ISSUE NO. 1 SEPTEMBER 01, 2011
Pelvic T(h)rust I Am Sidikat Homophobia: The Last Test of Tolerance Commercial Sex Workers of Cameroon
Q-zine: Forum for African Diversity and Creativity Hi and welcome to the first issue of Q-zine, the pan-African voice for LGBTI and queer youth. We are a cooperative online magazine with a mission to be the most inclusive and accessible place on the internet for young African writers, photographers, artists, and activists to reflect queer life and experience from an African perspective. Africa is the most diverse region in the world. More than 3,000 different languages are spoken here, nearly half of all the languages on earth. Each is the vehicle of a distinct culture. The pride Africans have in their local languages and cultures is strong and deep-rooted, but it’s not an inward-looking pride. Africa is a jigsaw puzzle of thousands of different ethnic groups, where borders rarely coincide with ethnicity, where migration continually changes the mix, and where children grow up co-existing with people from many other communities and learning to speak two or three indigenous languages besides their own. On top of the indigenous mix, colonialism and globalization have planted layers of Arab, Indian, European, and American influences, so most Africans also speak one or two international languages and have adopted and adapted all kinds of outside ideas and cultural practices, from Christianity and Islam to hamburgers and hip hop. Africans cherish old customs and beliefs but love the latest technology, music, and fashions too. African diversity makes many of the “multicultural” societies of the West look parochial by comparison. Why then is Africa routinely depicted in the Western media either as one undifferentiated mass (so much so that many Westerners seem to think of it as one country) or as a place of timeless conflicts between hostile “tribes?” This contradiction is not just promoted by reactionaries. Many progressives fall for the same mythology, and Western-inspired social movements often seem to work on the assumption that Africa is inherently backward and intolerant and can only be “modernized” from outside. For all its good intentions the international LGBTIQ movement has sometimes been part of this. There has been a tendency to talk down to African queers and expect them to adopt Western ideas of identity, rights, and “coming out.” But queer cultures in Africa are different. They are not Western cultures at a more “primitive” level of development.
Luckily there is a growing recognition of this. More and more African voices are talking and writing about African ways of being queer. The internet is playing a huge part in this conversation, helping LGBTIQ Africans to connect, share, and organize like never before. Q-zine aims to be part of this awakening of African queer cultures. We want to be a forum for any type of expression, any topic or idea relevant to LGBTIQ lives, and all shades of opinion. In our first issue we feature a memoir about faith, family and the queer church by an exiled Nigerian LGBTIQ pastor, an article on homophobia in Botswana, and up-close-and-personal interviews with two pioneering West African gender activists. From New York we have a personal account of the first African queer contingent to be out and proud at the Nigeria Day parade. We publish a defiant manifesto from Cameroonian sex workers and a cutting-edge photo-essay on queer identity in South Africa. From central Africa a backgrounder explains the evolving legal situation for LGBTIQ in Burundi, while a transgender coming-of-age tale from Nigeria delves into some of the complications of asserting non-conforming gender identities there. We are proud to be able to present the latest short story by a major new diaspora literary talent, and we also have a review of an important new book on the blackmail epidemic facing queer people across Africa. Rounding off the issue is an intense poem on gender oppression that will speak to everyone who has experienced the straightjacket of traditional gender concepts. Everything is in both French and English to make Q-zine as accessible as possible to a wide African readership. The selection in our first issue is just a small portion of the incredible diversity of African queer life and ideas. Q-zine’s exploration of this diversity will, we hope, grow and strengthen in following issues, but we need your input. Send us your contributions. We are open to anything that is creative, honest, and relevant to queer lives in Africa. On behalf, of the editorial team a warm welcome to the first issue of Q-zine. We hope you’ll be informed, intrigued, amused, and inspired. Feel at home. John McAllister Lead editor
Q-zine content activism
photo essay Pelvic T(h)rust: By Aldo Brincat (15)
Commercial sex workers of Cameroon: By Adonis Tchoudja (13)
The Dialogue: By Rowland Jide Macaulay (6)
Who is Dorothy Aken’Ova: By William Rashidi (11)
A conversation with Unoma Azuah: By Unoma Azuah (28)
I am Sidikat: By Sidikat Adebanjo (20)
Sacred Lake: By Unoma Azuah (24)
“Nowhere to Turn”: By Ryan Thoreson & Sam Cook (30)
Homophobia: By L. K. Senome (9)
Homosexuality and the Law in Burundi: By Niyonshemeza Thierry (19)
Culture/Torture: By Yemisi Ilesanmi (32)
Q-zine is a quarterly on-line publication of the Queer African Youth Networking Center QAYN Lead editor: John McAllister (Botswana) QAYN liaison: Mariam Armisen (Burkina Faso) Graphic Designer: Jay-Renee Block (California) EDITORIAL TEAM: Philippe Menkoue (Cameroon) Thierry Niyonshemeza (Burundi) Akudo N Oguaghamba (Nigeria) Kate Kamunde (Kenya) Bakah Aicha (Niger) Submissions can be made online at: http://wp.gayn-center.org/aboutq-zine/#usermessagea or directly to the lead editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org
A pan-African team collaborates virtually across Africa to bring Q-zine to life. Lead Editor John McAllister: Botswana. English literature professor and development communication consultant. Francophone Co-Editors Thierry: Burundi. Program manager in LGBTQI organization and activist in MSM and sex worker projects. Menphil: Cameroon. Professional translator with special interests in LGBTQI and human rights issues, sexual health and reproductive rights, and empowerment of young LGBTQI people. Bakah: Niger. Board member and translator at Queer African Youth Networking (QAYN) Centre. Anglophone Co-Editors Akudo: Nigeria. Founder and coordinator of Women Health and Equal Rights (WHER), lesbian/bisexuals CBO. Kate: Kenya. Musician, songwriter and poet. Founder of Artists for Recognition and Acceptance (AFRA), a lesbian, bisexual and transgender arts collective. Graphic Designer Jay-Renee Block: California. Graphic designer, digital media production, poet and artist.
My Father, My Faith and My Sexuality: The Dialogue By Rowland Jide Macaulay It was the 31st of October, 2009, and I was on yet another trip to South Africa, this time visiting and attending a conference in Stellenbosch. The first African conference on sexuality and spirituality was about to begin, and I had two reasons to be excited. First attending this vital initial dialogue about Christianity and sexual orientation with other Africans from throughout the continent, and second meeting my father again, whom I had been forced to leave behind in Nigeria in September 2008, after the Nigerian media’s unethical reporting of our church, House of Rainbow Fellowship, a mission I lead that welcomes and affirms sexual minorities. I arrived in Cape Town early in the morning on 1st November after the long overnight flight from Heathrow, but my weariness from the flight hardly registered. All my thoughts and energy were focused on meeting my father. I was met at the airport by two conference hosts, both very courteous and professional, and whisked straight to my hotel in Stellenbosch, but as soon as I had freshened up I was on the train to Cape Town to join my friends, brothers, and sisters for worship at Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church. As I listened to the Rev Greg Andrews, a visiting minister, I was reminded of the joy of being part of an inclusive ministry, a mission we take for granted in many parts of the developed world but rare and risky in Africa and all the more essential for that. Sharing blessings at communion was a joy. This was a ministry that challenged us not just to celebrate the open and inclusive Holy Communion and love of Christ but also to take that love to the ends of the earth, “to come to the table and be filled with love and take that love to the people out there”, echoed Rev Andrews. I took time after the service to reflect on my own ministry and was delighted to be among friends. Rev Pressley, the host pastor, drove me back to my hotel accompanied by three others. What a joy in my soul! The next morning I was to meet my father. I left a message at reception to call me as soon he arrived, and when I finally heard he was there my excitement was like a little child’s. I ran to meet him and embraced him for what felt like eternity. We talked unendingly over a few cups of Rooibos tea and decaffeinated coffee, then at lunch, retracing our experiences since we had parted. The conference registration opened at 4, but my father had arrived with his luggage missing. I offered him clothes from my wardrobe, and it was just like happy times again. My stuff fitted him like my twin. I was anxious as well as excited about the conference. I had prayed for this day and I believed firmly that God would guide us to break out of every chain. I know in my heart that nothing can separate us from the love of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But the intersection of religion and sexuality is a sensitive topic, and participants were arriving from all over Africa, including many places where sexual minorities are still hated and feared. I was anxious about the outcome. “As the deer panted for the water, so my soul longs after God.” This song was in my spirit and I began to look at the situation for which dialogue was important, the discussion for the liberation of the Holy Scripture, the rescuing of the word of God from wordmongers. At the end of the day, I was overjoyed. I had met many people, all fine, all strange, all beautiful, all intellectual, all spiritual. There were some strangeness’s which outdid even my own outlandish approach to life. It was clear that we were all here because we were determined to be part of the solution and stop being part of the problem. The greatest joy of all was being reunited with my father. He has always been my greatest mentor and motivator of my thinking. A joy to call him father, brother, friend. We spoke about the past in order to look into the future and appreciate the present time. The next day saw the first real step dialogue as the conference sessions began. Devotion with praise, worship, and prayer opened the day, and we received guidance on how best to approach the task of dialogue. I saw this would be the first time I would not need to debate, argue, dispute, disagree, or be confrontational. There was an overwhelming willingness to listen, hold, touch, watch, and speak honestly. The dialogue between professional biblical scholars and the simplicity of LGBTI people was natural.
