African LGBT success stories are hard to find. We usually only hear negative news. Yes, while some gay and bisexual men in Africa are creating astonishing legacies, most continue to fight increased rates of stigma and discrimination. Unfortunately, Africa is still a continent where political power, religious intolerance and indifference in government causes significant obstacles to human rights.
On Jan 13, 2014, former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, signed into law a bill that criminalised same-sex relationships with up to 14-years in prison. The cold-blooded anti-gay bills adopted by most countries on the continent are draconian, obnoxious and baffling. They make it challenging to recognise the work of successful African gay and bisexual men and women, yet we know that Africa is no less numbered with amazing LGBT individuals.
The fight for freedom and equality remains alive in the hearts of many LGBT individuals on a continent where violence against gay people is nothing new. Most gay and bisexual men in Africa will find it difficult to openly declare their love because of perceived stigma and criminalization. However, a few courageous individuals have defied the status quo and made a significant name for themselves in the broader LGBT community.
LGBT Entrepreneurs in Nigeria
Still, many African gay and bisexual men continue to put their sexuality in the spotlight. Among the number of successful gay men in Nigeria is Denrele Edun, who is arguably the continent’s most popular gay figure. Denrele is a very successful international television personality who has won upwards of 16 awards and more than 30 nominations for various accolades. Denrele has a history of interviewing superstars such as Snoop dog, Akon, Beyoncé, Lil Kim, and others. In Nigeria, he talks the talk and walks the walk, as they say.
Denrele Edun is an African gay man with glamour, enthusiasm, and the motivation to be seen and to get things done. As an eye-popping cross-dresser, Denrele is often adorned in elaborate, colourful apparels. His activity drives home the urgent need for inclusivity, and Denrele naturally found his passion in the entertainment industry and has been using his striking skills to make Nigerians and Africans proud. Throughout his career, he has never attempted to hide his sexuality but has used his difference to drive excellence as a thriving African gay man.
Richard Akuson is another Nigeria who is big on the news. As a 26-year-old Nigerian lawyer and founder of “A Nasty Boy” magazine, he is a positive force against the deeply rooted homophobic and violent tendencies prevalent in his home country. Akuson seeks to create a cultural condition that is more accepting, tolerant, and open toward gay people. Surprisingly, Richard, through his work, was recognised as one of Africa’s under 30 changemakers by Forbes in 2019. Two years earlier, he was enlisted in the annual 40 Most Powerful Nigerians Power-list, and nominated for a prestigious Future Africa’s Prize in New Media Innovation.
The Nigerian gay rights activist, blogger, and public speaker, Bisi Alimi, is another internationally respected Nigerian who has shown how strong the human will can be. At 44 years old, Bisi was already a famous television star in Nigeria before he came out on live TV and founded the organisation that bears his name. Today, he runs the Bisi Alimi Foundation, a charity he established to combat the worrying concerns surrounding equity and dignity of LGBT people in Nigeria. Through his foundation, Bisi Alimi provides a vital voice for HIV/Gay/Bi advocacy and is a prominent example of Africa’s LGBT success stories.
Out for LGBT Rights in South Africa
Far from the shores of Nigeria, South Africa is considered the most gay-friendly country in Africa owing to that nation’s gay-friendly constitutions, which stipulates non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. Indeed, South Africa was the 5th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.
South Africa’s LGBT success story is a rising star of music and film. Nakhane Touré is the 26-year-old star of “The Wound,” a gay movie about love and the rites of passage to manhood. Like his movie character, Nakhane is quite fearless in real life. With “The Wound,” he significantly attempted to contribute towards cultural and attitudinal transformation among homophobes in society. His musical career is also thriving. As an upcoming musical artist and activist, his debut album “You Will Not Die” (Deluxe Version) seems to have been drawn from inspiration rather than mere calculation.
Standing for Gay Rights in Ghana
In Ghana, like Nigeria, LGBT rights are consistently under attack and suppressed. Homosexual relations in Ghana are criminalised, and gay men are encouraged to marry and father children while keeping under the radar. Notwithstanding the challenges of being gay in a highly religious environment, one of the few courageous men who have made a stride in an effort to stand up to anti-gay bigotry is Anoff Panji. The musician, film producer and scriptwriter, may not have actively promoted gay culture through his career, but he has succeeded in distinguishing himself as an openly gay man who contributes immensely to the development of the music and movie industry in Ghanaian. Out and proud – touche!
An LGBT Pioneer in Uganda
The threat of anti-gay attack is real in Uganda, where being a same-gender-loving man has its extreme challenges. Uganda has one of the most disgusting anti-gay laws ever passed into existence. Gay love in that country carries the possibility of life imprisonment, and there is a high risk of physical attack and harassment against LGBT people in the country. But just when it appeared most problematic to face the country’s harsh rules, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesra shows how determined a same-gender-loving woman can be in the face of existing violence and discrimination.
Nabagesra is an economist and a proud lesbian. She was born in Kampala, Uganda, where her tremendous skills and expertise in banking led her to become vice president of her organisation. Nabagesra has always lived openly as a lesbian, and although she often faced violence and discrimination, her activism has been guided by concern for others in the LGBT community who may not be as fearless as she.
It is for this reason that Nabagesra founded Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) in 2003, and becoming a pioneer of the LGBT rights movement in Uganda. “It is very important that we are who we are, especially looking back in history at how our race has been undermined,” she said. “It’s important for us to stand up and be counted.”
These are just a few of Africa’s LGBT success stories. There are countless other same-gender-loving success stories taking place on the continent daily, we just never hear of them. Africa is a region where tradition, religion, ridicule or the threat of ostracization can force most people to toe-the-line. It is refreshing to see that some LGBT people will stand up for change where change is desperately needed.
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