Story 2: The Queen Harold Project
The Queen Harold Project is dedicated to the late Harold Thomas also known as Queen Harold. Queen Harold was a young Sierra Leonean gay drag queen who was the victim of a homophobic attack in late January 2020 and later died as a result of sustained injuries on February 4 2020. Queen Harold used the pronoun she.
For those who knew Queen Harold, they knew she was a fierce and unapologetic drag queen. She was a strong LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) activist in Sierra Leone and refused to live in fear. She was a beacon of hope and inspiration to many.
In this series, the stories of four LGBTQI Sierra Leoneans will be told every Sunday in the month of July. All interviewees' identities are falsified; their names have been changed to protect their identities but their stories are real. It is their hope that through their stories they can empower others to live their truth, embrace who they are and love who they are.
Mohamed Kamara* (name changed) is a 26 year old gay man. With roots from Sierra Leone and Guinea, Mohamed is from Northern Sierra Leone. He works in tourism and hospitality. He wants people to know that attraction is not a choice and that homosexuality isn't a disease you can "catch". It is easier to be taught to love than to exude hate.
Q: Growing up in West Africa and always knowing you were gay, how has that shaped your life as an adult?
A: Growing up, it wasn't easy, though I would consider myself privileged to knowing who I was and what my sexual orientation was at a young age, it was no walk in the park. There is a part of you that wants to fight it because assimilating will make life "easier", but the other part would be to denying who you really are. I have never been ashamed of who I am, nor will I ever be. It has allowed me to live my truth, be with whom I choose and love who I love.
Q: With this in mind, how has it been being with a partner who is still "in the closet"?
A: A nightmare. Because here I am a gay man - loud and proud and being with someone who insists on keeping you a secret even to his own close circle. It's miserable. I wouldn't advise anyone to be with someone who isn't "out'' because it hinders your growth and your progress to be comfortable with who you are. You can be supportive as a friend but being intimate with someone who hasn't accepted who they are is something completely different.
Q: How did your family receive the news of you being gay and when was this?
A: My family knew without a doubt I was gay when I was a teenager. It wasn't easy and because of it I suffered emotional and physical abuse from my mother. My mother would try to "beat the gay" out of me. I still have the marks till this day. Not all of my siblings were accepting either. But as the saying goes "time heals all wounds", I have been able to bridge a respectable relationship with my family and siblings since then and I am thankful for that.
Q: Throughout all of this, how is that you remain cheerful and positive?
A: Through my family drama I had hit one of the lowest points of my life. I became very promiscuous, hanging around people I normally wouldn't. I was numb. At that time I was certain I may be HIV positive. I went to a lab to run a HIV test and the test came back positive. I remember still feeling numb. But a few minute later, the nurse came back and told me she had given me the wrong result and I was in fact negative. For the first time in so long I felt something other than numbness. That is when I decided to change my life around. I started to work hard and got a very good job and enrolled in university. For me that was my "light bulb" moment. I didn't want to become another statistic, a gay man statistic living with HIV/AIDS. I wanted to be better because I know I can do better. So knowing how far I've come along and where I need to go is why I am very cheerful.
Q: Living as an openly gay man in a homophobic society, how has this impacted your friendships with heterosexual men?
A: Honestly it goes both ways. Because we live in a homophobic African society some straight men view me as a threat to their sexuality. They believe associating with me will "make them gay", which of course you and I know is ridiculous, but sadly many of them feel that way. I tell those who I am comfortable with that I am gay, but sometimes even if they are not homophobic, their friends are and they poison their minds. I have lost a few friends that way. But I don't want to be friends with someone who doesn't want to be educated or understand. That's very high school and immature.
Q: What would you like readers to know from your story. What is your message to them?
A: I want anyone who reads this to know that homosexuality isn't a disease - you can't "catch" it. You are either gay or you are not. I want people to know that words hurt and actions hurt more. Because you have a gay friend, as an ally you should educate your friends about LGBTQI issues. You should shun your friend because it would be committing "social suicide" being associated with them. I want people to know we are human beings like everyone else and honestly this shouldn't be an issue we should still be talking about today.
This is Mohamed Kamara's story. Please share widely.
And to other Mohameds out there, you are not alone.
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