My biggest influence is still my upbringing in a French-speaking, Muslim environment, and living in a family of activists.
Related Gully Coverage
One Face of Gay Africa
DECEMBER 12, 2002. Cheikh Traoré is a 35 year-old AIDS educator working with African communities in London. He talked to The Gully about his struggle to "invent this notion of being gay and African." (Part 2 of 2)
Living in Europe for the past six years, I still have trouble relating my experiences of living as an African person or a Black person and being gay.
Culture is an important reason. I am still very influenced by my African upbringing and way of seeing things. This creates cultural clashes with the white gay friends or colleagues I work or socialize with.
I had to adjust from a culture where everything was shared, to a Western culture where "the individual" is at the center of everything. And I don't understand many popular British gay "icons" and cultural references.
While Islam has also shaped many of the values I believe in, I learned to be very critical of all the people around me who use the excuse of religion to oppress or ostracize other people. I am also amazed at how the clash of religions and the misunderstandings between different faiths can be so destructive. They are probably going to be the cause of the next world war.
It's hard to deal with the ignorance and lack of interest that most people have about Africa, not to mention the racism, and xenophobia yes, even in the gay scene. Obviously, not having many visible gay Africans is also a huge handicap. I feel I have to invent this notion of being gay and African for myself, or for the small group of people that I am aware of. It feels quite daunting.
However, we are nowhere near the situation in the US, where there are much stronger Black gay communities and networks. Some people will also argue that there is no such thing as a "Black gay community." This is because the London gay scene is very cosmopolitan and Black gay men and women socialize and form relationships with people of all racial backgrounds. However, the gay scene is not a true picture of the reality of Black gay people. A lot of African men, for example, prefer to socialize informally in house parties and "underground" networks.
The US has a tremendous impact on what we do here. Many people attend the numerous Black Gay Pride events which occur every summer in Atlanta, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. A few role models are emerging among young Black men and women here. I am also in touch with some friends in France, and I feel that many people will stand up and be more vocal about the effects of prejudice in the near future. I have a sense that we are at the beginning of something new. And of course we have Peter Tatchell [a white Australian queer activist who has taken on African civil rights issues].
It's always difficult for one group of people to talk on behalf of any other group, no matter how oppressed they feel they are. I personally think that it is difficult for someone who doesn't share or understand my culture or class to speak on my behalf.
All we need is the freedom, the opportunities, the democratic framework to express ourselves without feeling intimidated.
For "Part 1: Long Road Home", about Cheikh Traoré's AIDS work in London, and what it was like growing up gay in West Africa.
For Thousands Black, Gay and Proud Celebrate in D.C., May 28, 2001.
For an interview with Peter Tatchell, Australian gay rights activist.
For Behind The Mask, an lgbt African website.
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