Fire burns; it also purifies. Count my words as fire, burning embers that purify an unspeakable truth spoken at last.
Two lesbians of African descent abandon fear for risk and decide to marry in New York City, breaking social taboo in Africa while making U.S. history. But did their struggle for equality pay off in their homeland? In other words, are Kelebohile Nkhereanye and Renee Boyd any more equal to those who matter most to them? To be more precise, is this married lesbian couple of African descent celebrated in Africa by family, tribe, church, government, nation, and continent? Or — and this is a no-brainer — do they have the same status as lesbians who never married or made history, women with very strong sexual stirrings for other women who face death by execution or rape because of being African lesbians? Even though Kelebohile Nkhereanye and Renee Boyd made history in the U.S., in their beloved Africa such a couple couldn’t exist, and when just such a couples does, they can be murdered, tortured, or gang-raped, because they have no equality.
What I’m asking is simply this: what does equality look like when you matter to those who matter most to you? It looks like love. And what does love look like when you’re accepted, not merely tolerated, by those you hold dearest?
It would look like your wedding is celebrated, which means you are affirmed, which means you need not hide, which means you are not invisible, which means you are visible, which means you can be protected, which means your government can’t kill you because the law allows for it, which means you are safe, which means you’re free to walk the streets, which means you can look for work, which means you might find meaningful work, which means you can be a productive citizen in your beloved country, which means you could be promoted, honored, respected, which means you’re less judged, which means you gain a voice, which means you’re not silenced, which means you can be heard, which means you have value, which means you’ve earned your humanity through dignity, respect, and value in the eyes of your community, those closest to you.
Celebrated, affirmed, visible, unhidden, protected, safe, free, productive, promoted, honored, respected, less judged, not silenced but a vocal, heard, valued human being. This is love. This is not who gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer folk are, not in Africa. If it were, if LGBT people were loved, those closest to African LGBTs — their mother, father, sacred community, tribe — would not stand idle or silent when they get married, when they are gang-raped, when they are murdered, when they have HIV or AIDS.
African lesbians Kelebohile Nkhereanye and Renee Boyd made U.S. history, true. They walked to Brooklyn’s Municipal Building on July 24, 2011 and were among the first same-sex couples to receive a marriage license in New York on that historic day. But what they really wanted, what means more to them than breaking barriers, overturning social taboo, or making U.S. history, what means more than the legal weight of U.S. law in their marriage, is the love of those who mean most to them. Isn’t that at the core of any struggle for equality? Not U.S. history, but the love of those who mean most to you.
If only Kelebohile Nkhereanye’s and Renee Boyd’s parents invited their friends to their wedding; not one was invited. If only someone offered to prepare a meal; nobody did. If only glasses were raised in their honor for a celebratory toast. If only their African parents treated their African wedding like an African wedding, talking about it nonstop with endless, beaming pride to the point of bragging; gossiping within their inner circles; planning for days on end; celebrating endlessly for days; inviting their religious core or sacred community to it; paying for an advertisement in the local, village newspaper to announce the big day in America; and buying a special, knockout traditional outfit that African women of a certain generation love to flaunt. But for their parents to do all this, for their parents to treat their wedding like an African wedding, Africa must treat lesbians like equals.
My question is simple: can we Africans fully appreciate or even celebrate any U.S. law that accepts gays while blinding ourselves to the love our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children hunger for? Can’t equality translate overseas so that our parents abroad are happy for us? Does it make our African parents any less African when they celebrate their gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or transgender children who are as African as they, maybe even more African because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or transgender? Mothers, fathers, tribe, church, government, nation, my beloved from my beloved African continent, I’m asking you.