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. He again came to mind when I was considering how discouraging it can be to discover that many internet searches for activists for LGBT rights in Africa result in 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 continuously bombarded by hate on social media, is aware of the risks that come with running as an openly gay politician, and he 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 disproportionately affected by HIV. Therefore, denying and persecuting homosexuality, may result in a lack of support for the queer community in this area. Living a closeted life means people don’t feel comfortable to ask, even their doctor, questions about the lifestyle they’re living. This limits the amount of health education one is being provided. 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 information they need to live safe and healthy lives. One man working to change this is Paul Kasonkomona. Kasonkomona, a Zambian, recently stood trial (and was acquitted) for stating in a television interview that there is a need to focus on gay rights. 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.
Uganda recently passed its Anti-Homosexual Act, which many local activists believe could result in an overwhelming feeling of defeat–but not for Kasha Nabagesera. Nabagesera is the founder of Freedom and Roam Uganda, an LGBT rights organization. She is currently in the process of suing Evangelicals, in the U.S., for their role in financing the Anti-Homosexuality bill.
For Africans who identify as a member of a faith-based organization, the idea of being spiritual and queer may be considered impossible. One man working to change this attitude is, Malidoma Patrice Some’, a West African writer and gay ally. Some’ speaks openly and positively about the role of homosexuality in indigenous cultures and believes homosexuals to be the gatekeepers to the spiritual world and that not recognizing their role is a detriment to society.
While slow movements forward can lead to burnout for many activists, Mbote, Kasonkomona, Nabagesera and Some’ are motivation for us to all to continue fighting whatever social injustice we seek to end.
By Victoria Brown