Allies, stop sensationalising the plight of African LGBTs

Yemisi Ilesanmi (Photo courtesy of This Day Live)
Yemisi Ilesanmi (Photo courtesy of This Day Live)

“African LGBTs are not looking for Western saviours,” says Nigerian author and activist Yemisi Ilesanmi.  “We must all stand as equal partners in our quest to rid the world of inequalities. We don’t need sensationalism, we need our allies to walk their talk.”

To Ilesanmi, allies who “walk their talk” would present a realistic view of the complexities of LGBT life in Africa, without sensationalistic portrayals of “African lesbians and gays as helpless, unemployed, abused, victimised people who want to, nay NEED, to be saved.”

Cover of the book "Freedom to Love for All" by Yemisi Ilesanmi
Cover of the book “Freedom to Love for All” by Yemisi Ilesanmi. (Click image for link to the book on

They would also assure African LGBT job applicants with equal treatment in employment. “One way our concerned Western LGBT comrades can help is not just parade us as unpaid storytellers but give us fair consideration when we apply for advertised jobs in their organisations,” she writes.


Ilesanmi, currently living in the United Kingdom, is founder and coordinator of the activist group Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora Against Anti-Same Sex Laws.  She is also the author of the book Freedom To Love For ALL: Homosexuality is not Un-African,” available from Amazon in paperback and in Kindle editions.

In a recent blog post, she criticized Western journalists, film makers and advocacy organizations that focus almost exclusively on horror stories of LGBT life in Africa:

Whenever I am invited to LGBT workshops as a speaker, panel member or participant, I wonder if I am on display as the face of victims who need saving. Are African LGBTs activists living in diaspora now paraded as example of how we need to save African LGBTs?

As invited speakers, we are expected to regale the audience with horror stories of living in Africa. The audience expects to hear stories of how we were beaten, tortured and kicked out by our families.  They want to hear about how we were persecuted and almost lynched before we escaped to Europe or America. When we don’t deliver the expected story, the disappointment in the room is almost always palpable.

There is no doubt some African LGBTs find themselves in these deplorable conditions, but this is not the only story of African LGBTS. This is not the only face of African LGBTS. African LGBTS are not mostly young people who are barely out of school, eager to be refugees.

  • There are African LGBTS of all ages and sex living in Africa.
  • There are African LGBTs living in Africa who have successful careers, own their own businesses, and are employers of labour.
  • There are African LGBTS living in Africa who are not homeless, are self-sufficient and do not need their family to financially support them.
  • There are African LGBTs living in Africa who do not wish to abandon their careers, leave their family and friends to seek asylum in western countries.

She adds:

Protest by Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora Against Anti-Same Sex Laws.
London protest by Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora Against Anti-Same Sex Laws.

Not all violence is physical in nature. The fact that some of us do not have physical bruises from being out and proud LGBTs while we lived in

LGBTphobic countries does not mean we did not suffer and still do not suffer abuse and various forms of discrimination.

Psychological abuse, blackmails, threats of losing our comfortable jobs, threats of being outed to families, colleagues, employers or rival companies are issues African LGBTs face daily.

African LGBTs who are politically active face the threat of having their political career cut short and ostracised in political and social circles.

African LGBTs who are business owners face the threat of having their businesses boycotted which might lead to the loss of their livelihood.

Violence and abuse come in different shades. We need to highlight these varieties of shades and not just stick to a single shade because it sells papers, win awards, bring in the money, donations or appeal to ‘click activism’.

Another point to note is that not all African homophobes are illiterate rural dwellers. LGBTphobic Africans also live in cities, not just in the rural villages as often portrayed in these documentaries.

However, it is also important to note that there are Africans who are not homophobes, biphobes or transphobes. Indeed many African straight allies are willing to support LGBT rights in public. Western journalists and filmmakers should understand that:

  • There are Africans who are sitting on the fence about LGBT rights
  • There are Africans who do not want to behead gays.
  • There are Africans who do not condone the lynching of gays or support jail term for LGBTs.

The problem is that the media, filmmakers, writers, LGBT organisations, and grant seekers attention is so focused on the ‘Helpless Victim vs Barbaric Homophobe‘ stereotype that they lose sight of the other demography. There are many facets on the plight of African LGBTs, why focus on a single story?

For more information, see Ilesanmi’s full article “Sensationalising the Plight of African LGBTs” on Freethought Blogs.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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