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Outed! Can LGBT Africans ever be safe?

Outed! Can LGBT Africans ever be safe?

By Yaw Amanfoh

Public exposure of LGBT celebrities is an explicit goal of Ghana’s online Flex Newspaper, where advocacy of anti-gay exposés differs little from the examples set by many other sensationalizing media outlets in Africa and elsewhere.

“Trust [us] to expose gays and lesbians in the showbiz industry … when we obtain hard evidence” says Ebenezer Narh Affum, a journalist with Flex, in a recent article about the practice of outing celebrities.

His reason for doing so isn’t stated. At least in part, it’s obviously an attempt to boost readership. But Affum claims a public-spirited motivation, based on his unsupported assumption that sexual minorities are somehow a threat to society. From his viewpoint, sexual preference is a philosophy, which he called “gayism” and “lesbianism.” He adds, “Gayism and lesbianism have become part of the lifestyle of some Ghanaians but it needs to be addressed and eradicated.”

He knows the damage that public outing can do. He even includes photos of a show-business figure who was attacked last year after he was publicly labeled as gay.  The photos show the results of media speculation about sexual orientation.

Kinto Rothmans before and after February attack. (Photo courtesy of Flex Newspaper and others)
Kinto Rothmans before and after February attack. (Photo courtesy of Flex Newspaper and others)

It happened in February 2015 to entertainment socialite Kinto Rothmans Kwesi, who was accused of wanting to have sexual relations with another man. Kinto and the other man are friends and as Kinto was approaching the other person’s home (as friends do visit each other’s homes), he was approached by four men who beat and robbed him.

Rothmans could not be reached for comment for this article.

The whole process of involuntary outing is highly discriminatory. It leaves suspected queer people powerless.

But there is an alternative: Individuals who come out on their own have a greater ability to control the narrative and to plan for their survival. That’s the route that former television actor Bisi Alimi took in Nigeria, where anti-LGBTI attitudes are similar to those in Ghana.

Alimi explains what people were thinking when they threatened to publicly out him more than 10 years ago:

“This guy can’t be as good as it seems. There must be something wrong with him; so we’re going to go after him. We’re going to find out what’s wrong with him and we’re going to make a big deal out of this.”

Bisi Alimi (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)
Bisi Alimi (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

At the time, Alimi was a TV star and a student. Now he’s a queer human rights activist focused on Nigeria but living in the United Kingdom. In a talk called “My Friend, Ibrahim” Alimi discusses how he became the first man to come out as gay on live broadcast television in Nigeria.

“Are there any gay men in Nigeria at all?” was the response of the show’s producer when he learned of Alimi’s plan to out himself.

That question not only demonstrates a narrow belief that no sexual preference exists other than heterosexuality, but also suggests the lack of visibility of the queer community in Nigeria.

“We don’t exist; and if we try to exist then we are in trouble. We either end up in jail or get beaten by the crowd,” Alisi says.

In Nigeria, sexual acts among men are punishable by 14 years in prison.

In simple terms, Alisi says, queer people of Nigeria would rather stay closeted than be “beaten on the street, a tire around your neck, petrol poured on you and the match is gone and you’re on fire.”

Amid such horrid possibilities and saddening occurrences that Alimi  witnessed in the gay community in Nigeria, he realized that by outing himself he could stop being merely a victim of homophobia.

“For the first time of my life, I realized I was actually able to control my fate. I was able to control my future,” he says.

After Alimi came out on national television, his future could not continue for long in Nigeria. Within a few years during which he was active in seeking change in Nigeria, death threats mounted to the point where he decided to move to the United Kingdom.

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Whether publicly outing oneself is a good idea depends hugely on individual circumstances, whether it’s in Africa or elsewhere.

Jamaica writer Marlon James outed himself after leaving home in search of new opportunities in the United States. Previously, as a closeted man living in Portmore, Jamaica, he had kept silent and maintained a  hyper-masculine image to protect himself from harm, he said.  Now living in Minneapolis and teaching at Macalester College, he received the prestigious Man Booker Prize last year for his book A Brief History of Seven Killings. Currently, he’s working on a fantasy novel.

Binyavanga Wainaina (Photo courtesy of
Binyavanga Wainaina (Photo courtesy of

Prize-winning Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina outed himself in January 2014 in response to a wave of anti-gay propaganda in Africa. At that time, he published a “lost chapter” to his 2011 memoir and titled it “I am a Homosexual, Mum.” He then tweeted, “I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy.” Wainaina has continued to write, denouncing queer-hate tactics while living in his home in Kenya. In October 2015, Wainaina suffered a stroke and is currently seeking treatment in India.

The LGBTIQ podcast No Strings has published several accounts of outings in Nigeria that went wrong, and some that ended happily:

Outing tends to be painful, whether it’s voluntary or involuntary. It can disrupt a person’s life, and there’s no guarantee that it will end happily. But sometimes it can lead in positive directions, opening up a rewarding, productive phase of life.

That’s what happened to Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican attorney, who was outed by the press in Jamaica in 2012 as half of a newly married same-sex couple and had to move to Canada because of death threats. From his new Canadian home, where he lives with his husband, Tomlinson maintains his commitment to combating homophobia in the Caribbean.

He is currently the most prominent LGBTI rights activist in Jamaica, which he revisits frequently and where he is challenging the nation’s buggery law.

Yaw Amanfoh is a Ghanaian-American, queer-identifying, gay man who recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.



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