We ate together, laughed, and comforted each other, soothing away the pain of the past. I sensed the Holy Spirit was there. I knew in my mind that Jesus looked with favour on this, and I heard him say “Thank you, to all participants for you are doing this to me. Three speakers spoke from the heart about the challenges of faith, culture and human Rights, each without judgement, and all the people listened. After the first session of the dialogue, which required us to identify the stumbling blocks to dialogue, the six colourful groups had time to interact. The barriers were coming down, and we were on a journey to break down walls and build up hope. Without any harshness, people’s minds were reconciling. One lesbian woman spoke of her joy that her father was here, and her father responded in kind. I echoed the presence of my father with a joyful heart. The support and love of these parents were immeasurable. After dinner my father and I had a wonderful time reflecting on the day. On the 4th of November, so many things were on my mind. It was my 44th birthday, and the previous year, on the same date, the American people had elected their first African-American president.The American experience had brought change, and in my own life I was experiencing so many changes the beauty of God’s holiness, accepting the burden of being a pioneer for change, the passion for the inclusive love of Christ’s gospel, my new congregation, my own self-created families at home in Nigeria and abroad. The joy of knowing that God stands with me and will lift me up in times of trouble and protect me through fires and burning rage, my entire being loving God, was part of that change. My friends, brothers, and sisters in Stellenbosch had begun the celebration, and it was my joy to be woken up and greeted on this joyous day. Just before breakfast, I went to my dad’s room where we prayed intensely for the love and blessing of God. I felt it, I received it, and I claimed it. The day started at the conference with greetings for my birthday. Many lovely notes and greetings followed, and as the evening approached, we got ready for the short trip to Moyo Restaurant, a typical South African food joint. The dishes were robust, from vegetables to bush meat, the kitchen was huge, the serving area was buffet style, and the attitude was “eat till you drop.” There were musicians and dancers everywhere to keep us entertained, and we opened several bottles of wine and danced till it was time to return to the hotel, where the party continued with jubilation and love. Next day I was invited to say a prayer at the closing devotion led by Bishop David Russell. What an honour to serve with a retired Anglican Bishop!
Here is the text of my prayer: “Holy One, Precious God, Our Father, Dearest Mother, God of inclusive love, we thank you, for we know that this first African Dialogue on Sexuality and Spirituality is about winning souls, this first African Dialogue on Sexuality and Spirituality is about the healing of broken vessels, this first African Dialogue on Sexuality and Spirituality is about gathering of the lost sheep. We thank you Jesus, we thank you for your wasteful generosity of patience, we thank you for your wasteful generosity of boldness, we thank you for your wasteful generosity of compassion, and we thank you for your wasteful generosity of faith, hope, and love. We pray that our faith will move mountains. The way forward shall be filled with hope. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, no, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Jesus who loved us. For we are convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ our Lord. Go in the peace and love of God and everyone present would say Amen, Amen.” Shortly after the morning devotion, I was invited to take part in a meeting to finalize the text of the conference press statement. By 2 pm, after lunch, we were ready for the South African media. I shared the panel with the Director of Inclusive and Affirming Ministries IAM), Rev Pieter Oberholzer, and the Director of TRP, Madeline Isaac, along with Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo from Uganda. The experience was extremely positive and was followed by an in-depth interview. And now our brief time was over. Departing was painful. The hugs and kisses of goodbye were challenging, but we parted at the Cape Town airport knowing that God had full and total control of the future, and that this future is filled with hope for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex Christians. For myself, the best was seeing that father’s attitude to homosexuality had changed. He recognized the importance of love over the archaic interpretation of scriptures and accepted that the religious community must learn to understand that LGBTI people are in the world for a reason. This was a new and important step towards reconciliation and full acceptance between us. It may not be plain sailing, but now that I have the head of my family, my father, understanding my homosexuality, I believe that others will come around too. My journey of hope as an African child, a devout Christian, and an activist who also happens to be gay has just begun. After many years of struggling to reconcile my dignity in faith and sexuality, the Stellenbosch dialogue ignited hope for me and many others, including my own father. May this story be a beacon of hope for the future; I invite you to share this hope with me and the many others on this journey.
Homophobia: The Last Test of Tolerance By L. K. Senome My country, Botswana, is supposed to be one of the freest and most tolerant places in Africa. It’s often held up as a “beacon of hope” and a “success story” for the rest of the continent. Botswana, people say, proves that Africans can build democracy and prosperity and look after one another regardless of tribe or clan. So, compared to a lot of other African countries, Botswana is peaceful and well-off. We have one of the highest per capita incomes on the continent, generous state welfare programs, excellent infrastructure, and a free national ARV treatment program that is the envy of the rest of the continent. We have never been at war either with our neighbors or with one another, and we have had free and fair elections and steady economic growth ever since independence in 1964. But there is a dark side to Botswana’s success story. We may be immune from most of Africa’s ills, but there is one social problem that we have not been able to avoid. I am talking about the problem of homophobia. As a young gay man in Botswana, I’ve been very lucky. My family, friends, and co-workers accept me for who I am. Maybe it’s because I grew up in town in a “modern,” middle-class environment, maybe it’s because I don’t look or act the way a lot of people expect of a “moffie”; I don’t know. But I do know that many of my gay friends have not been so lucky. Underneath the courtesy and botho (African community spirit) of day-to-day social life in Botswana there is a deep vein of ignorance and hostility towards anyone who is sexually “different.”The latest incident to happen among my friends has really upset me. I can hardly believe the ordeal that a young man by the name Sello had to go through. I first met Sello a couple of years ago and have grown to know this young man as a very responsible, decent person: a good son, brother, and citizen, gentle and generous. I hadn’t seen Sello in a while until I ran into him the other day, looking totally unlike his usual self. In place of the cheerful, smartly-dressed young man I was used to he was a sad-looking, down-at-heels character I barely recognized. At first Sello didn’t want to tell me what was wrong, but finally he overcame his pride and confessed that his father had thrown him out of the family home. “Your behavior is a disgrace to me and everyone in this family,” the old man, a successful businessman, had told him. “You shame yourself and me.”
All because Sello had made the “mistake” of telling his father the truth about his sexuality. “You are no son of mine,” Sello’s father shouted at the boy as he chased him out of the family compound while his shocked mother and sisters looked on silently. Sello had no choice but to leave and seek refuge and shelter away from the comfortable home and loving family he had known all his life. Warned off by his father, none of his relatives would take Sello in, and since then the young man had been forced to camp here and there with friends, without a penny to his name and only the clothes he was wearing when he left home. The good job his father had been grooming him for in the family business was gone; the future looked as bleak and hopeless as it had once looked promising. A talented young man’s life had been wantonly and angrily destroyed, yet his behavior is without fault. He was cast out by a father who didn’t care whether he survived or failed in his young life, only because his son is gay. Luckily Sello is brave. He tumbled into a depression, but soon after I saw him that day, he had picked himself up and begun to piece together the fragments of his broken life. I admire his guts, but I’m shocked at what happened to him in our supposedly tolerant and progressive country. And Sello is not alone. There are many other young people out there who have suffered similar fates. Every day in our homophobic society gay men and women (and even metrosexual people, being mistaken for gay) are rejected by their families, communities, churches, and all sorts of bigoted busybodies who are ignorant enough to think that only because someone is—or is merely suspected of being—gay, lesbian or transgender— he or she is therefore “abnormal,” “corrupt” or even “wicked.” Gays?” They ought to be punished to give up their wrongful ways. “Gays?” They should be made to undergo medical or social treatment to put right their sick minds. “Gays?” We who aren’t the tiniest bit gay don’t care if they are forced to live on the margins of society in an imposed psychological ghetto. And if they feel depressed, isolated, and always under suspicion, well obviously it’s their own fault for being “different.” Homophobes split humanity into us (“normal” people) and them (gay people, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, or anyone whose sexuality is different). When homophobes are allowed to dictate laws and social norms, LGBT people have to live warily and marginally, very much like people of color in a racist society or like women under the Taliban! Batswana are proud of our country and for some good reasons. Botswana’s image of tolerance is well-deserved—with one glaring exception. Homophobia, It is the one big stain on our reputation. We are finally beginning to organize to fight it, starting with a campaign to decriminalize same-sex relations. It will be a long, uphill struggle, but it is high time for homophobia to go the way of other archaic prejudices like racism and patriarchy.
