African Gay Rights Activist Rewrites the Story of a Struggle


African Gay Rights Activist Rewrites the Story of a Struggle

LGBT activist Spectra speaks to about how the West has got it all wrong when it comes to gay rights on the African continent.

Published October 15, 2012

Believe it or not, it’s good to be gay in Africa.

With the spread of technology and social media, today's African LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) communities have greater access to resources and their greatest asset to speak of: each other.

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. Nigerian LGBTI activist Spectra says that although Africa has its issues, gay rights activists on the continent are seeing success in their movement for equality.

“We’re constantly hearing about people being murdered, constantly hearing about women being raped,” Spectra told “It’s the very, very reductive, very simplistic narrative, and what’s missing is everything else quite honestly.”

She isn’t exaggerating either. Last year, when Ugandan teacher and activist David Kato was killed after his sexuality was put on blast in a local newspaper, Western media began voraciously grasping to uncover similar tragedies, sparking a wave of interest in gay rights in Uganda and other African countries.

The inquiries weren’t wholly unfounded, with Uganda’s infamous "Kill the Gays" bill floating around parliament and Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian resident Ellen Johnson Sirleaf publicly refusing to decriminalize homosexuality. Still, Spectra says the reporting is all negative and doesn’t begin to tell the entire story about Africa’s gay communities.

“It creates a very reductive narrative, a very reducible portrayal of LGBTI people. And when we’re talking about Africa, it’s even more heightened by the already terrible victimization of the continent,” she said.

Through the use of social media, Spectra facilitates collaboration between LGBTI activists from across the continent, including countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Senegal.

Amid all the reports of despair, Spectra says her only concern for Africa’s gay communities is that their true story is not being told.

“There’s lots that’s happening that is really positive, really powerful, and we have to frame it as a concern, then my concern is that people are not knowing about what is powerful coming from LGBTI African people.”

Spectra says the media fails to highlight and mention 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. Her mission as an activist is to help these organizations produce their own media so that authentic stories can reach the public.

“My engagement is more about, as an African woman, as an African feminist, reaching other Africans on the continent on LGBTI issues because I don't think there’s been enough engagement there,” she said.

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(Photo: Spectra)

Written by Naeesa Aziz


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