Celebrating Queer Africa

June is recognized as Pride Month. As celebrations of transgender, bisexual, lesbian, and gay communities ensue around the U.S. and the world, we hope to highlight the intersections of Africanist scholarship, African art, LGBTQ+ Pride, activism and advocacy on the African continent and throughout its diasporas.

In Film

Pearl of Africa (2016) is a documentary about Cleopatra, a scholar, trans woman, and activist from Uganda. The film follows Cleopatra and her fiancé, Nelson, in their daily life and as they eventually make their way out of Uganda. The Transgender Law Center shares that “Cleo & Nelson’s relationship shows something rarely highlighted when talking about transgender people in Uganda.” Along with telling part of Cleo’s story, the film touches on the backlash against LGBTQ activists and community members in the Ugandan government and tabloids.

Pearl of Africa is featured with four other films on okayafrica’s 5 LGBT African Movies to See.

In Art

American-born photographer Mikael Owunna examines how LGBT Africans in the U.S. bridge the gaps between their many identities through fashion. He shares that personal style serves as a way to explore and deconstruct “the myth that one cannot be both LGBT and African.” His series, Limit(less), is inspired, in part, by the work of Zanele Muhole.

This Photo is Copyright © 2017 by Mikael Owunna. All rights reserved.


Zanele Muholi, a Black, lesbian, South African photographer and filmmaker, calls herself a “visual activist.” Though (Cape Town,) South Africa is heralded as the LGBT Capital of Africa, there exists a disconnect between the post-apartheid equality mandated in legislation and the treatment of members of the trans, lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities in South Africa. Muholi explores this and more in her work.

Perhaps best known for documenting trans men and lesbians in her ongoing portraiture series, Faces and Phases, (the project that inspired Owunna), Muholi’s work also explores the tenderness of intimate moments between queer African women offering “a glimpse into the varied experiences, rituals, joys, and hardships of her subjects.”

Eva Mofokeng, Somizy Sincwala, and Katiso Kgope, Parktown, 2014

In Activism

The Injabulo Projects also work to manage the rift between South African laws meant to protect the nation’s LGBTQ citizens and a climate of homophobia and transphobia that leads to bullying. With a focus on youth, the Injabulo Anti-Bullying Project is aimed at providing support for school aged children through workshops, fundraisers, and after-school programs.

I personally claim my full citizenship…I’m basically saying we deserve recognition, respect, validation – Zanele Muholi

In Literature

The celebrated Brunel International African Poetry Prize has showcased, for the first time in its short history, the work of queer African poets. This year’s judges say that “the Prize has always wanted to celebrate LGBTQ poetry, which has finally come to the fore with two poets bravely and powerfully exploring openly queer themes.” These two poets are short-listed Somali-Australian poet Sahro Ali and the 2017 prize winner, Romeo Oriogun, from Nigeria. He was selected for his “beautiful and passionate writing on masculinity and desire in the face of LGBT criminalisation and persecution. Oriogun is the author of an online poetry chapbook, Burnt Men, and has been published and featured on brittlepaper.com.

Cover designed by Danielle Clough

Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction is a Lambda Literary Award winning anthology of “unafraid stories of intimacy, sweat, betrayal and restless confidences.” Queer Africa II is due for publication out of MaThoko Books, a South African publishing imprint committed to sharing the writing of queer African authors.

In a conversation with aperture.org Zanele Muholi shares the origins of her project Faces and Phases and her words about her own work apply to the great possibilities of valuing queer art and activism in Africa. She says, “We should be counted and certainly counted on to write our own history and validate our existence…so, it’s another way in which I personally claim my full citizenship…I’m basically saying we deserve recognition, respect, validation, and to have publications that mark and trace our existence.”

Edit: UW-Madison’s own LGBT Campus Center serves to offer welcoming spaces for students of color who hold identities across the gender and sexuality spectrum. The LGBTCC is home to a library and hosts frequent events like its bi-monthly peer facilitated discussion group, Rooted. In partnership with the Multicultural Student Center, the LGBTCC prioritizes “racial justice and representation” in its programming and, in an approach unique to Wisconsin, the centers are home to the Crossroads Initiative. Crossroads is a space where “the intersectional realities of students’ lives” can be recognized, addressed, and honored. Along with programming, Crossroads has created and shared a free resource guide.