Dorothy Aken’Ova: Nigerian Human Rights Activist By Williams Rashidi Dorothy Aken’Ova is the founder and current Executive Director of the International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights (INCRESE) in Nigeria and has been a human rights defender and a well-known feminist for many years. In particular she has been fighting to create a safe space for the LGBTIQ community in Nigeria. The newest project of INCRESE that Dorothy has spearheaded is the Sexual Diversity and Human Rights Project, is a partnership with other LGBTIQ organizations to promote full human rights for LGBTIQ people. Right now the new project is busy developing an entry point for advocacy and an advocacy brief for religious leaders, policy makers, and media workers, and providing support to help build the capacity of upcoming LGBTIQ grassroots organizations. To find out more about her important work, I interviewed Dorothy by email and began by asking her: As an activist what are your core beliefs and values? What are the principles that drive your work? I am a feminist and a sexual rights activist. I believe that we are created differently and that, as autonomous persons, we have a right to choice and to live our sexualities freely without coercion, violence, or discrimination. I believe that we all have equal rights. No right of any individual or a group is superior to the right of another. I also believe in the “intersectionality” of rights, that the denial of one right is an infringement on all rights. But of course all rights come with responsibilities, especially the responsibility to recognize that the rights of one individual stop where the rights of another individual begin. I am therefore dedicated to work that guarantees human rights for all, especially the most marginalized populations, and sexual minorities tend to be among the most marginalized. How easy is it to work on sexual rights in Nigeria? I would say it is as challenging as it is working on sexual rights in most places around the globe, especially with globalization and the spread of fundamentalisms. There are increasing similarities between the contexts in which I work and those in other parts of the world.
In many places where there is institutionalized religion, the rights of sexual minorities are infringed upon with impunity. It is same in Nigeria, especially because of fundamentalist Christianity and Shari’a law, which are a daily reality for those who live in Nigeria. I have often been asked how I reconcile my job and my religion. I simply say that it is part of my religious obligation to support the human rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. What drives your passion for an egalitarian society from the perspective of sexual rights? I believe that the breath I use to admit that my rights are superior to someone somewhere for whatever reason is the same breath I use to admit that someone somewhere is superior in rights to me. And since I desire my rights to be respected, I respect other people’s rights. I advocate for the rights of disadvantaged and marginalized groups in particular because those are the people whose rights are usually not respected. You played a major role in the Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights in Nigeria, which was instrumental in fighting the anti-gay marriage bill. Tell us more about that. The coalition was born in 2006 in direct response to the bill prohibiting same sex marriage. Activists saw that there was an urgent need for a strong voice that understood the inalienability of rights to fight against the bill. We were able to pull nascent LGBT groups, mainstream human rights organizations, and women’s NGOs into a team with experienced LGBTI human rights defenders to kill the bill. It was an excellent example of how we can all work together to protect our rights, and now the coalition is lending support to the new Sexual Diversity and Human Rights in Nigeria project that INCRESE has just launched. INCRESE is a non-governmental organization working to create an enabling environment for expanded access to sexual reproductive health and rights information and services that I founded in 2000.
You were very instrumental in defeating the Nigerian anti-gay bill. Can you share with us the experience during this time? That was a moment of test for all human rights activists to see who knew what the true meaning of human rights is. It was a calling for all who understood the notion of democracy to protect the democratic values of privacy, integrity, dignity, diversity, and choice. Unfortunately many failed the test. It was really shocking to see how few responded openly to the call. It was pathetic to see some others respond secretly because they did not want to openly antagonize the government or they did not want this component of human rights work to stain the “good name” they had or to discredit other projects they were implementing. But huge numbers did not even see the point, and that was heartbreaking. How can a renowned human rights activist segregate rights, categorizing some as worthy of his or her struggle and others not? Nevertheless, it was joyful a real moment of celebration, when we saw the impact of our work at the public hearing. There was a very clear and sharp divide between the members of the house who understood the points we were raising and those who kept wearing the blindfolds of institutionalized religion and tradition. They openly disagreed, and for once it was obvious who was on which side of the issue. Best of all, the progressive members presented a minority report that took the bill off the agenda until its death. How do people react when they see you supporting LGBTI rights? Some conclude I must be gay to do the work I am doing, but the same thing happened when I was advocating for the rights of people living with HIV/ AIDS in the mid-to-late nineties. I think the strength of my work lies in the populations I work with and how much I identify with their issues. It is not I that matter, but the work and the marginalized that I stand for are the ones that matter.
What is the most annoying question you’ve ever been asked? “Don’t you think that defending gay rights will encourage more people to be gay? What and who inspires you the most? I am inspired by any contexts where human rights are respected. I have seen products of those contexts, and I admire them and the work that they do; their contributions to humanity and women’s rights especially. In particular I am inspired by Prof Bene Madunagu, a dynamic feminist with a clear ideology and vision. In your view, what is your greatest achievement? I started this work on a lonely path and have been able to work with great colleagues to put LGBTI issues on the national agenda and beyond to the international arena. Getting recognition at the UN is a great achievement. When I was working with colleagues at the UN from 2000 to 2006, it was a very conservative institution. It had no language on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, but the work we did then has now yielded results, for example, the optional protocol on CEDAW, and the mobilization we have seen by the UN Secretary General for support of the rights of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Do you remember having a most embarrassing moment? Yes. When the spokesperson for Nigeria at the UNHRC took the mike and said there are no homosexuals in Nigeria and that, if there are, they must be an amorphous group. He went further to thank the British for passing on their anti-homosexual laws to us as a colonial legacy. How embarrassing! What ticks you off? When people are inconsistent but seem innocent about it. What is so difficult about understanding that we are all equal in rights and dignity?
Commercial Sex Workers of Cameroon Claim Their Rights On September 28, 1972, the Cameroonian government enacted Presidential Decree No. 72-16, section 343, criminalizing prostitution and soliciting. This decree, which has not been changed since its introduction, punishes: “By imprisonment from six months to five years and a fine of 20,000 to 50,000 FCFA all persons of either sex who practice commercial sex work.” “By the same penalty, any person who in the exercise of his or her activities shall proceed publicly by gesture, speech, writing or any other means, to solicit persons of either sex.” Although legal prosecutions of commercial sex workers are almost nonexistent in the country, showing that prostitution is tolerated in general, the working conditions of commercial sex workers in Cameroon have continued to deteriorate since the enacting of this infamous law. Because sex workers are forced to work underground, they are vulnerable to all sorts of human rights abuses including rape, fraud, stigmatization, exclusion of sex workers from inner cities and main traffic areas, and, worse, harassment and round-ups by the police and other law enforcement agencies. Now, with the formation of the sex workers organization ACODES, Cameroonian sex workers have finally found a voice to end discrimination and stigmatization and to improve working conditions. ACODES has been formed to demand that the Cameroonian authorities develop initiatives to raise public awareness on the rights and working conditions of sex workers, recognize sex work like any other income-generating activity, and protect the human rights of sex workers. The following is ACODES’ manifesto. By criminalizing prostitution and solicitation, the Cameroonian government has failed in its duty to create prevention programs and collect data on commercial sex workers and transgender people in Cameroon, thus neglecting this vulnerable group. In this unsafe and repressive environment, we, male, female, and transgender commercial sex workers, recognize the need to be visible and organize ourselves to make our voices heard.
