‘Queer in Africa’ Conference Cancelled

Editor's Note: Due to the impending inclement weather for March 21, the Queer in Africa conference has been cancelled for March 21. Further information will be forthcoming.

Scholars, activists and community organizers from around the world will come together at Lehigh on Wednesday (March 21) to shine a light on the human rights issues that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities in Africa are facing and to explore ways to bring about change.

Hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences, the daylong conference, “Queer in Africa: Challenges and Pathways to Inclusion,” will include presentations, a panel discussion and a keynote by activist Kasha Nabagesera, a leading figure in the LGBTQ+ movement in Uganda, where same-sex sexual acts are criminalized.

“We don’t talk about this a lot, but there is really a lot going on [in Africa],” said Sirry Alang, assistant professor of sociology at Lehigh and a conference organizer. “On a daily basis,” she said, “people are killed, people are incarcerated,” even if just suspected of homosexual acts. “So, I think, raising awareness is important.”

Alang said it’s also necessary to understand the role that the United States and other Western countries can play in addressing issues or ensuring the freedoms and basic rights of LGBTQ+ people in Africa.

“So these stories will be told,” said Alang. “It’s important that these conversations happen at institutions of higher learning.”

The conference will open at 9 a.m. in Williams Hall, with sessions on “Queering Silences, Queering Resistances,” “Queering Politics of the Self in Ghanaian Context” and “Queering Discourses of Representation.”  The program can be found here.  

Donald E. Hall, the Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will deliver opening remarks and introduce Nabagesera, beginning at 6 p.m. in Room 303 of Whitaker Laboratory.

Both Nabagesera’s keynote and the panel discussion that follows will be live-streamed for those who want to join the dialogue online. 

Alang said there has been increased social and political visibility of queer people in Africa and the diaspora and that many politicians and lawyers have spoken out about crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. But more dialogue is needed, she said, “and it’s critical to go beyond the dialogue to ensure our collective freedoms as humanity.”

She said she hopes the conference, which will also explore historical, religious and health issues, will invigorate activism in Africa and create a new cohort of scholars, activists and community organizers who care about protecting LGBTQ+ Africans.  She said there’s historical evidence that pre-colonial Africa was accepting of same-sex relationships, but is now one of the most homophobic continents.

“In a lot of ways, it’s un-African,” she said of the problems facing the LGBTQ+ community there.

Alang expressed delight that Nabagesera will deliver the keynote.

Despite operating in a hostile and oppressive environment in Uganda, Nabagesera was able to co-found Freedom and Roam Uganda in 2003 to defend the rights of Uganda's lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and served as its executive director for over a decade.  She co-founded Sexual Minorities Uganda in 2004.

She opened the first gay bar in Uganda and was a key organizer of the country’s first Pride parade. In 2014, she began Kuchu Times, a media platform that gives voice to LGBTQ+ people in Africa. She trains activists and has received numerous recognitions and awards, including the Sean McBride Award from Amnesty International Dublin, the Right Livelihood Award, the Civil Courage Award from Berlin, the International Activist of the Year Award organized by the National Lesbian and Gay Federation of Ireland, and the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award. In 2011, Kasha was selected by a jury of 10 of the world's leading human rights organizations to receive the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders--the first LGBTQ+ activist to receive the prestigious honor. 

A panel discussion at 6: 45 p.m. will follow the keynote. Panelists will include John Adewoye, of the Center for Integration and Courageous Living in Chicago; Neville Hoad, of the University of Texas, Austin; Wendy Isaack, of Human RIghts Watch in New York; Victor Mukasa, executive director of the Kuchu Diaspora Alliance–USA; and S.N. Nyeck, of the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands and Canterbury Christ Church University in the United Kingdom.

Also on the conference committee are Kwame Essien, assistant professor of history; and Mark Orrs, professor of practice of sustainable development.


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