FannyAnn Eddy, founder of Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association, Murdered September 29, 2004 at age 30
I wrote a post a couple of days ago about the split in Seattle's gay and lesbian communities and the resulting duelling Pride celebrations scheduled for later this month, in an event expected to draw 150,000 people and sponsored by the likes of Microsoft, Anheuser-Bush, and other large corporations. What interests me about the Seattle conflict is that it centers around the question of whether, and to what degree, the Pride celebration should be "depoliticized," should become simply a festival, a celebration, good times. I feel proud of and inspired by the leadership the Seattle lesbian community has assumed in insisting that Pride remain a political event, a day to find and raise our voices and to "celebrate the community and make a social, cultural and political statement." It's hard for me to fathom even considering depoliticizing Pride during this time of ongoing assaults on gay and lesbian rights in the U.S., but Sokari has me thinking this morning of the deeper and more critical reason to steadfastly resist any move in this direction: standing in solidarity with our sisters in Africa and across the world. In Africa (as in many other parts of the world), it is not possible to even be a lesbian activist without risk to life and limb:
The LGBT community in Africa live perilous lives and activists because they are challenging the status quo, are in even more danger. They may have to move from house to house in order to avoid being outed by neighbours and reported to the police. If they are able to find work in the formal economy they have to hide their sexuality and bear the psychological pain of living a lie. Alternatively they may have to work in the informal sector moving from job to job to avoid being discovered. Quite often LGBT activists go into hiding for short periods to avoid being discovered.
Traditional methods of bringing about transformation such as direct action and civil disobedience, petitions, demonstrations, lobbying, theatre for social change are not possible. So the first action an LGBT activist in Africa has to take is one of survival.
For African lesbians, to be alive is to be in danger. If pending legislation passes in Nigeria, anyone who even "witnesses," much less celebrates or supports lesbian couples will be punished. As Sokari says, this law effectively would institutionalize the criminalization of lesbianism and would imperil all gay and lesbian activists, including those working in HIV/AIDS organizations, punishing lesbians — just for being lesbians — with five years in prison.
Reading Sokari's post, I was reminded of the 2004 murder of prominent lesbian activist Fannyann Eddy, founder of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association who had testified before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on the violence and harrassment she and all lesbians and gay men faced across Africa. Eddy herself was subsequently murdered as she worked late into the night in the offices of the organization she founded.
Sokari's post contains much specific and detailed information about the ways we can support our sisters in Africa, and I hope everyone will read it– it is a sobering reminder of the magnitude of the work left for us, as feminist women, to do in the world. If anything, our celebrations need to be more politicized, need to steadfastly and insistently draw the attention of the Microsofts and other corporations sponsoring the celebrations and all others to the plight of those who remain in need of ongoing help, support and expressions of public outrage and solidarity.