We want ACODES to be known in Cameroon and beyond our borders so that the government and the general public will recognize that: “Prostitution is not human trafficking.” “Prostitution has always existed since the dawn of time, even in the culture of Africans.” “Prostitution is a choice. It is a paid service between consenting adults.” Marginalizing and criminalizing sex workers exposes them to all types of violence and has instilled a politics of impunity against the violence they face every day. Since 2009, sex workers in the city of Douala, through ACODES and other peer associations, have clearly demonstrated our commitment to prevent HIV/AIDS infection and to claim access to adequate health services and other basic treatment. Today, we break the silence and make our voices heard. First of all, we want to inform parliamentarians of the disastrous consequences of the 1972 ordinance and to insist that such a law has no place in a modern society. The continued criminalization of commercial sex work blocks and hinders our prevention work on the ground, increasing the risk of sex workers and their clients contracting HIV infection, hepatitis and other STIs. The law also exposes sex workers to abuse and violence. Every day we are victims of numerous acts of violence including physical, verbal, psychological, sexual, and domestic violence. We work in constant fear of being arrested, harassed, and blackmailed.
These are the fundamental principles of ACODESâ€™ activism: 1. We are full citizens. 2. We have existed since the dawn of time. 3. We defy the 1972 ordinance that marginalizes and penalizes us. 4. We are not victims. We are actors of our own lives and our own choices. 5. Commercial sex work is not a crime. It is work like any other work. 6. We are not criminals. We have rights and duties like other citizens.
7. We are citizens with full voting power. 8. We contribute through taxes to the economy of the nation. 9. We do not want decisions that affect us to be made without our active participation. 10. We demand a social context and status that we recognize. 11. We are heads of households, with a social life, family and love ones. 12. We are men, women and transsexuals who want to take control of our lives. 13. We will no longer live in fear.
Pelvic T(h)rust By Aldo Brincat These pictures are from a collection entitled Pelvic T(h)rust. I’m fascinated by African ways of being gay. A lot of people say gay is “un-African.” I know this isn’t true, but at least in South Africa where I’m from, gay culture sometimes plays into the hands of those who say we’re wannabe Westerners by copying foreign, especially American, gay styles in fashion, language, music, and so on. A few years ago I started taking photographs at Johannesburg Pride to document how South African gay men in the early 2000s have decorated, announced, advertised, and defended their gay African identities through their most intimate corporeal identities: the pelvic area and the hands. I was intrigued by the messages these men were sending out, using anything from belts with words on the buckles to safety pins and dog leashes.
I was also struck by how easily they allowed me to get close. No one ever denied me the pelvic photograph. I followed up each pelvic shot with a pic of their faces and/or torsos. These give the work a playful element, similar to a children’s game where one can swap heads and torsos with other pictures, thus enlarging the rhetoric of each image. The men in this set of pictures from the 2010 Johannesburg Pride caught my eye because in a sea of outfits that could have been anywhere in the world, they projected a specifically African but modern gay look, not “traditional,” not “ethnic,” not “purist” and isolated, just unmistakably now, proud and African or so it seemed to me. What do you think?
This manâ€™s androgynous energy caught my attention. He was very charming and his outfit really sensual. From an open leather jacket brushing against his skin, to the shocking red beads crossing his torso. His hair was braided into 2 tails that flowed down and along each side of his neck.
“Pharaoh” would hardly speak to me. His costume was unique and made me wonder why it was selected. But he wouldn’t say, and his haughty silence made him all the more interesting and gave him an air of mystery and majesty that went perfectly with the look.
A finalist in Mr. Gay SA, this gentâ€™s hairstyle was very attractive to my eye. Invoking the mane and tale of a zebra, he brought an animalistic sexiness to his appeal. This former Mr. Gay KZN seemed a bit sad to me trading on his win two years before. However, his Zulu drop earrings, bug-eyed sunglasses and raffish like tilted crown gave him a certain swagger.
This back-to-basics dude was not only trying to redefine himself as a gay man, but also trying to redefine his fashion world. He seemed determined to rediscover and explore everything we have taken for granted. His fly, was a collection of 5 large safety pins, caught across a triangular flap. The pants itself was made from cotton (inside) for comfort and hessian (outside) for texture and â€œAfrican sympathy.â€? His shirt/vest was the same.
Aldo Brincat Aldo has enjoyed a long and satisfying career as a stage actor, director, and producer based in Durban, South Africa. His many and varied accolades include being voted among the top 5 solo stage performers of the past decade, by The Mail & Guardian in 2000. Currently, Aldo is enjoying a spectacular mid-life crisis in Mexico, Guatemala, and the USA.
THE SECOND ISSUE IS COMING SOON Mission: to be the most inclusive and accessible place on the internet for queer African writers, photographers, artists, and activists to reflect queer life and experience from an African perspective.
“Homosexuality and the Law in Burundi” By Niyonshemeza Thierry Like everywhere else, homosexuality has always existed in Burundi. However in the past it was never a subject of open discussion the way it is nowadays. From the time of our ancestors some men had sexual relations with other men. They were known as Ba Gapfira, but otherwise the practice was not talked about. It was considered a means of sexual relief or a form of play, and Ba Gapfira was not in itself a pejorative term. However, following sixteen years of civil war, Burundi in 2009 adopted a law that criminalizes same sex relations for the first time, with penalties of from three months to two years in prison and a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Burundian francs. Ironically this comes at precisely the time when the pioneering HIV/ AIDS NGO in Burundi, the ANSS (Association Nationale de Soutien aux Séropositifs et Malades du SIDA), has introduced the first programme of comprehensive support (medical and psychosocial) for men who have sex with men (MSM). The new Anti-homosexual statute, which was signed into law on 22 April 2009 by the Burundian President, has only succeeded in reinforcing a serious problem already identified by various organizations: the invisibility and stigmatization of homosexuals in Burundi. Large numbers of MSM in the country have been chased from their homes and for the most part forced to prostitute themselves in order to earn a living, while others have fled to countries where their sexual orientation is accepted and protected. In response to the 2009 law the Rainbow Candlelight Association and other members of the LGBTI community in Burundi have mobilized themselves to lobby for the repeal of this regressive legislation, pointing out that the anti-homosexual law contradicts the fact that homosexuals are already included in the national strategic plan for the fight against HIV/AIDS, a plan signed by the same president who signed the anti-homosexuality bill! The strategic plan recognizes that MSM are one of the most vulnerable groups for HIV infection and therefore need to be addressed in any effective prevention strategy. The campaign to repeal the law against homosexual relations has been supported by numerous leading figures, including heads of diplomatic missions, senators, and parliamentarians and has been widely publicized in the national and international media.
The harmful consequences of the law on the LGBTI community and the whole of Burundian society have been amply demonstrated. Unfortunately the campaign has not had the desired effect and the law has not yet been repealed. However the LGBTI community in Burundi is far from giving up the fight and continues to struggle for its rights. Indeed as early as 2003 a group of homosexuals in Bujumbura, the Burundi capital, had organized themselves under the name ARDHO (Association pour le Respect et les Droits des Homosexuels) and launched a campaign to sensitize stakeholders in the health sector and the media on the need for LGBTI people to be taken into account and included in HIV prevention programs. This campaign is all the more important in light of research by the National HIV/AIDS Council, ABCMAV (Association Burundaise pour la Prise en charge des Malades Vulnérables du VIH/SIDA) and other structures working on behalf of MSM in Burundi that shows MSM are ten to twenty times more vulnerable to HIV and other STIs than the general population. Moreover this vulnerability of MSM also affects the general population. Due to social and religious pressures 80 percent of MSM are married or have sexual relations with the opposite sex. The law against homosexual relations therefore does not benefit either the homosexual community or the general population and all the experts on human rights and public health concur that it must be repealed for the sake of the nation as a whole. Niyonshemeza Thierry, 22, is the head of programs for the Rainbow Candlelight Association and since 2009 has also worked on MSM projects for ANSS. He can be contacted by phone on +257 78 800 438 or by email at email@example.com, Skype (niyonshemeza.thierry) or Facebook.
