The hopes and dreams of Africa’s queer activists

It took Dzoe Ahmad weeks of introspection and agonising over whether or not she was ready to share her story with the world. Ahmad, a young Zimbabwean trans woman, says: “I was still in Zimbabwe at the time … [and] I was going through an emotional breakdown … I was at a point where I was tired. Things were not working for me. Accessing hormones was not working. So many things were going on.” After weeks of self-analysis, she came to the realisation that her hardships made it “the ideal time” to be penning her story. It is the opening chapter in the recently released anthology, Hopes and Dreams That Sound Like Yours: Stories of Queer Activism in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Ahmad’s story, we read of her struggle to access hormones in Zimbabwe and how that eventually led her to a place of self-acceptance. “When I did the story, I did it from the heart on to the paper,” she says. Ahmad is one of 20 queer rights activists from sub-Saharan Africa – from Sierra Leone to eSwatini, Mozambique to Rwanda – whose journeys as human-rights defenders make up the collection. “Some are deeply personal stories of self-discovery and acceptance. Others chart the challenges LGBTQI+ rights groups face in discriminatory environments. All carry messages of hope and dreams for a better tomorrow,” says the press release. The anthology, which is available to read free online, is the result of a partnership between Taboom Media and the Gala Queer Archive. Brian Pellot is Taboom Media’s founding director. Pellot says the idea for Hopes and Dreams came about during a week-long media advocacy workshop facilitated by Taboom Media, the goal of which was to help human rights defenders create and implement their own media campaigns to advance LGBTQIA+ equality. “One of the exercises was storytelling,” says Pellot, “tell your story. We got some really interesting stories from the group and … thought, ‘There’s kind of something here.’ So after the workshop, we reached out to [Gala Queer Archive] and were, like, ‘We’re going to do this, let’s partner on it.’ And then they had the brilliant idea of commissioning original illustrations for it. We asked that the illustrations meet the theme of resilience and are, you know, uplifting.” With more than 40 people contributing to Hopes and Dreams, Pellot says creating it was “a labour of love”. “It was a lot of work,” he laughs. “As you can imagine, getting 20 stories together, all with original illustrations. And then we’re also creating videos [in which some] of the activists are reading their stories. So it’s … a lot of coordination. And a lot of editing and touching base, back and forth. But as we were editing and finding and commissioning the illustrators, we could tell it was just going to turn out to be this really beautiful thing.”