'I want to hear real stories of lived experiences like mine'

16 May 2019

In the latest of our guest blogs from citizen journalists in southern Africa, Boitshepo Mmabatho Motsamai calls for a re-telling of LGBT+ narratives in traditional and digital media.

Collage of media production photos

Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity. 
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian novelist.

Sexual and gender minorities in many sub-Saharan African countries are particularly affected by anti-gay laws that prohibit their enjoyment of human rights. Real stories of the lived experiences of these groups just don’t appear in mainstream media.

Instead we’re fed occasional caricatured representations of LGBT+ people. Often it’s human rights violations that get covered in the news space, however, problematic language is used. While I wouldn’t question the value of reporting human rights violations per se, I do have a problem with ‘how’ these stories are reported.

This linear style of reporting further dehumanises and erodes the socio-political and economic agency of LGBT+ people. Being portrayed either as victims or as innate problems within society, or placed in an ‘other’ category, has normalised negative attitudes and stigmatising behaviour towards them.

However, there is a new dawn for queer stories. Digital media offers new opportunities for diverse realities to be heard. The AfroQueer podcast and MambaOnline news and lifestyle website are just two examples that not only give a glimpse of LGBT+ lived experiences to others, but have also opened up safe spaces for the community to find their own forms of expression, with dignity and humanity.

These ever more popular digital platforms have unapologetically queer publications to thank for laying the groundwork: Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives (Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa), and Bev Ditsie’s Simon and I documentary should be acknowledged as fundamental in claiming and maintaining the right to expression for many LGBT communities across the region.

And more popular media outlets are gradually getting on board. As more African LGBT+ rights are realised, empowering narratives are forming both on- and offline. These stories are hugely important because they educate and inform, they humanise and create empathy, and they challenge entrenched stigma and discrimination.

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Author: Boitshepo Mmabatho Motsamai

Boitshepo Mmabatho Motsamai is a believer in African development through leadership, community engagement and the power of the pen. She’s a motivational speaker, entrepreneur and Founder of The Afrolutionist blog which promotes dialogue on African development, viewed in over 130 countries. The blog also runs corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects that focus on SDG 17, strengthening partnerships.

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