A Photographer Captures LGBTQ Africans Around The Globe
“Everyone should have the right to be who they are, without hiding key parts of themselves.”
For the past three and a half years, queer Nigerian-American photographer Mikael Owunna has traveled around North America documenting communities of LGBTQ African immigrants. “I felt that my existence was an inherent contradiction because of my sexuality. I experienced considerable homophobia in African spaces and was told that being gay was ‘un-African’—a disease from the West and white people,” he writes. “Hearing one-sided messages like that from a young age is incredibly damaging to one’s sense of self. Everyone should have the right to be who they are, without hiding key parts of themselves.”
He shared with GOOD several portraits and interviews from a project titled “Limitless.”
Owunna is currently raising money to continue his work in Europe. Find out more here.
Wiilo (Queer Somali Canadian-American)
“Wiilo Geedi. Wiilo in Somali means girls who dresses like boy. It’s a nickname that I was given by my elders when I was younger. It’s something that has always comforted me when I was going through my process of discovering my queerness and helped me to overcome the shame and the feeling of being pushed away from my culture.”
Brook (Queer Ethiopian-American)
“Being at an intersection of two (mostly conflicting) minority identities, I definitely felt like I had to choose one or the other. The LGBTQ community was a lot more accepting for me, so it was easy to distance myself from my African culture. But I’ve always been deeply rooted in my Ethiopian culture, history, even religion. Distancing myself from pretty much everything I’ve known and loved made me feel empty. Support from a few people in the Ethiopian community helped a lot. But more than anything, rediscovering old Ethiopian music made me realize that I have as much right of heritage as any other Ethiopian.”
Kaamila (Queer Somali)
“For me, coming into my identities and becoming politicized were not just about understanding and challenging dynamics outside of myself. There was so much I had to unlearn about how I saw myself and treated myself. Even now, I have to constantly be aware of and push back against the way society’s messages show up in my own self-talk. It is work to cultivate self-love in this world when living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. And for people of color, queer folks, women, femmes, our very bodies are the sites of so much oppression and violence. So my style—the way in which I adorn and present my body—very much becomes a tactic of survival, a political statement, and a way to celebrate my identities.”
Eniola (Queer Nigerian)
“Eniola, Nigerian raised in U.S., she/her, queer: Over the course of my life my expression of sexuality has changed and probably will change more, but all of my lived experiences and the frame in which I perceive sexuality will always be queer. Fuck labels.”
Taib (Queer Ethiopian-Kenyan)
“Just recently I have been trying to incorporate more of my African heritage into my attire. Access to African elements from my heritage has always been a challenge living in the ‘great white north.’ Besides the occasional gifts from my grandma from Kenya,+ I really didn’t have much to go on. This past year I have had the opportunity to live and work in East Africa and have collected items along the way. I try to mix different elements into both my professional and casual wear. Given the right circumstances, I like to flirt with aspects of femininity and masculinity. I like subtle accents like a dangly earring on one ear with the occasional application of eyeliner, and accent(s) of color.”
Samuel (Queer Ethiopian)
“My name is Samuel Girma and I am from Ethiopia, born in the beautiful of Gonder in northern Ethiopia. My gender pronoun is he. I identify as a queer person. I love how the term gives me both the freedom to be as I am; it allows me to express myself freely.”
Brian (Queer Rwandan-Canadian)
“I often refer them to some acknowledged anthropological work on precolonial African societies revealing that Africa is intrinsically LGBTQ-friendly and that African homophobia results from colonization patterns, but lately that’s not how I answer to those people. Science will never speak as loud as my heart. I try my best to make them remember what the definition is of the Africa all Africans love. Africa is love, warmth, and acceptance. My Africa is one that is intrinsically hate-free, welcoming, comprehensive, and protective. It’s not about knowing if LGBTQ is “un-African” or not, but it’s more about understanding that homophobia and transphobia are clearly not derived from African values, culture, and traditions.”
Netsie (Queer Ethiopian-Namibian)
“From a young age, women are taught that they have no choice in who looks at them, and, so often, we are held responsible for what other people perceive. We are taught to be presentable, not just for business meetings, but potential friends, mates, and assaulters. At the same time, we are taught never to look threatening, or look back at the people looking at us. We are denied the verb, and forced into the noun. Fuck that. I’m a hard femme with an hourglass silhouette, a goodwill budget, and a firm grasp of anti-capitalist rhetoric. I wear whatever makes me feel comfortable and powerful and safe. I’m too clumsy to own a pair of un-ripped tights. I love wearing bold patterns that clash, things that could be pretty but aren’t, anything to remind people that when they look at me, I am looking right back at them.”
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