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date: 20 September 2019

Summary and Keywords

From Pride marches in Entebbe to legal battles in Lilongwe, the struggle for queer liberation in Africa has intensified over the past two decades. This has given rise to diverse formations of queer activism and organizing across the African continent and, in turn, to a burgeoning academic literature on the politics and practices of queer African activism. From a legal perspective, this period has seen progress in the status of queer or LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) rights in some parts of the continent. Elsewhere, this has paralleled a rise in forms of state-sponsored homophobia. The Ugandan government’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill is one prominent example, which garnered international notoriety in 2009. Focusing on waves of political homophobia in countries like Uganda, some Western media commentators have characterized Africa as homophobic, a continent where queer individuals face violence and persecution.

Yet heightened international concern over the plight of queer Africans has not always been accompanied by an understanding of the movements, alliances, organizations, and activists working on these issues on the ground, nor has it incorporated the voices and experiences of queer Africans themselves. Thus, narratives of “homophobic Africa” belie the multiple, far-reaching ways Africans are coming together to contest homophobia, unsettle heteronormativity, and assert their rights. Among this growing array of activist groups are the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, Freedom and Roam Uganda, the Association of LGBTI People in Zimbabwe (GALZ), and LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays & Bisexuals of Botswana), to name just a few.

In the academic literature, scholars have converged around a key set of issues and debates in an attempt to document and understand the character of contemporary queer politics and activism in Africa. This includes debates over language, naming practices, and terminology and discussions of political and religious homophobia, processes of globalization, the impact of HIV interventions and international aid funding, and the political economy of development. The complexity of these issues defies generalization and necessitates a concern for specificity: for an understanding of the shifting social, cultural, economic, and political contexts in which struggles over queer liberation and LGBTI rights are taking place in Africa; of the historical legacies of colonialism and uneven patterns of global development; and of the opportunities and constraints shaping queer activism in each setting. Against this background, scholars engaged in the study of queer activism must interrogate whose experiences, voices, and priorities are being heard (and whose are being excluded) and seek to center those activists at the grass roots who are leading the struggle for queer liberation and erotic justice on the continent.

Keywords: Africa, LGBTI rights, queer politics, activism, homophobia, African politics

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