I Am Sidikat I am Sidikat Oluseyi Oluwakemi Olutoyin Adebanjo the child of Aminat Adelarin Okala Adenike Ayoke Kokumo Asimi Jolaoso. I am the daughter of Sunibi who is the daughter of Moloran Iyaoloya. Thank you for my life mom and ancestors. I was born in a house in Lagos Nigeria at 7pm on October 17th, 1977. When I came out I was so little you could hold me in one hand and they thought another one was coming out because my mother’s abdomen was so big compared to what came out. My parents are from Isara, which is in Ogun state in Nigeria. I give great thanks for my lineage, my family, my country and my ancestors. It was in Nigeria I was born and that is where I will find myself again this year. My mother’s wish was to turn 65 years in her country. After years of absence from her home country I took my mom home for her birthday present. It was at home I got to see the connections clearly of where I come from and who I am in relation to my family. I got to see my mother with her family and see the family resembles I didn’t see when I went alone. I got to hear people talk about I remember when you were young you never ate a lot of food, so don’t give Toyin a lot of food. I smiled because I am still like that at times. Aunts told me I look like a lighter version of my dad and other aunts told me I look like a dark skin version of my mom.
In seeing pictures of life in Nigeria I got to see myself in a new way and experience intimacy with my family and country. My mom showed me a baby picture of myself and I was surprised to find out I had another name Oluseyi which means god has done and is a unisex name. Later in my trip I thought if I ever transitioned into becoming a male this would be my name. I have been dressing masculine since the age of six years old. Mostly wore male clothes with slacks, matching shirt suspenders sometimes. Gone were the iro and buba when my father started dressing me. When I came to New York City, they cut my hair, which is not unusual in Nigeria and other African countries for females. This presentation would get me called boy all the time in New York. I remember helping this elder across the street and she said thank you young man. I always felt uncomfortable in dresses and did not feel like that was who I am. Last time I were a skirt was for my junior high school graduation at Mark Twain Junior High School for the gifted and talented. As I grew up I continued dressing in male attire after my father stopped buying my clothes. I had crushes on my female friends in school and college. I didn’t accept I was Queer until 1996 when I worked at the Queer youth center District 202 (D202) in Mpls, MN. I came out to my sister as bi-sexual because that was easier and gave them hope of children. She said she would tell my mother to get me in trouble. My mother found out weeks later when I was on the cover of the LGBT Lavender magazine in MN for D202 hugging a white women. My sister told my mom and the funny thing is she got in more trouble than me for allowing this to happen. I did have to step back from being knocked by my mother. She was also upset because what would family in NY and Nigeria think, they would blame her for it. My father soon heard about it afterward. He blamed himself for dressing me as a boy, which turned me gay. In MN, I continued dressing in masculine attire and would do gender fuck at times to pass as a male. I was addressing myself a Queer for my sexuality and female for my sex. Never really felt comfortable as a woman and identifying with that part of me. I was put in countless male bathrooms and dressing room because people couldn’t understand a female would dress the way I did. In the female bathrooms people would check the door twice and I would leave before people or security would card me.
The males in my family have tried to beat, oppress and get the masculine out of me since I was a child. In my life I have gone from being a man to being ma’am at the age of 25 years old. What happened I have wondered to cause people from calling me sir to ma’am? My energy had started to shift from very heavy, low and mysterious is what I figured. I had started to do some healing around being a survivor of torture, child sexual abuse, anger and years of depression. Now at the age of 33 I get called she and he. With me being two-spirit, gender non-conforming or gender-queer I sometimes can go with the flow, other times it bothers me to no end. Getting asked in the states and especially when I went home to Nigeria if I am a boy or a girl. When I am in Nigeria it is the worst. Grandmothers would stop me in the street to ask me in Yoruba if I am a man or a woman, and this was the theme of my stays. It got so bad in 2009, that people followed me, would stop their soccer game to watch me go by, people would be weight lifting and turn their head to look at me instead of paying attention to what they were bench pressing, the stories go on and on and didn’t always make me feel safe. I wear traditional Yoruba or Nigerian outfits. I have always wore pants or shokoto and made the tops a bit feminine. I stopped appeasing my parents and have only been wearing traditional male attire for years now.
I know it got me in some trouble with my father and my uncles visiting from Nigeria when I told them about wanting an Igbo wife. I am 33 years old and hiding feels so oppressive to me, and at some point my face will begin to make me look more like my parents’ son versus their daughter. I would love to hear what other Africans think about me coming out when I go home this year. Besides people asking me what my gender is they always want to know if I am married. Where is my husband and when will I have kids? When I go back home I stay with family members and have been hesitant to come out to people. Which is hard for me because I have been out of the closet since 1996 and going back in isn’t fun. My last two visits I weighted it and maneuvered around the issue because my mom was with me and also I was visiting. I didn’t know how much more harassment I wanted to deal with in my visit and especially since I didn’t have my own space I would breathe. I would say Nigerian men are ho’s and that most people would happily agree with. So, the fact that I didn’t want a husband, along with being in school would get me a pass. I am sure people knew there was something not straight about me. People would also try to fix me with up with a husband, and/or put me in dresses and jewelry. I want to be comfortable when I go back home to Nigeria this year. I am debating coming out in Nigeria about being Queer and also being gender non-conforming or genderqueer. I don’t think I have it in me to hide that I want a wife.
Q-Zine is a quarterly on-line publication of the Queer African Youth Center QAYN
SACRED LAKE BY UNOMA AZUAH It was dawn and Umueke Lake swelled with mating insects. I stood beside the lake watching the ripples. The lake was enshrouded in thickets from where crickets shrilled. The current settled and I crept in. I felt the knotted end of my white wrapper above my breasts and blinked my white chalked eyes. I returned my knife to my right hand and held the white rooster firmer. I waited till I felt the presence of the river goddess, Adaeke. I dipped the rooster into the lake. With a gulping sound, I raised the rooster up. Trails of water ran down its damp feathers into the lake. I waited till it fell drop-by-drop and the rooster began to shudder. Its eyes were shut, and it flapped its head to snap out water through its nostrils, with a noise that seemed like a hiccup. Nnamdi paced around the large table in his father's 'Obi'— an open space in front of the four rooms that made up his father's house. He had argued with Nma the night before about visiting the stream at unearthly hours. She must have slipped out when I was asleep, he thought. He balled his right fist and pounded it several times on the rickety table. The table trembled. He kicked the leg nearest to him and spat through the wide door that led outside. “Nnamdi is that you?” his mother called out stepping out of her low door. He rushed into the open compound before he could see her, and continued his pacing. “Nnamdi, why are you up so early?” she asked staring at his stiff back through the wide door. “Since I came two days ago this is the second time Nma is leaving the house at dawn,” he said. His mother cleared her throat and snatched a small broom leaning close to her door. She looked at the mud floor that stretched all the way to the fourth room ahead of her and began to sweep in quick strokes. The floor was damp, but was covered with tiny chicken feathers and some palm kernels. She cleared her throat again and said. “I’ve told you to leave Nma alone. She’s a priestess. Stop wearing this attitude of ‘my way or no way’ like a dress.” “I don’t know why you and Papa would not listen to me. Adaeke does not exist, if she does, she’s evil. What has she done to make you believe in her existence? Ehh!” “Adaeke has protected us from invasions, famine and wars. Our harvests bloom, our children are prosperous, she has given us peace. What else has she not done?” “She’s a demon!” “You might as well return to the city where you’ll have all the room you want for your living God,” she said and gathered all the dirt she had swept in her hand, and stepped into the cool morning. She inhaled a generous amount of air and yawned.
The trees and shrubs surrounding their house were thick with leaves drooping with dew. Birds chorused from some of the trees, and an owl hooted from a distance. She shook the broom vigorously to get rid of the feathers tangled up in the broom. When she was done, she looked around to see if she needed to sweep the large compound. It was clean. She kept the broom leaning on one of the trees. A gust of cold wind blew towards her and she folded her hands over her chest and hurried into the house. Nnamdi continued walking from one end of the house to the other. Two women with enormous earthen pots on their heads, on their way to the stream, greeted him loudly but he ignored them. They slowed down their steps, looked at him, and one of them said, "May the morning be good!" This time he waved them away. The women exchanged curious glances and hurried on. Before they disappeared into a narrow path, they craned their necks to cast a last glance at him and whispered to themselves. He was still pacing when a middle aged man walked up to him and greeted. He had a deep frown on his brow. “Morning, is the priestess home?” Nnamdi eyed him and asked, “What for?” The man stepped back and looked into Nnamdi eyes, wondering if he could trust him. “Are you the one from the city?”
