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LGBT Youth

4 LGBT+ Figures in African History

6th May 2021

4 LGBT+ Figures in African History

Queen Nzinga (1583 – 1663):


Queen Nzinga ruled the kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba in modern day Angola. She assumed power after the death of her father and brother due to a period of rapid growth in the slave trade. Nzinga transgressed gender binaries by only answering to ‘King’ and wearing both men’s and women’s clothing.

Her ability to perform a queer identity is partly attributed to her royal status and power. Different interpretations of her life point to a heterosexual marriage, to female wives and to a harem of males that Nzinga had dress has as women.

King Mwanga II (1868 – 1903):


King Mwanga II became the 31st Kabaka of Buganda (Uganda) at age 16. He was openly gay (or bisexual), a grave offense under the British Empire who tried to convert him from his “hedonistic and satanic” ways.

Mwanga’s controversial story is associated with Martyr’s’ Day in Uganda, which is often co-opted into a political anti-LGBTQ agenda, as he is said to have killed several of his male companions (martyrs) leading to his exile in 1899. Mwanga’s pre-colonial story is proof that homosexuality was not an “import from the West” as is often claimed.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955 – 1989):


Rotimi Fani-Kayode was a Nigerian photographer whose portraits and compositions explored the tensions between sexuality, race, spirituality and culture. His works exalted queer black desire, and examined the relationship between erotic fantasy, ancestral ritual and diasporic “otherness”.

Fani-Kayode once described his approach to photography as “…the tool by which I feel most confident in expressing myself. It is photography therefore – Black, African, homosexual photography – which I must use not just as an instrument, but as a weapon if I am to resist attacks on my own integrity and, indeed, my existence on my own terms.”

Simon Nkoli (1957 – 1998)


Simon Nkoli was one of Africa’s most prominent anti-apartheid, gay rights and AIDS activists. In 1983, he formed the Saturday group, the first public, black LGBTQ+ group in Africa, established in response to implicit racism by the predominantly white Gay Association for South Africa (GASA).

Nkoli received several human rights awards globally and was one of the first gay activists to meet with President Nelson Mandela in 1994, campaigning for the protection from discrimination in the 1994 constitution and for the repeal of the sodomy low.