Tag Archives: Africa

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Binyavanga Wainaina

23 Jun

Binyavanga WainainaToday we honor and celebrate Binyavanga Wainaina. Wainaina lives his life as an out and visible gay man in his home country of Kenya. He has become a greatly celebrated gay rights activist for all of Africa — no small feat given the laws in Uganda and Nigeria criminalizing homosexuality.  Sadly, even members of parliament in Wainaina’s home country of Kenya are now looking at adopting serious anti-gay laws.

Recently, Wainaina was described by Time Magazine “as one of the most influential people of the year.”  The Kenyan writer describes the struggles for LGBT people in Africa:

Africa is going through an amazing time. Both turbulent, terrible but moving. Change is in the air, and I want to be inside those changes.

Wainaina also won the Caine Prize for African Writing. The chapter I am a homosexual, mum from his memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place, is garnering a great deal of attention.  Wainaina talks about why he felt he had to come out and be visible:

It seemed to me at a time when there was escalating pressure on the ability of queer Africans to live freely, that it would be a kind of reductive hypocrisy for me to remain silent.

What a lovely and courageous soul our Wainaina is. I wonder how many of us would commit to being so out and visible in a continent that is so aggressively homophobic. Remember, there are laws in Uganda and Nigeria that make it legal to imprison and even kill LGBT people. Bravo, Binyavanga Wainaina.  May your voice for social justice leave a legacy of peace and harmony for all of our LGBT family living in all parts of Africa.

Celebrating Harry Belafonte

2 Aug

BelafonteGiven the recent events involving one of my personal heroes, Harry Belafonte, and Jay Z (a staunch supporter of marriage equality), I thought this would be an appropriate time to celebrate a social justice hero.  Belafonte is known world wide for his entertainment career, but I have always had a much greater appreciation for his social activism.  Belafonte has used his celebrity to help and support Dr. Martin Luther King.  In fact, it was Belafonte who bailed King out of the now famous Birmingham Jail.  He also financed the Freedom Rides, and helped our Bayard Rustin organize the March on Washington.

Belafonte’s dedication to human rights is not restricted to the borders of the United States, although it is worth noting that Belafonte was one of a handful of people who vocally opposed the policies of the George W. Bush administration. This was during the Great Silence when practically NO ONE dared to question the administration for fear of being called unpatriotic.  One of Belafonte’s most famous admonitions addressed Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and their implication in the violation of human rights under Bush II:

There is an old saying, in the days of slavery. There were those slaves who lived on the plantation, and there were those slaves who lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master, do exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. That gave you privilege. Colin Powell is committed to come into the house of the master, as long as he would serve the master, according to the master’s purpose. And when Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture. And you don’t hear much from those who live in the pasture.

Belafonte has fought against the neo-colonization of countries in Africa.  He has helped the fight against HIV and AIDS in South Africa.  Belafonte has dedicated his life to human rights and continues to interrupt oppression around the world.  He also expects all people to take action and stand in solidarity with all targeted populations. He was proud to serve as one of the Grand Marshalls of the New York City Pride Parade this year in recognition of his support of LGBT rights and marriage equality.

While I do not wish to get into the particulars around what Belafonte said and how Jay Z responded, I would like and hope that these two men can come together and have a conversation away from the public, as Belafonte has suggested. They both make good points — progress requires direct action and public figures with whom marginalized youth can identify.

Belafonte is not only a treasure for social justice but he holds institutional and systemic memory.  Jay Z is young and has enormous power and influence.  Imagine how powerful these two voices could be if united and how many of us would support them both to help celebrate counter narratives that challenge the dominant culture. If we want the world to change for the better, we need to look towards the solidarity of targeted populations coming together in numbers too big to be ignored.

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