Nnamdi didn't answer but his mother came out of the house and darted to them. "Oku, is all well?" "Nne, no," he said and eyed Nnamdi again. He dragged Nma's mother to a corner of the compound. "Nne, I'm in big trouble." "What is it? Tell me Oku, tell me." Oku looked around and swallowed hard. He ran his fingers through his bushy hair and said, "I brought farm hands from Enuani and kept them in my farm for two days. I didn't know that they had gone to Umueke Lake, caught some fish and ate." "Ehhh!" Nma's mother yelled and covered her mouth. "Why didn't you tell them it was forbidden?" "The lake is miles away from my farm. I didn't know they would wander that far." "Aluu! Abomination!" Nma's mother exclaimed snapping her fingers. Oku looked around, his eyes bulging. "I told the priestess yesterday, and she said I should return today, but my wife has become very sick; she has been throwing up." "Nma has gone to the lake. Go home and stay with your wife. When she returns I'll let her know you checked back." "Humm," Oku grunted, the frown in his brow deepened. "Go, go and keep an eye on her." "You'll send her right away to my house?" "Yes, I will. Go now." "Thank you," he said and rushed away. "Ewoooohhhh!" Nkechi's scream rose through the four distant huts of her neighbors. Three of them, Ife, Aku and Ukpe, scampered out, running towards her hut. Nkechi raced through cocoyam farms in front of her compound, trampling and uprooting the plants. She wailed on top of her voice, “Uba my boy is dead oh!!!!! Somebody help meee!” “What is it? What happened?” Ife asked, spreading her hands to block her way. Her wrapper went loose. She tried to hold Nkechi with one hand and tighten her wrapper with the other, but with the force of Nkechi’s speed she tripped and fell over. Aku who was larger and much stronger blocked and grabbed her. “Where is Uba? Tell us…. be calm and tell us,” Aku said. But Nkechi wriggled free from her hold, flung herself to the ground and rolled on her back. She stirred up huge puffs of dust as she kicked and squirmed. “Uba my little one is dead, he fell into the ‘Omi,’ the deep water well and it is filled with water,” Nkechi squealed.
"Which 'Omi'?" Aku asked. She had caught up with them, and was panting. Her sturdy frame heaved as she attempted to lift Nkechi off the ground. Sweat trickled down her chubby face. Nkechi did not answer. Ife, who had suddenly gotten off the ground, tore into a run in the direction of the 'Omi' where Nkechi drew water every morning. When she got there, she saw an overturned metal bucket. She also saw torn out grasses at the edge of the 'Omi,' as if there was a struggle. Ife scanned the outstretched cocoyam farmland, as if hoping to see Uba hiding behind the massive leaves. "Ubaaaaah!" she called out. There was no answer. Three men joined her and peered down at the 'Omi.' They yelled into the well. They were trying to get into the deep well with a long rope, but Ife scurried back to Nkechi and others. When she got there, there was already a small crowd of people gathering around Nkechi. Word had spread that another person had drowned. A week ago, an adult drowned in the river. A couple of days ago, too, a young boy disappeared in the Nkwo pond. A shallow pond. This morning, it was Uba." "These deaths have all been through water," somebody said from the crowd. "Maybe, Adaeke, the water goddess is upset about something." A murmur of agreement spread through the crowd like a wind ruffling through the feathers of a mother hen. He was an elderly man, bent with age. The walking stick he rested on trembled as he spoke. He never looked up. It was as if he was talking to the ground. Suddenly a middle-aged woman bolted away, without a word. "Go tell the priestess!" Ife shouted after her. "Yes! That's where I'm going," the woman said. But within minutes she came back with a scowl. "She's not there." "Go stay there till she gets back. You all can go with her, let one or two of you stay with us and watch Nkechi," Aku said. More than half of the crowd left. The three women, Ife, Aku and Ukpe sat and Aku rocked Nkechi in her arms. "He's the only one I have. No husband, no brother and no father!" Nkechi moaned in between hiccups. Her chest shuddered. More tears ran down her face. "Adaeke! Here is the sacrifice for the cleansing," I struck off the neck of the rooster. It convulsed. Blood gushed out, and its head fell into the lake. There was a flow of blood streaming into the lake in dark thinning clouds. I called out again, "Adaeke! Here is the sacrifice. You watch over Umueke and mortals do go to slumber. In slumber, the strangers' footsteps never stirred them. They are mortals, Adaeke." The goddess rose from the surface of the lake as if walking up from a calm dive, and sat calmly across the water in a lotus position, floating. She was small, but with enormous breasts. Her skin was dark and glossy. She had long dreadlocks. Her huge breasts covered her laps. I looked at her too familiar face but her features were blurred. I could only make out the oval outline. Then the water wobbled and she sank. She had forgiven, reluctantly. The child will live. I kept the dead rooster in Adaeke’s shrine. Then I sat on a patch of grassy dried mud beside the lake and rested for a while. When I had rested, I walked back to the lake, washed my hands, took a bath and surveyed the lake before I went home. Whoever ran into me on the way to or from the lake was required to run or hide until I was out of sight, because I was possessed by the spirit of Adaeke. Instead of running or hiding, the crowd of people waiting for me half way to the lake turned their backs at me. I spoke to their backs. I told them to get the child out of the well that he was all right. When I got home, the sight of my elder brother, Nnamdi, provoked me. I saw the gleam of anger in his eyes. “Where are you coming from, this early in the morning?” he asked. I closed my eyes in silent prayer and walked past him but he pushed me, insisting. I kept calm. “Answer my question, you insolent thing!” he shouted. I remained silent but he crossed the dinning table between us and shook me violently. Then he raised his hand to slap me. I reached out quickly and held it, landing a slap on his cheek. He screamed in pain. My parents came running but I hurried to my room. “Nnamdi, are you all right?” I heard my mother ask. “What made you scream so?” My father asked. No one spoke. Then I heard my brother say with a shaky voice, “I felt the blow of a rock from that little swine!” “What happened?” my mother asked further. “I was asking her where she was. But she didn’t talk. I tried to force it out of her but she walked out, ignoring all my questions. Then she hit me, this incredible blow.” “Oh, Nnamdi!” my mother said. “Our ancestors be praised, Adaeke spared you.” “I don’t believe this…. you and Papa. Adaeke or whatever you call her should know that Nma is a young girl. She has a future and a life to live. She should get married some day.” “Nma may never marry, she bears Adaeke’s purity,” my mother told him. “Why? Is that part of what comes with her being possessed? She cannot continue like this. Tell that goddess, or demon or whatever, to stop making my sister an object to be possessed at its will. Go on. It’s nonsense, wives’ tales.”
I could not wait to face him. I had cleaned my eyes and dressed up. "I am Nma, not Nnamdi, not Nnamdi's twin. You are my brother. I accept but that is by chance. I have been with Adaeke even before the union that gave you to the world. I have been destined to be Adaeke's priestess. We are linked for now and ever. There's just nothing you can do about it. Fight against your will, fight to mind your own business, or you will sing songs of severed heads left at the shrine of Adaeke. You will sing songs of lips swollen with agony," I warned. "You are out of your mind," Nnamdi said. "By the time I am through with you and that demon nonsense, you sure will have something worthwhile to say." He walked into his room but stormed out immediately with a Bible.I ran after him and said, "Nnamdi, do whatever you think you can do to Adaeke in your house, but do not go to the lake!" "You're afraid?" he asked. "Nnamdi, please listen to me, do not go to the lake." I reached out to take his hand, but he snatched it away and walked faster. "Now you're begging? Save your breath, Nma. I'm going!" I could not imagine what would become of Nnamdi. I followed him to the lake. When he got there, he stood beside the lake and stared ahead, clutching his old school Bible. The lake looked menacing, even though the thickets around it seemed to be covering it like a canopy. Its surface glowed as the sun faded into the horizon.
