Francesca Perrone reviews Upendo, a day recognising and celebrating LGBT communities in Africa.
In February, LGBT History Month is celebrated across the UK. For this occasion, Stella Vision organized a rich event through films, discussion and a live music performance, hosted at NAE. I was proud to attend this initiative because in the past I had come across this topic and, all the issues related with it that regard some African countries.
My studies on religious and African history at the university fuelled my need to know more about it. Considering how much the sphere of sexuality is affected by religious traditions, it was extremely compelling for me to evaluate what happens in countries where the power of religious traditions as well as religious and political institutions is still so strong.
This topic has been explored through two film screenings: “Stories of our Lives” and “Born this Way”. Both focused on the LGBTQ community in Africa and its diaspora, with an exploration of human rights, religion and philosophy.
The films illustrate different aspects of love among people that live in Kenya and Cameroon. They are, still today, strongly affected by the lack of freedom in showing their identities and feelings.
“Stories of our Lives” is not only a film but also a project arose for many reasons. Firstly, for telling stories not often heard but which they represent a face of Kenya. The film is composed by a series of five vignettes based on true stories. I would like to pay attention, in this article, on some of them like the one named ‘Ask me nicely’ and ‘Each night I dream’. I took these two vignettes because I would like to describe some aspects that affect sexuality in Kenya.
The first one is about Kate. She is a rebellious young high school student. She met her first love Faith in school. School discovered their love, therefore afterwards they were separated. Kate was encouraged by her mum to act as a proper female, by wearing skirt rather than trousers. Then Kate, starting to feel different in herself, impulsively has a sexual encounter with a boy. Consequentially, her love story with Faith was over.
The second is about a homosexual couple. They used to live together in the same house, but, when local legislators threaten to enforce the anti-gay laws, they were forced to find a way to escape for not being discovered.
Highlighting those two vignettes underlines how much our strong cultural, social and family expectations affect us. So strong, it directly influences the sexual orientations of people sometimes. As well as to hide a real relationship and cohabitation between people that love each other, only because it is banned by the local law.
“Born this Way” is the other film screening. It illustrates what happens in Cameroon. Here more people are arrested for homosexuality than in another country of the world. The law is able to get them even if they are out of Cameroon. And the local community plays also a strong rule in punishing anyone who loves differently according to the law in Cameroon. As well, being homosexual and Christian, at the same time, is very hard.
In Cameroon human rights are constantly in trouble for these people. However, there are centers for homosexual rights. It is allowed to them to exist and protect their rights but they have to be discreet. LGBT communities are represented and protected in these centers. They find here a family, a community. But still, when they are away from this center they feel themselves as criminals. In fact, they feel the need to go away to be recognized in their rights and dignity. But they love their country, and they want to fight for it, even thought their life is constantly unsafe.
After the film screenings, Aderonke Apata and Cédric Tchante were interviewed at NAE. Aderonke is a Human Rights Activist, Feminist and LGBT Equality Advocate. She is one of the most influential LGBT activists in the UK. She also supports LGBTIQ asylum seekers and people of African heritage in UK. She told us about her youth; her effort to hide her real identity because of a steady judgment and imposition by the family, local community and religious tradition in Nigeria.
Cedric is one of the main subjects in the film ” Born this Way”. After his participation in the documentary, he came under severe threats for which he received asylum to the United States. He told about his tireless effort in helping and advocating LGBT rights in Cameroon and across Africa. Even if he lives in San Francisco now, every morning he woke up at 5 a.m., before going to work, to stay in contact with people and friends that still live in Cameroon and need his help. Sometimes it is hard to share news and help them, but the commitment to advocate human rights is stronger nevertheless. Many challenges and inequalities are still faced in these countries.
They are two marvelous examples of people that took the courage to change their life and find a way to affirm their identity and rights. On one hand, they witness what they have lived, on the other hand, they make us aware about what many people are still facing in their countries today and how much must be done for them also outside of Africa.