African countries have some of the world’s most prohibitive laws governing homosexuality. LGBT+ interactions are considered criminal offenses across the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death. Gay rights groups have said that these laws have promoted intolerance and discrimination in housing, education, healthcare and the workplace as well as contributed to a the rise in hate crimes such as blackmail, and most victims are too scared to go to the police for help.
However this did not stop the first pan-African virtual pride event from taking place this month, bringing together LGBT+ Africans in an effort to share their stories of challenge and success in a continent where they are often criminalised and persecuted.
Pride Afrique 2020 organiser Kehinde Bademosi, a gay Nigerian social innovator who was forced to move to the United States after homophobic threats to his life at home, said the pandemic had brought the perfect opportunity to stage the event.
“More people are online due to the coronavirus and so we thought it was a good time to reach out virtually to the LGBTQI people living in Africa.We are doing this because right now in Africa, many countries are criminalising LGBTQI people and we want to send a strong message to them that they are not alone and show them that there is a community where they belong,” said Bademosi.
The three-day event was broadcasted live for two hours daily and featured LGBT+ speakers and advocates from Tunisia in the north to Mozambique in south, as well as from the diaspora. The discussions ranged from the history of the LGBT+ community in Africa and the media portrayal of sexual minorities to how LGBT+ people can better organise for their rights and care for their mental health.
Bademosi, who is also the Director of social innovation and design at Baltimore City Health Department, added growing up in Nigeria he never knew what Pride was and the significance it played in bringing sexual minorities together as a collective voice.
“Visibility is very important. We are all on different journeys, but at the end of the event, I hope people will feel more empowered by listening to other people’s stories. We are not forcing people out of the closet, but we want them to know that they are not alone and if they need support, they have a universe of people out there to help them,” he said.