Binyavanga Wainaina’s coming out last week was seen as a ‘bombshell’ by a wide range of media, including the New York Times, and Kenya’s Daily Nation. Certainly it was cheered by many, both publicly and privately, as courageous and timely. The big question, as the the BBC asks, is ‘Will Binyavanga Wainaina Change Attitudes to Gay Africans?’ Another question must also be asked: Will it inspire other prominent Africans to also come out of the closet?
While Binyavanga’s welcome bombshell may change some attitudes, it won’t change enough. We will need many more prominent Africans to come out of the closet if we really want to see assumptions and prejudices of the homophobic majority start to shift and shatter.
There is an increasingly vocal group of LGBT activists emerging across Africa, from Uganda to Cameroon, to Zimbabwe, to Nigeria. These are very courageous individuals, many of whom have lost their lives, their health, their families, homes and countries. They are working to try and change attitudes and policies and they are having an impact. But reaction to these individuals is shaped by the fact that they come to prominence for being gay. They demand respect and equal rights because of their common humanity, and their immense courage in deciding to stand up and be noticed without any protection of status or office or public standing. But to many opponents they are gay first and foremost, and everything else second.
What we also really need are more Africans who are already prominent and respected in various fields and endeavors to come out and reveal their homosexuality. People who are in the public eye first and foremost as judges, actors, politicians, artists, academics, scientists, businesspeople. Who by their coming out will start to induce cognitive dissonance in the haters, start to make more people question their assumptions. Aside from many South Africans who have done so, of course within a less hostile legislative environment, it is difficult to think of other famous or notable African figures like Binyavanga, who have come out as gay. Where are the openly gay and lesbian tycoons, newspaper editors, Djs, members of parliament and lawyers? Because it shouldn’t be so difficult to come up with more names, we want to start a list here at Africa is a Country. Please send us your contribution of the names of prominent Africans who are already out as gay–we’re not calling for public outing, we want to know about those already open about who they are. It will help us all become more informed, and perhaps inspire others to take the leap and join their company.