in New England, and the director of QWOC Week, New England’s first pride festival exclusively intended to raise awareness of health and social justice issues impacting queer/trans communities of color. She is the owner of Spectra Events, a socially-conscious event planning and production company that brings together her eclectic interests in Art and Music, Social Entrepreneurship, Technology, and Philanthropy, and routinely blogs about all things women, leadership, politics, and Africa.

Kagendo Murungi is a Kenyan filmmaker, activist and writer with a background in international sexual and gender rights advocacy and organizing for social and economic justice with working class and poor LGBT communities in New York. She was a founding member of Uhuru-Wazobia, an educational, advocacy and social membership organization for LGBT Africans founded in 1995, and co-director of Liberation for All Africans, an ad hoc committee of African gender non-conforming people, organized in response to a spate of anti-lesbian rapes in South Africa in 2007. She helped institute the Africa Program at the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and served on the international grants panel of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.

Akwaeke Z Emezi was born and bred in the south of Nigeria, and is an Igbo and Tamil free love advocate, genderqueer Nutri-C addict, and natural hair aficionado. In the space where parathas and palm oil meet, she dances reverence to dope beats and follows the Christ. As a queer bard, blogger and drag performer, Z infects a message of self-awareness laced thoroughly with love and bravery, believing that only in knowing and accepting oneself utterly can we truly be free. A current Brooklynite, they adore traveling and beautiful people, and are constantly pushing for a life free of fear and full of marvelous.

Bukky Kolawole is the queer Nigerian founder of First Generation group, an organization based in Brooklyn New York that seeks to empower the diaspora to postively influence their communities by raising their voices collectively. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist (you can call her Dr. Bukky) who is interested in utilizing her expertise with behavioral change for the benefit of social change and building community. Her private practice caters to adolescents and adults in NYC, and is particularly passionate about meeting the needs of the LGBTQ community.

Iyayi-Osazeme ‘Lobuhle’ Odigie-Oyegun is a British-Nigerian, South-African-bred food interlocutor, who thinks in the language and poetry of food. She is the head chef and owner of Khandja Kalabash a Harlem based boutique culinary firm, specialising in afro-fusion cooking and the preservation, appreciation and proliferation of African culinary practices & cuisines. She hopes to queer the African Culinary Experience by combining traditional and contemporary methods and ingredients to introduce new dimensions of flavour to African cuisine. She believes that food is connected to every essential part of the human experience, and is a candid way of expressing LOVE. In the battle against homophobia, bigotry and racism, cuisine is her tool of choice!

Several more panelists to be announced soon.

Submit Questions to the Panelists! You are invited to submit questions to the panelists ahead of time by sending an email to the moderator at questions@spectraspeaks.com w/ the subject “Question for the Kitchen Table Conversation w/ LGBT Africans” or simply by commenting below. A handful of questions will be selected for the panel and will be presented anonymously (unless requested otherwise). Questions may be edited for brevity.

Listening Details

Date: Wednesdsay March 23rd
Time: 12PM-1PM

Bookmark this link to listen to the show here.

African Bloggers Statement on David Kato and Uganda

Dear Readers,

The statement below has been written and signed by a collective of African Bloggers, including myself, who stand in solidarity with David Kato and what he stood for, even after his passing. May we continue to remember the power in our collective voices, and in our unwavering solidarity against homophobia, not only in Africa, but all over the world.

Signed,
Spectra

“We the undersigned wish to express our deep sadness at the murder of Ugandan human rights defender David Kato on 26th January 2011.  David’s activism  began in the 1980s as an Anti-Apartheid campaigner where he first expressed a strong passion and conviction for freedom and justice which continued throughout his life.   David was a founding member of Sexual Minorities Uganda where he first served as Board member and until his death as Litigation and Advocacy Officer and he was also a  member of Integrity Uganda, a faith-based advocacy organization.

David was a man of vision and courage. One of his major concerns was the growth of religious fundamentalism in Uganda and across the continent and how this would impact on the rights of ordinary citizens including lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered / Gender Non-Comforming and Intersex  [LGBTIQ] persons.   Years later his concerns were justified when the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill backed by religious fundamentalists was outlined in 2009.  David was also an extremely brave man who had been imprisoned and beaten severely because of his sexual orientation and for speaking publicly against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Many African political and religious leaders in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Gambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawi and Botswana, have publicly maligned LGBTIQ people and in some cases directly incited violence against them whilst labeling sexual minorities as “unAfrican”.

In October 2010, the Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone published the names and photographs of “100 Top homos” including David Kato.   David along with two other LGBTIQ activists successfully sued the magazine on the grounds of “invasion of privacy” and most importantly,  the  judge ruled that the publication would threaten and endanger the lives of LGBTIQ persons.

