5 African Queers to Look Out For
In honor of African Pride Month we’re spotlighting LGBTQ+ members paving the way for the African queer community.
Every day as a queer person in Africa is a struggle. In spite massive gains for the LGBTQ+ community in some countries, just recently Botswana decriminalized homosexuality, there are just as many places on the continent that continue to embrace discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Though these headlines often cause me to feel discouraged, it’s the amazing queer people I’ve connected with around the continent that leads me to believe change is coming.
In light of October being African Pride Month, I wanted to spotlight a few of the queer people in Africa making positive changes in the community and proving that a single voice carries a chorus of power.
Meet Matthew Blaise
Born and raised in Nigeria, an African country that criminalizes gay people, Matthew Blaise has always fought for equality. “I am fighting to be seen as a femme person without the negative connotations or being considered weak or abnormal or even a freak of nature. This stereotype has left in me a box and I hate boxes. So I began fighting for myself and other femme people around me,’’ he explains.
Matthew is currently marching alongside other young people in Nigeria in peaceful protests to end SARS. Their greatest concern is the impact this injustice will have on young queer Nigerians. ‘’I hope my platform will be filled with these young people, seeking answers and finding them with our help. Let them see through me, a 21 year old gay Nigerian existing in a land sworn to incarcerate and kill gay people’’ says Matthew.
Meet Lelo Meslani
The Johannesburg based DJ explores their activism through creating spaces that cater to the visibility and safety of queer and trans bodies through artistic mediums. ‘’I have managed to create Vogue Nights Jozi, an inclusive movement for dance, music and fashion, while being involved in other spaces such as Death Drop Island, Le Grand Ball to name but a few. I started doing this cultural work 3 years ago as a DJ because I noticed the gap in the city for things to do as a queer person in nightlife,’’ says Lelo.
These social spaces give us an opportunity to re-create our queer culture and afford us a chance to actually change how we see and live our lives. There is a great need for these spaces to expand into other African countries, ‘’I would love for my platform to reach other parts of South Africa and Africa at large. I think we have an opportunity to do important work that not only seems fun, but is actually life changing as well,’’ Lelo adds.
Meet Cassim Cassim
The editor of setabane, a digital queer magazine in Botswana, Cassim has always fancied the idea of using fine arts as a means of activism and awareness. ‘‘I have written two anthologies so far, one titled ‘19’ and another ‘THINGS I WANTED TO SAY BUT NEVER DID,’ and I would love to work on more to creatively express the beauty and euphoria of being queer,’’ says Cassim. Currently a student at the University of Botswana, Cassim draws their inspiration from people’s real stories. ‘’I can never look at a one-sided mirror and construct inspiration from just that, life is exhilarating and I hope over time, the more I mingle with different entities, the more I become aware, the more I evolve,” they added.
Cassim understands that being a part of different minorities means fighting for different rights but fighting the same demon. They expressed the need for non-binary exposure after they realized that there is an erasure of non-binary entities in both the cis-gendered heteronormative world and the queer community as well. “My pronouns seem to be a bitter taste in most people’s mouths and that is why I fight every day, to eradicate the stigmatism of queer people’’ shared Cassim.
Ramah is a non-binary Kenyan storyteller passionate about issues affecting LGBTQ+ people in Africa. ‘’I was often pushed to defend my existence, personhood and journey to other folks at 9 years old, just like 21. As I grew into a better understanding of myself I realized that I might as well commit to this life path,’’ shares Ramah. They are one of the co-founders of Queer African Network (QAN), a social app for LGBTQ+ people of African descent to socialize, read queer stories & find safe opportunities. This summer they focused on documenting stories of queer people in East and Southern Africa, and intend to expand into documenting more stories from West and Central Africa next year.
‘’I hope to find folks that understand this vision and are able to join us in pushing against violence and injustices we experience as queer folk on the continent,’’ says Mbuthia. They believe that the ability to educate LGBTQ Africans will empower their voices through representation. ‘’I hope that beyond sympathy, we can move non-LGBTQ folks to empathy by showing them that our struggle is a struggle for their freedom as well, and the responsibility is upon them as much as it upon us,’’ says Ramah.
Letlhogonolo is easily one of South Africa’s brightest legal minds and while studying at Stellenbosch University, he was part of a group of students who created the First Generation Camp – a camp that focuses on ensuring that students who are the first of their families coming to university are equipped with skills to help them succeed at higher learning institutions. ‘’The work that I do as an activist is basically care work…I care a lot about queer people, black women and black people,’’ he says.
Letlhogonolo believes that visibility and representation of queer lives will enable queer people to be whatever they want and understand that their sexuality should not hinder them from being afforded the same opportunities as everyone. He also believes that building the spirit of community amongst queer people, that is rooted in love and care is really essential. ‘’We often think about queer lives and just think about how much hardships we share…but our lives are glorious and our lives have joy,’’ Letlhogonolo adds.