The shrilling crickets seemed to be screeching even louder. And the white marshy shore was aglow like the surface. Nnamdi walked to the grassy clay soil around the vast lake and stopped. As he stepped into the lake, he slipped on the mud and fell in, but he got up and started screaming. "All ye water demons!" he bellowed. "I bind and destroy you, I command you to let loose your hold on my family. In the name of Jesus Christ, I render all your powers useless, I ..." he shouted at the lake. Suddenly I saw Adaeke beside me with the Bible, and Nnamdi plunged into the lake as if he was pushed. He sank. I did not see him again. Then I heard the wobbling of water. "Adaeke, no!" I yelled. The wobbling stopped and I saw him at the other end of the lake. Adaeke vanished. I could see all the way across the lake. Nnamdi was murmuring to himself. He looked around, pulled off his shirt, then his trousers. He broke into a run in his underwear. I took his Bible from Adaeke's shrine and went home. I met my mother crying. My father was pacing around the sitting room. As soon as my mother saw me, she ran to me and pleaded, "Nma, please let's go back to the lake. Nnamdi is out of his mind." “Where is he?” I asked, keeping the Bible on the table. “He has locked himself up please, let’s go to Adaeke.” “Mama, there is no need for that,” I said, holding her. I wiped her tears with my palm. “It will be well,” I held her, and hugged her warm body. I looked at my father, and he said through clenched teeth, “I have always told him, if you don’t accept, just keep away. But he wouldn’t hear.” “Call him and see if he’s all right,” my mother said. “No, mama, let him rest. He needs it,” I said, and went to my room. I did understand Nnamdi’s fear that I would not lead a normal life, but I tried to live as normal as I could. I was enrolled in a school and was even the head girl of my school. But I could not understand his fear, I would not marry nor have children. So what if I do not marry? I love my freedom as a priestess rather than slave as a wife. And I had to remain a virgin for Adaeke as the bearer of her purity symbol. I loved my life as a priestess. I would not have opted for any other. If I was happy, why should he be bothered? It hurt me that he had changed. We used to visit Adaeke’s shrine as kids. He would hold me by the hand and lead the way. Sometimes he ruffled my hair and smiled down at me. He was fourteen and I, nine. He was always the one to pour libation to Adaeke. I thought about Adaeke and what she might do with him. I would have thought that the goddess would spare a member of my family. Apparently, no. She would keep him for days, months and maybe years. I would have to prepare my mother to bear the pain and wait on Adaeke to have her way and be done with my brother. But it would take us time, a goat, maybe two, or even a young headstrong bull.
A CONVERSATION WITH UNOMO AZUAH BY AKUDO OGUAGHAMBA I’ve been an admirer of Unoma Azuah's writing and activism for quite a while, so when I got the opportunity to be introduced to her, I grabbed it. I spoke with her a number of times to get to know her and her work. I started by asking her to tell our readers a little about herself. Who is Unoma Azuah and what drives her? Unoma Azuah was born and raised in Nigeria; she is now a college teacher in the US. She believes in equal rights for all human beings, hence her near preoccupation with rights issues for all groups of minorities, whether ethnic, racial, or gender, but especially sexual minorities. Why sexual minorities in particular? Sexual minorities challenge people’s notions of fixed genders and sexual identities, so they are a kind of “grey area.” I understand that the grey areas of life are something most people find puzzling because some of us live our lives trying to fix and fit people into boxes we think they belong in or should belong in. We try to force them into those boxes to fit our notions of what they should be. But hostility towards what is neither black nor white does not change the variants in life. Things are not always cut out in straight and simple forms. Hence, I preach respect for all. Unoma, it is an honor for me to interview you for the first issue of Q-zine, the first magazine by, for, and about sexual minority groups in Africa. One of the main goals of the Queer African Youth Networking Center is to participate in the development of a queer women’s movement in Africa, so I would like to center our interview on queer women in Africa. You have written a number of articles about LGBTI/ queer people in Nigeria, especially women. Specifically, what do you think are the priority concerns or issues for queer women in Nigeria? Homophobia is the primary concern. If people are living a lie for fear of being “outed” and attacked, blackmailed, becoming a victim of extortion or even, in extreme cases, killed, this has got to be their primary concern. Where women don’t feel safe, they can’t achieve their potential. Until you are safe and can live your life openly, you can’t make much progress in other areas, so we have to start by fighting this homophobia that hold queer women back. Can you give us a brief history of the evolution of queer women’s activism in Nigeria? Is this activism connected to larger women’s activism or feminist activism? I don’t know that there is an active queer women’s activism in Nigeria yet. Therefore, it cannot be said that any form of activism in this regard is connected to larger women’s activism or feminist activism. As I’ve said in a number of my articles on queer issues, feminism both as an activist movement and as a body of ideas is what Pinkie Megwe, in her article “Theorizing African Feminism(s): The ‘Colonial’ Question (Quest: An African Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 20, 2006), describes as “ideas that underline the need for positive transformation of society such that women are not marginalized but are treated as full citizens in all spheres of life.” But feminism is a very diverse movement, of course, with all kinds of schools of thought, even just within contemporary “Western” feminism—liberal, radical, Marxist, social feminism, and so on. However, across these designations there is a belief in some quarters that feminism is the theory while lesbianism is the practice. Therefore, the feminist movement in Nigeria is held in much suspicion. For instance a writer like Buchi Emecheta refers to it as “foreign” and prefers to have the F in her own brand of feminism come with small letter f. Does this mean queer women in Nigeria are not necessarily part of the feminist movement? I think that’s right. For example, a writer like Zaynab Alkali would out rightly reject the feminist tag, while a writer like Akachi Ezeigbo would rather be called a “womanist.” In other words, the feminist movement in Nigeria is fraught with so much controversy that it has not yet become a firm platform for women to fight patriarchy. There is no activist group formed to that effect. Apart from the underground weekly or monthly gatherings of the LGBT communities where individual and group problems are discussed, queer women in Nigeria fight their fights as individuals.
What are some of the major difficulties of starting and sustaining an activist movement in Nigeria and the rest of West Africa? Because West Africa has such an entrenched patriarchal system, just like most of the African continent, it is almost impossible to break away from the expected gender norms and live comfortably. In addition, many people misinterpret such movements as a threat to the family, which is not the case. If only the general public could once again recognize that there is strength in diversity, things would be much easier. Are we not making any progress then? Oh yes, we are definitely making progress despite these problems. The process is slow, but things are gradually changing. Women are becoming more independent and more assertive all the time. They no longer necessarily hang their self-worth on patriarchal expectations. More and more women are breaking the so-called gender identity norms. Some are shifting these boundaries, while others are dismantling them altogether. So where there were vacuums in the past, the hope of gathering and organizing is rising. And this hope of course is based on the fact that some people will be who they are no matter how many of them are rejected or tormented or even threatened to be wiped off the surface of the earth! Sometimes people feel restricted because of policies and a political atmosphere that criminalizes certain sexual orientations and gender identities. What do you think are some ways that queer women—and their allies—can help to create change, given this environment? Some have suggested that the most single most important thing is that people should begin by “ coming out,” especially to their families. And in as much as coming out may be a very difficult thing to do based on the reality of living in a highly hostile environment, it does help. Imagine for instance if a president’s son or daughter were to come out to his or her parents. Eventually those parents would have to accept the fact that their child is queer or different, and so they would see that queer children are just children and that queer people are people like everyone else, not freaks or monsters. They would cease to view sexual orientation as an illness and accept it as a natural human phenomenon. A president who has a queer daughter will obviously think twice before supporting or enacting a law that would criminalize or kill his queer child!
