Gay rights in Africa: Tell of successes in the struggle

Spectra (Photo courtesy of BET)

Spectra (Photo courtesy of BET)

The glass is half-full for gays and lesbians in Africa, and getting fuller, says an LGBTI activist in Nigeria.

In an interview with BET, the activist known as Spectra says it’s important to remember that, although Africa has its issues, the continent’s gay rights activists are making progress.

In the BET article, she says, “There’s lots that’s happening that is really positive, really powerful. … My concern is that people are not knowing about what is powerful coming from LGBTI African people.”

“Believe it or not, it’s good to be gay in Africa” — that’s the opening sentence of the BET article based on that interview. The article is titled “African Gay Rights Activist Rewrites the Story of a Struggle.”

In her own blog, “Spectra Speaks,” she expresses admiration for the headline, but says the introductory sentence “gave me pause.”  She reminds readers about the vote last year in the Nigerian Senate in favor of a bill that would impose 14-year prison sentences for people in same-sex marriages and 10-year sentences for people who assist in those ceremonies. She says:

I believe that “Being gay in Africa is bad” and “Being gay in Africa is good” are both overly simplistic, reductive narratives we should avoid in mass scale. Instead of “positive” stories, I want real stories, authentic, complex stories. Thus, even though it was refreshing to see a positive slant to LGBTI Africa coverage, I wouldn’t be enthused if LGBTI Africa was constantly depicted wearing a smiley face.

Now, with so much sensationalism and victimization of LGBTI African people in the media, it’s understandable that a fervent call to the media to share more stories of resistance and empowerment could be taken as saying “all is good.” But let’s be clear: all is not good. While the current narrative (i.e. “Being gay in Africa is bad”) reinforces stigma within communities and chips away at the already dwindling hope of young queer Africans living on the continent, the reverse could do just as much (if not more) harm.

Part of the success story, she says, is that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Africa have increased access to resources and community support, with help from improved technology and the social media.

“However, given the mainstream news coverage of Africa’s many LGBTI communities that exploits the narrative of a sad, shameful Africa, it’s hard to imagine that anything other than repression and brutal violence is happening,” in the words of the BET article.

Spectra’s work is to improve collaboration among LGBTI activists in Africa, using social media.  She also works for improved visibility for gay-friendly organizations such as Nigeria’s Women’s Health and Equal Rights (WHER), South Africa’s queer human rights visual media organization Iranti-Org, and the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya.

8 thoughts on “Gay rights in Africa: Tell of successes in the struggle

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