The court did not only rule that the publication would threaten and endanger the lives of LGBTIQ persons but it issued a permanent injunction against Rolling Stone newspaper never to publish photos of gays in Uganda, and also never to again publish their home addresses.

Justice Kibuuka Musoke ruled that,

“Gays are also entitled to their rights. This court has found that there was infringement of some people’s confidential rights. The court hereby issues an injunction restraining Rolling Stone newspaper from future publishing of identifications of homosexuals.”

Every human being is protected under the African Charter of Peoples and Human Rights and this includes the rights of LGBTIQ persons.   We ask the governments of Uganda and other African countries to stop criminalizing people on the grounds of sexual orientation  and afford LGBTIQ people the same protections, freedoms and dignity, as other citizens on the continent.”

Molisa Nyakale,                            Molisa Nyakale

Anengiyefa Alagoa,                       Things I Feel Strongly About

Anthony Hebblethwaite              African Activist

Barbra Jolie,                                     Me I Think

Ben Amunwa,                                   Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa

Bunmi Oloruntoba,                        A Bombastic Element

Chris Ogunlowo,                              Aloofaa

Eccentric Yoruba,                          Eccentric Yoruba

Exiled Soul                                       ExiledSoul

Francisca Bagulho and Marta Lança,         Buala

Funmilayo Akinosi,                       Finding My Path

Funmi Feyide,                                  Nigerian Curiosity

Gay Uganda         ,                            Gay Uganda

Glenna Gordon,                               Scarlett Lion

Godwyns Onwuchekwa,               My Person

Jeremy Weate,                                 Naija Blog

Kayode Ogundamisi                       Canary Bird

Kadija Patel                                        Thoughtleader

Keguro Macharia,                           Gukira

Kenne Mwikya,                                Kenne’s Blog

Kinsi Abdullah                                 Kudu Arts

Laura Seay,                                       Texas in Africa

Llanor Alleyne                                 Llanor Alleyne

Mark Jordahl,                                  Wild Thoughts from Uganda

Matt Temple                                     Matsuli Music

Mia Nikasimo,                                  MiaScript

Minna Salami,                                  MsAfropolitan

Mshairi,                                              Mshairi

Ndesanjo Macha                             Global Voices

Nyokabi Musila,                              Sci-Cultura.

Nzesylva,                                           Nzesylva’s Blog

Olumide Abimbola,                       Loomnie

Ory Okolloh,                                     Kenyan Pundit

Pamela Braide,                                 pdbraide

Peter Alegi,                                        Football is Coming Home

Rethabile Masilo,                            Poefrika

Saratu Abiola,                                  Method to Madness

Sean Jacobs,                                     Africa is a Country

Sokari Ekine,                                     Black Looks

Sonja Uwimana,                               Africa is a Country

Spectra Speaks,                                Spectra Speaks

TMS Ruge,                                          Project Diaspora

Toyin Ajao                                         StandTall

Tosin Otitoju,                                   Lifelib

Val Kalende,                                     Val Kalende

Zackie Achmat,                               Writing Rights

Zion Moyo,                                       Sky, Soil and Everything in Between

In Memory of David Kato: We Will NOT Abandon Hope for Fear

So what now?
Lay down our swords? Fight with armor instead?
Who will be left to fight when we all end up dead?
– Journal Entry, 1/27/11

Last night, I received the news from one of my peers that one of us, a fellow African and LGBT activist, David Kato, had been brutally murdered at his home in Uganda.

Something about the way I received the news cut more deeply than all the other hate crimes that the media covered last year: several email forwards from other LGBT African activists I knew, Facebook status updates from friends who knew him personally, text messages of condolences, missed skype phone calls…

A year ago, I would’ve been part of a community of activists that were “outraged” at such a terrible crime. I may have even written a post condemning the destructive influence of the tabloid paper which outed several gay Ugandans (by publishing their photos and addresses, with the words “Hang Them!”), and called for all of us to acknowledge the power of media, and to contribute our own voices so that we can influence change positively.

However, a year of aggressive networking, coalition building, and supportive friendships with other LGBT Africans, both in the US and outside of it, has placed me closer to the frontlines of the struggle for acceptance; the fact that there were just  two degrees of separation between my own life and David’s murder is a harsh reality I’m still trying to absorb. I no longer have the privilege of being a passionate spectator. I’m part of a global community of activists who are deeply saddened, in mourning, and filled with so much fear…

When I read the news, I immediately thought of one of my friends, who’s presently seeking asylum in the United States after escaping just what may have been just as brutal an outcome for her in Kenya last year. That was so close, I thought. I may have never known her. I thought about the power Nigeria had just given back to traditional rulers in the spirit of preserving culture and respecting older  traditions, an act that empowered one of the rulers in Abia (Ibo land, where my mother is from) to put forth a law not just ostracizing persons who are “confirmed homosexuals”, but stoning them to death as well. My grandfather still lives there and he doesn’t know about me.

