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Secure networking without prejudice
By Anja Bengelstorff
To support queer people, two young Kenyans founded an online platform.
Oduor Maleba (name changed by request) is a bookworm. In addition to his work in a bookstore in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, the 25-year-old writes short stories and dreams of one day publishing them. Five months ago he registered with the Queer African Network (QAN), a virtual platform for queer people in Africa and the diaspora. "I'm happy to have this place where I can feel safe and connect," says Maleba. So far he has made friends - initially virtual - with other people interested in literature and hopes to find a literary residency to improve his writing.
Queer network: 2,000 members in 18 countries
"Queer people in Africa are being made invisible," says Nerima Makhondo. She and Okong'o Kinyanjui, both 26 and queer, couldn't take it any longer. "I was looking for a place to exist," says Makhondo. In 2020, the two founded the online network Queer African Network (QAN), which today has around 2,000 members in 18 countries, most of them young people under 30 living in Africa. "We wanted to set an example and show: We are here and invite other queer people to network and support each other," Makhondo continues. In addition, according to Kinyanjui, "the African diaspora in the USA, for example, is very interested in exploring their African roots and establishing connections to the continent, but also in helping financially".
Homosexuality is illegal in more than 30 African countries and is not socially accepted in other countries. It is even punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan, northern Nigeria and southern Somalia. Africa was a continent of sexual diversity before colonial powers imposed their anti-gay laws on Africans, fueled by the growing influence of Christian missionaries and an increasingly conservative and rigid interpretation of Islam. Many of these archaic laws still apply today.
But something is happening on the continent: in 2019, Angola's parliament not only decriminalized homosexuality, but also banned any form of discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation. A year earlier, a Kenyan court ruled that men convicted of homosexual activity no longer have to endure anal tests - a milestone. However, people in Kenya still face up to 14 years in prison for “sexual intercourse against nature”.
Initiative wants the greatest possible scope for development
The free Queer African Network has a diverse online portfolio: In addition to the opportunity to make social contacts, members primarily take advantage of the information on jobs, scholarships, further training, support and advice - an aspect that Maleba particularly appreciates about QAN. "Showing opportunities for young queer Africans is a real enrichment that goes far beyond the social component." In addition, members can write their stories in a blog; there is a dating function, an events page and a donation page for the network. According to the founders, this offer is unique.
Anyone wishing to become a member of QAN is initially accepted with reservations, and their behavior on the site is observed and checked over a period of time. Member safety is the top priority for Makhondo and Kinyanjui.
Anja Bengelstorff has been working as a freelance journalist in Kenya for several years and writes for German-language media.