Academic journal article African Studies Review

Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa

Article excerpt

GENDER Ashley Currier. Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. xii + 255 pp. Acknowledgments. Acronyms. Introduction. Conclusion. Methodological Appendix. Notes. Works Cited. Index. Cloth. $75.00. Paper. $25.00.

Out in Africa examines lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activism in South Africa and Namibia between 1995 and 2006, primarily through ethnographic observation and interviews with the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) in Johannesburg, and Sister Namibia and The Rainbow Project (TRP) in Windhoek. Impressively researched, pragmatic, and even-handed, Out in Africa is an important contribution to the fledgling field of African queer studies and to scholarship on global LGBT politics. Currier's book complements, in particular, the work of Andrew Tucker on queer visibility in Cape Town, Kapya Kaoma on the U.S. religious right and political homophobia in Africa, and Rafael de la Dehesa on sexual rights movements in Latin America. Currier adds to a larger critique of the neocolonial aspects of Western advocacy for gay rights in the global South, and her emphasis on women's organizations is much needed. The book questions the assumption that "visibility" should be the measure of LGBT movement success; she sees visibility, instead, as a strategy that is used in conjunction with deliberate forms of invisibility. Perhaps her most crucial point is that international organizations and donor nations involved in Africa-and indeed scholars-need to be far more aware of what visibility strategies local activists are using when they bring publicity to LGBT issues, since what Currier calls "uncontrolled visibility" can make same-sex loving and gender-nonconforming people extremely vulnerable.

Currier examines the concept of visibility engagingly. Within mainstream Western gay rights activism, the act of "coming out," making your identity visible to others, has long been understood as politically crucial. Without intelligibility, one cannot become a political subject, or, collectively, a constituency. The hypervisibility of stigmatized identities, however, indicates the importance of having visibility on one's own terms. Currier attends to how, when, and to whom groups become visible- through public protests, statements to the media, meetings with politicians, presentations to international organizations, workshops advertised through LGBT Web sites and magazines, the use of welcoming drop-in centers or discreet offices, or even the self-fashioning of activists themselves. Organizations thus interact with more than one "public," so that visibility is never total or static.

Visibility effects are perhaps impossible to fully predict and contain. Currier addresses, for example, the negative repercussions of southern African LGBT visibility elsewhere on the continent, even as activists have been trying-for example at the 2006 African Commission on Human and People's Rights-to build a visibly black pan-African movement that works in concert with other African NGOSs. …

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