By Justice Edwin Cameron and Dumisani Dube
Equality and dignity and safety for LGBTIQ people remain too scarce in too many parts of Africa. Queer people continue to face ostracism, persecution, criminalisation, violence and even murder across too much of our beautiful continent. Lesbians and transgender people are especially targeted.
Why? Religion and cultural traditions are often blamed. Add ignorance – often caused by the fact that most of us remain invisible. Though we are everywhere, an unseen but omnipresent minority, in arts, sports, politics, business, elite circles, townships, rural areas and informal settlements, our own families, colleagues, fellow congregants and neighbours too often just don’t know that we exist.
Plus the monstrous lie is still spoken against us: “This is foreign to Africa; it is a white colonial import.”
But things are changing. How? Angola and Mozambique have decriminalised queer conduct. A powerful decision by three judges in Botswana in June 2019 not only struck down Botswana’s queer-sex crimes, but denounced the lie that homosexuality is foreign to African cultures.
And in East Africa, Kenyan and Ugandan activists battle uncompromisingly to claim equal rights and protections. In Nigeria, a breathtakingly prohibitive law seeks to silence us. In Ghana, even worse legislation is pending. Yet even there, where peril is highest, brave activists are refusing to be silenced. Refusing to be shamed. Refusing to remain invisible.
Across Africa, organisations like PrideAfrique and PanAfrican ILGA assert our pride, our dignity, our claim to humanhood.
Who are leading the way to these breakthroughs? Who are these queer warriors, these queer heroes, heroines? Who are they who have braved cold nights, walked barefoot on thorns and stayed at the forefront of the battle for our humanity?
Those are questions this issue of EXIT proudly addresses. Here EXIT invites you to a celebration of just a tiny selection of our comrades and allies and frontline fighters who are living the struggle for justice and pride and equality.
They are doing this in different, imaginative ways, including art, research, humanitarian work and the hard slog of on-the-ground organising.
The selection is partial; there are so many more who could and should have been included. More even have battled in isolation, unknown, in lonely shadows. The wrongs of their exclusion will be righted, in future issues. This is only a start, a very partial start.
And every time we start, we must also look back – we must remember. Without proud memory, we less. We were brutalised and suppressed, through most of human history, by keeping us faceless, formless, by suppressing and eradicating our achievements, our histories.
So this celebration of queer prides remembers the late, brave Simon Nkoli. His astonishing courage, as an unflinching anti-apartheid activist, who insisted also on being unflinchingly, proudly queer, paved the way for South Africa’s world-first: including sexual orientation in our Constitution’s equality protections.
We also remember the late Keith Goddard whose outspoken courage brought the fight for human rights in Zimbabwe to the world.
Many more have departed. Many who live are still owed this celebration.
So let us start with a humble reflection. Though it has been hard for the Exit selection team to come up with a bigger representative group, those Exit features here represent a beginning. Just a fraction of many who have fought, are fighting, this battle.
We look to much more celebration, much more recognition, many more achievements, in the future: and many more Queer Warriors to claim our rightful liberty and pride.
“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” Nelson Mandela
Edwin Cameron is a retired judge who served as a Justice for the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He is well known for his HIV/AIDS and gay rights activism and was hailed by Nelson Mandela as “one of South Africa’s new heroes”.
Dumisani Dube is a gay religious leader, Christian and a human rights activist. He is a communications consultant who has a passion in fighting for LGBTI rights across all spectrums including religious institutions. He is currently the Editor in Chief of EXIT Newspaper.