I thought of the last conversation I had with my mother. She’d told me, “Don’t come home,” and I’d gotten so angry. How could she tell me not to return home to my own country? At the time, I admonished her for letting her fear of what others would say cloud her judgment. I was her daughter after all. If she loved me unconditionally as she said, she wouldn’t care what anyone else said. She’d support me, no matter what.

“Why do you have to play Moses?” she’d said to me when I told her about joining the board of the Queer African Youth Network and shared my plans for organizing in Nigeria. “Why do you always have to be the one championing  everything? I didn’t ask for this.” What I didn’t understand until last night, when I received the news of David’s murder, was that my mother wasn’t just afraid of what people would say about her; she was afraid of what people would do, to me.

After hearing about David’s brutal murder — his head bashed in with a hammer in his own home — I keep hearing her voice in my head. Her words are on loop, piercing my morale in different places. I’m still trying to come to terms with all of this.

I visit home once a year, and each time I do, I return with funny stories about feeling oppressed: being forced to wear dresses and loud earrings, suffering through silly kitchen table conversations about wives who don’t know how to prepare egwusi soup for their husbands, and of course being asked over and over again when I’m going to get married. The anecdotes are relatable enough; a girl from a small town in Maine or Kansas could report similar injustices over Thanksgiving dinner. I realize that I’ve only ever recounted these stories with humor because it’s too painful to talk about the fear I have of what might happen if I don’t smile through it all. As a result, what my friends routinely fail to grasp is the severity of the repercussions should this ‘small town girl’ refuse to conform. There are terrible consequences for being who you are and they’re way worse than being uninvited to next year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

I don’t get to just “do me” at home in a fit of individualist rebellion. I’d be risking way more than just societal acceptance, and even way more than just my life; by writing and speaking as much as I do, I’m already risking the safety and livelihood of my parents and my sister (who reside in Nigeria and depend on their social network for a variety of resources), and anyone else who stands by me.

So, what now? Do I cower at the thought of being murdered during a visit home? Shut down my blog and abandon all hope for fear? Do I give up on reuniting with my family for longer than two weeks at a time every couple of years, dreading that in the interim, someone will discover who I am and bring shame (or worse) to my family? Can I hide behind glass and watch from a distance as people all around me are dying, when my voice and visibility can at least offer support and affirmation that they are beautiful as they are and do not deserve the cruelties under which they are suffering…

I turn to a quote from a press release from the ILGA for inspiration:

[David said] ‘I can’t run away and leave the people I am protecting. People might die, but me, I will be the last one to run out of here’. “David Kato did not run, and he died. We cannot leave his work undone” Gloria Careaga stressed.

No doubt David’s brave words will resonate with activists and community organizers all over the world. His words along with Gloria’s call to action are enough to get me out of my rut, even though I am still sad, and still afraid. The truth is that even though, like so many other activists, I’m still trying to figure out my place in all of this, one thing is absolutely certain: I must do something. We must do something. We must NEVER abandon hope for fear.

Dear David, in honor of the sacrifice you’ve made for all of us, I will do my part to support the movement you helped propel forward by daring to be bold enough for those who do not have the privilege to be so bold. I will continue to push through my fear to be visible to those who need to see me, to speak to those who need to hear me, to support those who I can directly. In honor of your work and all the others who have died before (and will continue to die) after you, I will NEVER stop speaking. I will never stop fighting. Your death will NOT be in vain.

To My African Diaspora, whether or not you are part of the LGBTQ community or not, it is your responsibility to stand in solidarity with the human rights organizations that are fighting against the injustices being committed against LGBTQ Africans every day. Do NOT join the ranks of the “Aww”-givers, who sit cross-legged on their sofas as they watch the daily news. Africans are Africans, period. Those are YOUR people that are dying. We are ONE community. We MUST stand together in the face of all this injustice and we must speak out and support each other, from wherever we are, in whatever capacity we can. WE are the only people that can rescue Africa from this mess. The future of our Africa is in our hands.

And finally, to activists, concerned citizens, allies, friends, etc. Please consider making a donation to The Queer African Youth Network. Here is a Donation Link. Signing petitions against ‘corrective rape’ online won’t change much. But your dollars supporting an organization that is coalition building in countries around Africa and providing resources to LGBTQ Africans worldwide just might…


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