• Mina Bilkis

LGBTQI in Sierra Leone: The Queen Harold Project

Updated: Jul 12


Harold Thomas aka Queen Harold
"I only hope that one day I will have my own right as a gay drag queen." - Queen Harold.

It's 2020 and human beings across the world are still fighting for the basic right - to be human; to be respected and treated equally irrespective of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability etc. One of which is sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.


June is the month of LGBTQI Pride in the United States. June is celebrated as Pride in honor of the Stonewall Riots, though Pride events occur all year round. It also marks the month that same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States. June is also the month of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) in South Africa although it celebrated its first pride parade in October 1990 and in Sierra Leone it is celebrated in December.


Same sex and gender attraction and relationships far predate the introduction of organized religions such as Christianity and Islam to Africa -- meaning homosexuality has existed in African cultures and societies. I bring this up because throughout the world and especially in Africa homophobia is fueled by the justification of religion and that homosexuality is a "western import". On the contrary, homosexuality is a part of African societies and history.


"If you say being gay is not African, you don’t know your history" - Bisi Alimi. Writer and LGBTQI Activist.

Bisi Alimi highlights in his 2015 Guardian article evidence of same sex relationships during pre-colonial and pre-organized religion indoctrination eras. A notable African historic figure mentioned was King Mwanga II of Buganda ruled (modern day Uganda) as an openly gay head of state. He also states that colonization has its role to play in uprooting Africa's general culture of acceptance and tolerance.


This proves evident as in Sierra Leone even after independence from the British in 1961, we still maintain archaic and outdated laws from our colonial past. Section 61 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, criminalized "buggery" (or sodomy) with a penalty of life imprisonment. However, sex acts between women are not criminalized.


The criminalization of homosexuality violates the 1991 Constitution which ensures the human rights of its citizens, as long as they do not threaten public interest, in Article 15:


‘Whereas every person in Sierra Leone is entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, has the right, whatever his race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, color, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following -


a.Life, liberty, security of person, the enjoyment of property, and the protection of law; 

b.Freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association; 

c.Respect for private and family life, and 

d.Protection from deprivation of property without compensation;'


Fortunately in Sierra Leone there are no [known] cases of imprisonment of members of the LGBTQI community however persons of these groups are subjected to violence, harassment, ridicule, stigmatization and in extreme cases death.


In late January 2020, Harold Thomas also known as Queen Harold suffered injuries sustained by homophobic attacks according to her close sources and on February 4 2020 she was pronounced dead. Queen Harold who used the pronoun "she" was a drag queen and model in Sierra Leone and a prominent LGBTQI activist in Sierra Leone.

Queen Harold

Queen Harold was only 30 at the time of her death, having not yet reached the full potential she was destined for and envisioned for herself. Countless lives of people have been taken for merely loving who they love or being attracted to the same sex or gender, and many more lives will be taken if laws and policies are not reformed to protect ALL of its citizens in Africa.


According to Amnesty International in 2018, there were 33 countries in Africa where homosexuality was illegal (criminalized) and 21 countries where homosexuality is legal (not criminalized). Out of the 33 countries that are illegal, four of them carry out the death penalty in certain regions of that country or the country as a whole.


In 2019, Botswana joined its fellow African states by decriminalizing same sex relationships.


To date, South Africa remains the only country in Africa that has legalized same sex marriage.

Mapping of Anti-Gay Laws in Africa by Amnesty International in 2018

In honor of Queen Harold, the next four Sundays in the month of July 2020 will be dedicated to her entitled the Queen Harold Project where the stories of four LGBTQI Sierra Leoneans will be told. It is their hope (and mine) to encourage people to be who they are and to love who they are irrespective of society.


Queen Harold was featured in a short film by Balan Evans and published by Dazed in 2019. #WhatIsPride


For more information on LGBTQI safe spaces and organizations in Sierra Leone, please visit the following websites:


Pride Equality - http://prideequality.org

Human Dignity Trust - https://www.humandignitytrust.org/country-profile/sierra-leone/

Youth Arise - https://youthariselgbtsl.wixsite.com/website


#Pride

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