Accepted paper:

LGBTI activism, liminal spaces, and the Luso-Anglo divide


Axel Fleisch (Goethe-University Frankfurt)

Paper short abstract:

Liminal spaces are crucial to flourishing LGBTI culture and activism in Africa as elsewhere. Lusophone countries show less state-sponsored homophobia than anglophone countries. Urban and televised culture creates a Luso-specific LGBTI liminality, mirrored in a more permissive popular opinion.

Paper long abstract:

Earlier work (Fleisch 2014, Seppinen and Fleisch 2016, Fleisch and Seppinen 2016; all unpublished conference presentations) emphasises the existence of liminal spaces in lusophone Africa as a specific difference compared to the confrontational and conflicted public debate unfolding in several anglophone African countries. This contribution brings to the fore commonalities among LGBTI people across various sites mostly in southern Africa. Shared dynamics in the promotion of LGBTI/gay/queer culture can be detected; many of these seem rooted in role models and templates from the Global North. Arguably, urban spaces have served as catalysts from which gay/queer practices found their way into local communities - both urban and rural. Examples scrutinized with regard to these dynamics include language, artistic and other cultural practices. This leads to the central claim defended in this paper: While colonial historical legacies have left a significant imprint on LGBTI-related popular attitudes, gay culture flourishes drawing on shared LGBTI legacies across national boundaries. While this may provide support to local actors and LGBTI stakeholders, it also opens possibilities for discourses that ostracize exactly along these lines (cf. the notorious misperception of homosexuality as un-African). How this plays out against the urban-rural and the Luso-Anglo binaries will be discussed to the best of our empirical abilities - the careful formulation due to the fact that these issues are sensitive in some of the contexts where data were collected, especially as far as direct observation goes, less so perhaps for social media commentary that is also considered for this paper.

panel P118
LGBTI Activism in Lusophone Africa and beyond: organization and dynamics in urban contexts