Hello beloved LGBTQ+ Africans,
How are you this pride month? No, really. How is your heart? How is your mind? What is your body telling you today?
Are you breathing deeply, with each inhale filling your belly? If not, can you try that now? Close your eyes, then take three deep breaths. Now, can you try relaxing your shoulders, hands and jaw? If you want, put one hand on your chest, plant your feet firmly on the ground, quiet your mind as best as you can and just breathe. Try to relax any part of your body that feels tight. Take three more deep breaths. Good job.
How do you feel now? Sit with the emotions or sensations for a while, if you want. Come back whenever you’re ready.
Things are not what they used to be. For some of us, the current situation is a crisis on every front. For others, it is an opportunity for self-care and healing. Regardless of how this moment is impacting us individually, I believe it offers a chance to create community in new ways.
The History of Pride Month
The now-global celebration of queer possibilities known as Pride Month is almost here. As many of us know, this celebration started over 50 years ago at a New York city bar called Stonewall, as an anti-police riot and a queer-affirming protest movement. At its forefront were two poor trans women named Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
To earn a living, Marsha and Sylvia did many things including survival sex work, but their life’s work was always to care for and uplift their communities. Through initiatives like Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), formed when Sylvia was 19 and Marsha 25, they provided a safe haven for other homeless and poor queer folks.
Throughout their lives, Marsha and Sylvia were unrelenting in their commitment to LGBT people. They showed us that our power comes from truly seeing and caring for one another. By leaning into righteous anger and deep love for those who were targeted by heteronormative violence, the rioters at Stonewall made a whole new world possible. This is the world we live in today: a world where I can find you, you can find me, and we can affirm each other.
Since that June 1969 night in New York, the message of freedom and pride has spread all over the world. Thanks to Stonewall, every June we celebrate the knowledge that trans lives matter, queer possibilities are abundant, and we don’t have to accept violence, demonisation or erasure. We’re queer. We’re here. And we’re not going anywhere.
African LGBTQ+ Realities
Nowadays however, many LGBTQ+ Africans have been told–especially during Pride Month–that to be legitimately queer we must live as loudly as possible. While it’s true that visibility changes the narrative, it’s also true that queer life is not about the narrative. To be queer means to be committed to protecting life beyond the borders of the normative imagination–including and especially your own life. You’re here. You’re queer. Everything else is extra.
Still, extra can be nice, especially for those who do want to use their voices at a volume that feels safe. So, in the spirit of uplifting queer possibilities like our forebears at Stonewall, I’m inviting LGBTQ+ Africans to celebrate Pride this year by sharing your story with me; anonymously, identified by initials, or in whatever way feels most comfortable to you.
And when I say ‘you’, I mean you whose voice is still finding its feet. You who may not yet have the language for everything you are. You who love proudly and in private. You who are known only to yourself, your mirror and your God. You who the world has failed to erase. You who sometimes struggle with still being here. You who are quietly queer.
When Marsha and Sylvia mothered a whole movement, they did so with you and me in mind. They wanted people like us to be able to see one another more clearly, love one another more easily, and be in community more safely. After all, the riot at Stonewall was about breaking the rules so we could make space for ourselves in this world.
This June, I would like for us to make more of such space by collecting some of our untold stories and sharing them with the community that all of our voices will create. So, as Pride Month approaches in a time when we cannot gather, we must remember what the riots at Stonewall taught us: that we can take pride in our lives and build community in any circumstances, as long as our hearts are turned in truth and love towards one another.
My name is OluTimehin, and I have so much love for you. I can’t wait to hear your truth, no matter how quiet it may be.
To find out how you can share your story with the Quietly Queer Collective, please send an email to forcolourfulgirls(at)gmail(dot)com. This call is open to queer people of all sexual orientations, genders, and identities. To share this call with someone who needs to see it, click any of the social sharing icons below.