How This Activist Is Changing The Narrative Around Queer Women In Africa

Kenyan writer and activist Tiffany Mugo has created a brilliant, shining corner of the Internet that you may not know about, but you should. It’s a place where fag African females can talk openly, candidly, and unapologetically about their everyday experiences. It’s a place where government-sanctioned slaying and corrective rape don’t encompass the totality of the queer African experience. It’s a place called HOLAAfrica.

In 2012, Mugo( who identifies as a faggot woman) was enjoying a couple of glasses of wine with her partner and a friend when the subject of online spaces for lesbians came up. They bemoaned the fact that while they loved being online, there was nothing on the Internet about their experiences — nothing for queer black females, by queer black girls.

The conversation inspired Mugo and her partner, Suphumeze Khunadayi, to fill this void — first launching a blog, then eventually a full-fledged website. HOLAAfrica was born. The website is described by its founders as a “Pan-Africanist queer womanist collective that deals with African female sexuality on a grand scale.”

Pablo Ferro Zivanovic for the Open Society Foundations
Tiffany Mugo, co-founder of HOLAAfrica and Open Society Youth Foundation fellow.

For Mugo, 28, one of the biggest goals of HOLAA is changing the narrative. “The only stories[ about queer African women] can not simply be corrective rape, ” she told The Huffington Post.

“You Google ‘African lesbians’ and you only get South African tales, and they’re all about lesbians being raped. It’s not to say it’s not an important narrative, but there’s more.”

On HOLAA( and its various social media pages ), queer African girls from all over the continent meet to share their stories, some anonymously. No matter what, it’s a safe space for all contributors. On any given day, one can read narratives ranging from coming out to African mothers, polyamorous relationships, activism, and masculinity vs. femininity.

The existence of queer women in Africa has often been dismissed or unacknowledged. Mugo admits fighting early on herself, wondering if her identity was all in her head, because she had absolutely no point of reference or representation. Now, she and her fellow contributors are creating that representation, reminding the world that the LGBTQ community in Africa is not a fiction, or a Western creation.

Edward Echwalu/ Reuters
A photo from the third annual gay pride festivity in Entebbe, Uganda in 2015.

“The goal is to have this no longer has become a conversation, ” says Mugo, who currently lives in South Africa.

I want us to get to a phase where if you’re going to question your existence as an African queer woman, you’re going to question whether there are other African queer women who are into, I don’t know, ice-skating. Not whether they exist at all! ”

Part of moving toward that point means spreading information and empowering LGBTQ women in African countries with real-world information. In addition to HOLAA, Mugo is also working with the Open Society Youth Fellowship to produce a digital media toolkit that they are able to empower queer African females to document their experiences through writing, video, and podcasting formats and to connect and share resources and news via social media. The idea is to link what’s happening online with what’s happening on the ground.

“We discovered through HOLAA that a lot of women have stories to tell. We want to help them start their own YouTube channels, start their own blogs, ” explains Mugo.

“Women need to be able to go online and know that the Coalition of African Lesbians is a real thing. They need to know that the first Pride in Namibia is being held in like 2 week. These things merely need to be documented, it was necessary to spread.”

Like many things on the continent, what we know of the LGBTQ experience in Africa comes from somber BBC News reports, or documentaries that focus on the persecution and violence that so many Africans experience because of their sex or gender identities. These tales are presented, almost always, under the white gaze. Perhaps that’s what stimulates HOLAA and the work that Mugo is doing so important, and so freshening. Eventually, queer African women are taking ownership of their identities.

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