Report: Artists face bias on account of sexuality - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 2 January 2021

Report: Artists face bias on account of sexuality


Nigerian queer writer Chibuihe Obi is among artists whose rights have been trampled upon because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, a premier report by Freemuse on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) artistic expression shows.

Some 65 people across 30 countries were interviewed for the report titled Painting the Rainbow: How LGBTI Freedom of Artistic Expression is Denied, which documents 149 violations of artistic freedom for LGBTI persons and artistry across 40 countries and online. The report documents cases and trends from January 2018 to December 2020.

According to the report, artists tackling LGBTI issues face disproportionate repercussions because of their work.

Government authorities were responsible for 53 per cent of these violations.

The report indicates 45 per cent of the violations are documented in countries where there is no law criminalising homosexuality or its promotion and the rest in 28 countries where homosexuality and its promotion are criminalised. 

There were 96 registered acts of censorship and 22 detentions.

Filmmakers are hit the hardest, accounting for 50 per cent of all cases, followed by performance artists and musicians.

Films like Bohemian Rhapsody, which had two kissing scenes between men, were removed in China, as well as reference to the word gay. 

As Chinese documentary filmmaker Fan Popo stated in his interview with Freemuse: “The censors maybe cut only three minutes, but they made Freddie Mercury straight.”

LGBTI expression is shown to be under consistent duress in Russia, USA, Brazil, China and Nigeria.

On May 17, 2017, Obi published an essay titled ‘We’re Queer, We’re Here’ about the homophobia he experienced in Nigeria. Two weeks later, he was abducted.

In his essay, Obi describes how the queer body in Nigerian literature is never portrayed with dignity and respect.

“The reason I could not write into that piece of paper that night was this: there was no audience for the type of narrative I was about to spin – a narrative where the queer body is documented as wronged, as deserving of justice… Our school was a secure community where, like every part of this country, the dominant narrative about gays was and still is negative. Gays are monsters, beasts to be exterminated by whatever crude means,” Obi told Freemuse on September 12, 2019.


Obi believes his abduction was directly connected with this essay. Taken from a public space by an unknown people, he was dragged into a car and held captive for three days.

During his captivity, he was interrogated on a number of subjects, including his writings, stating, “I was physically abused while [I was] kept hostage, but I believe that their intention was to scare me to silence.”

Ironically, staying silenced is something Obi explicitly rejected in his essay. “Some butchered our work in a callous and savage manner in their bid to silence the queer voice. But we have refused to be silenced. We have refused invisibility. […] But, finally, we are here.”

Together with poet Romeo Oriogun, in 2016 Obi initiated Kabaka magazine – space for queer writers – after both experienced rejections from a lot of magazines.

The report was launched at an event co-organised with the City of Krakow in Poland on December 10, 2020. 

Freemuse Executive Director Srirak Plipat said: “It is alarming to witness this large scale of illegitimate restrictions of LGBTI artistic freedom including in Europe. Freedom of artistic expression of LGBTI artists is freedom of artistic expression of everyone.”

The Mayor of Kraków, Jacek Majchrowski, said : “Kraków has always been a safe haven for non-heteronormative people, including artists of all fields.” 

According to Freemuse, the rise of populist political movements, largely conservative in nature, is attempting to disassemble many of the victories of the international community and LGBTI rights movement and reassert heteronorms on societies across the globe. 

“Although already historically side-lined and, in many cases, silenced, today LGBTI-themed artwork is under increasing attack by different actors, from state authorities to non-state actors (including religious and political groups, extremist movements and violent individuals),” the report says.

“The use of a range of mechanisms is also of growing concern. This includes regulatory bodies, as well as conservative cultural institutions, which determine acceptable parameters of discussion around sexuality, stifling and thwarting artistic expression on issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression,” it adds.

Freemuse, with headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark, is an independent international organisation advocating freedom of artistic expression. 

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