NOWHERE TO TURN: NEW STUDY OF BLACKMAIL AND EXTORTION IN AFRICA HELPS US PROTECT OURSELVES Where do you turn when your love life is invaded and used against you, yet the laws of your country not only don’t protect you, they make you a criminal just for having a love life? This is the dilemma faced by thousands of LGBT people in sub-Saharan Africa every year who are blackmailed simply because of their sexuality. Antiquated colonial “sodomy” laws make it possible, corrupt police make it easy, and homophobic societies make it very difficult for victims to do much about it unless they are very lucky or very strong or have this book! Blackmail and extortion are some of the most common crimes against LGBT people in sub-Saharan Africa. Something like one in five say they’ve been blackmailed, and many more probably have been victims but are too ashamed or scared to admit it. The effects of the crime are devastating and long-lasting; blackmail can make your life unbearable. Yet the problem has hardly been studied. This isn’t surprising, since blackmail is a private, intimate crime that thrives on shame and fear. For the same reasons, ignoring blackmail is part of what helps it to thrive. It is great news therefore that the silence has finally been broken with the publication of the first book on LGBT-related blackmail and extortion in Africa. Great too that the book is written in a clear, reader-friendly style and focuses very much on practical issues showing how and why blackmail against sexual minorities takes place and explaining what we can do to keep ourselves safe or respond effectively to blackmail attempts. Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa, published earlier this year by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (ILGA), shows in horrifying detail just how common the blackmail of gay men and lesbians in Africa is, how devastating its effects on their lives are, and how difficult it can be to fight the crime in a context of criminalization and homophobia. Edited by Ryan Thoreson and Sam Cook of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), the book is short, highly readable, and necessarily selective in focus. In order to be as detailed and helpful as possible, it uses case studies from just five countries, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi, and Cameroon, but these give a good cross-section of LGBT experience. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender readers from anywhere in Africa will be sadly familiar with stories like these. For other readers the case studies will be both shocking and illuminating. Most striking will probably be the fact that LGBT people in Africa are often blackmailed by close friends, family members, and even lovers! To some it may also be surprising to learn, as the editor observes – in a classic understatement – that “the law typically offers little protection for LGBT people” who are victimized by blackmailers. Indeed, what some of the stories reveal is that the police are often accomplices in these crimes?! Even when the police do not collude with the blackmailers, they more often than not ignore the real crime and threaten the victim with being charged with sexual offences, in the process frequently turning into blackmailers themselves! But this shouldn’t be too surprising, since, as Nowhere to Turn makes clear, the main driver of blackmail and extortion against LGBT people in sub-Saharan Africa is the law itself. Thirty-eight out of the 47 sub-Saharan states still criminalize homosexual acts, with penalties ranging from hefty prison sentences to even the death penalty in some areas using Sharia law. The irony is that these laws are mostly hangovers from colonial times (which introduced homophobia into Africa) but are now cherished by African homophobes as expressions of “African culture.” Long before the sodomy law was finally repealed in Britain in the 1960s, it was notorious for being “the blackmailer’s charter,” and Nowhere to Turn makes it clear that the criminalization of harmless, private, consensual homosexual acts in Africa has exactly the same terrible effect. Several contributors to the book, notably Oliver Philips in his excellent chapter “theorizing” blackmail and extortion in the context of Zimbabwe, make the point that decriminalization alone will not eliminate LGBTrelated blackmail in Africa. The stigma surrounding homosexuality in most African societies will provide a market for blackmailers even after the laws are repealed. Nevertheless decriminalization is the critical first step in fighting the blackmail epidemic and would probably reduce blackmail attempts by at least half, if the figures on LGBT-related blackmail in South Africa are anything to go by. Until then the nonsensical sodomy laws make fighting blackmail extremely difficult for LGBT people in Africa. However there are steps we can take to protect ourselves, and Nowhere to Turn’s final chapter, “Responding to Blackmail and Extortion” by Zimbabwean lawyer Derek Matyszak, offers invaluable practical advice. However, all the chapters make it clear that one strategy is especially important—being as out as you can be. The more open you are about your sexuality, especially with your family and close friends, the less likely you are to be blackmailed (though, sadly, being open may expose you to other risks). At the moment Nowhere to Turn is available only in English. Can we hope for a French edition of this important and original work sometime soon? 1. Ryan Thoreson and Sam Cook, eds. Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa. New York: International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, 2011. 140 pages; ISBN 978-1-884955-27-3 ...2. Chapters contributed by: Ryan Thoreson, Oliver Philips, Unoma Azuah, Mac-Darling Cobbinah, Wiseman Chibwezo, Charles Gueboguo and Marc Epprecht, and Derek Matyszak ...3. A PDF copy of Nowhere to Turn can be downloaded free at http://www.iglhrc.org/binary-data/ATTACHMENT/file/000/000/484-1.pdf
Culture/Torture By Yemisi Ilesanmi They say it is culture I think it is torture Born a woman, a reason to be oppressed It is culture A woman must be suppressed I must never be too forward They will only drag me backward I must learn to be submissive For the man has power to be dismissive. To be accepted I must be subjected. Different meals I must prepare That’s what makes me special Teas I must make Special cakes I must bake The butter I churn amidst the patter The children and husband I pander Hanging on my apron often As I face the heat of the oven I am sweating, but he is swearing. Well, he is the man And I am just a woman They celebrate polygamy, condemn polyandry But why must he have all the fun? Have his beer belly rubbed in the sun? Have the status, be the chief And keep his many wives as chefs? Catering to his every need Ready to bear his seed While taking lovers makes me a pariah I can be stoned according to Shariah.
I am a child, there goes my friend Yet I cannot see her face She is covered up And hidden like a fiend But they say it makes her worthy. Her value only rises When a boy comes forth Though she is still a child herself Who needs to play? Yesterday we played together in the rain Now I search for her in vain Someone has stolen her to marry An old man pops her cherry. I am a child and born an atheist Only to be told I must grow up A theist To their churches I am dragged While they brag About their godly child Oh give me a shield From all that talk of heaven and hell Leave me in my shell The thought of burning fire Just leaves me sad and tired But I must have a myth to share A threat to scare A god to offer supplications And submit my applications But I am gay And have no say While they say it’s taboo! But this is who I am, not some tattoo That leaves me a choice. I have found my voice And with pride I reject your offer I will no longer suffer In silence for my sexuality It’s too high a price for my mentality Now you know that one man‘s culture Is really another woman’s torture?
THE VOICES OF QUEER AFRICANS & ALLIES
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS Q-zine, a new online quarterly magazine by, for and about sexual minority communities in Africa Are you a creative writer, journalist, political or social commentator with an interest in LGBTQI issues? A queer fashion designer, make-up artist, or hairdresser? An LGBTQI relationship guru, fitness guru, or health care provider? Are you an artist or entertainer with an interest in illuminating LGBTQI lives and concerns? Are you a queer person of any background or persuasion who wants to talk about the experiences that shaped your life or the issues that matter to you? Are you ready to get published? We are seeking your work. Q-zine will feature articles, news, editorials, fashion shoots, art pieces, reviews and creative writing on a wide range of topics directly relevant to the lives and experiences of sexual minority communities and their allies in Africa. Q-ZINE’S MISSION Q-zine is a bilingual (English and French) quarterly online magazine by, for and about sexual minority communities in Africa. We aim to provide an inspiring and creative outlet for sexual minority groups to celebrate debate and explore the creativity and cultural richness of queer life in Africa. Q-zine’s overall goal is to encourage African sexual minority communities to decide for themselves how they should be represented in the media and popular culture. The first issue of Q-zine will be online July 1, 2011. WHAT Q-ZINE IS LOOKING FOR •Features, opinion pieces and news on politics, human rights, and social issues •Fiction, non-fiction (e.g. autobiographical essays, personal essays) and poetry •Profiles and interviews of activists, writers, artists and other public figures •Illustrations and cartoons •Fashion, make-up and hairstyle shoots •Book and art reviews •TV, movie and music reviews •Reviews of queer-friendly bars, restaurants, resorts and hot spots in your community or in places you’ve visited. HOW TO SUBMIT TO Q-ZINE We are now accepting submissions for issue two. The deadline for submissions is August 15, 2011. 1.All work must be original, unpublished and accompanied with a cover letter including a short biography of the author with contact information. Please include word count at the top your piece. 2.Fashion, make up and hairstyle shoots should be in colour. They should include the name of the designer, the models, the make-up artist and photographer. Please provide a short description of the work, your contact address (including Facebook page), boutique address and prices of your work. 3.Submissions may be in English or French. 4.All written content should be submitted as Word (.doc) files. All images should be submitted as TIFF or JPG files with a resolution of 100 ppi.
Q-ZINE IS ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS FOR THE FOLLOWING SECTIONS AND FORMATS: News & Politics Word count: 500-600 words Arts, Culture, & Entertainment Word count: 500-600 words Fashion Fashion, make-up and hairstyle shoots should be in colour or black and white. They should include the name of the designer, the models, the make-up artist and photographer. Provide a short description of the work, your contact address (including Facebook page), website, boutique address and prices of your work. Art Illustrations, paintings, cartoons and photography on any LGBTQI-related theme are welcome. Each image should have a caption (max. 100 words) commenting on the work. In the case of photos the location and date should also be given. Literature Short stories and poetry: Max 1,000 words Features Word count: 1,000-1,200 words Commentary & Editorials Word count: 400-500 words Material should be submitted using Q-zineâ€™s online submission form, which can be accessed via the Queer African Youth Networking Centre (QAYN) http://www.gayn-center.org/call-for-submissions If you cannot access the online submission form, you may also email your submissions to the Lead Editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org
A project of the Queer African Youth Networking Center QAYN Visit us at www.gayn-center.org to learn more about QAYN