I recently listened to an interview about Eliot Elisofon’s exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. Elisofon was a photojournalist for LIFE Magazine and major influence on America’s view of life in Africa. Contrary to much of the reporting on Africa, during his time, Elisofon chose to photograph a more positive reality of the life of Africans. He again came to mind when I was considering how discouraging it can be to discover that many internet search results for activists for LGBT rights in Africa end up being biographies about fearless leaders whose lives have ended in brutal murder, such as Ugandan activist and teacher, David Kato Kisule. As did Elisofon with his photography, I am hoping to highlight a few activists who, despite the risk of being ostracized, attacked and jailed, continue to be vocal in the fight for LGBT rights in Africa.
The first figure of inspiration is David Kuria Mbote Kenya’s first openly gay politician. Mbote, who is flooded by social media outlets spewing hateful words and is not ignorant to the risk in running as an openly gay politician, is not deterred by any of it. While Mbote’s faith in his people is admirable, it’s his perseverance that is equally worth mentioning. For it is not uncommon for a politician with so much stacked against him to hide their true selves. And while this may be a challenge for some, Mbote clearly remains unaffected.
HIV-AIDS has been deemed an epidemic in Africa and according to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, men who have sex with men are more severely affected by HIV. Therefore, by denying that homosexuality exists or persecuting those who are homosexual may result in a higher rate of individuals contracting the virus. Living a closeted life means people do not feel comfortable to ask, even their doctor, questions about the lifestyle they are living, which further limits the amount of health education one is able to take advantage of. So while much of aide is devoted to reducing HIV-AIDS, there must also be an emphasis on gay rights. Otherwise a major target population may be missing the facts they need to live safe and healthy lives. One man working to change this is Paul Kasonkomona. Kasonkomona, a Zambian, who recently stood trial (and was acquitted) for stating in a television interview that there is a need to focus on gay rights, when fighting the HIV-AIDS epidemic. The fact that Kasonkomona had to even stand trial for voicing his concerns does not appear to be a step forward for LGBT rights, but Kasonkomona himself is.