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By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, Aug 14 (Openly) - The first pan-African virtual Pride event takes place on Friday aimed at bringing together LGBT+ Africans to share their stories of challenge and success from a continent where they are often criminalised and persecuted, the event's organiser said.
Broadcasting live on social media channels YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, Pride Afrique 2020 features speakers including Botswana's former President Festus Mogae and John Amaechi, the first former NBA player to come out.
Pride Afrique 2020 organiser Kehinde Bademosi, a gay Nigerian social innovator who was forced to move to the United States after homophobic threats to his life at home, said the pandemic had brought the perfect opportunity to stage the event.
"More people are online due to the coronavirus and so we thought it was a good time to reach out virtually to the LGBTQI people living in Africa," Bademosi, 46, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the United States.
"We are doing this because right now in Africa, many countries are criminalising LGBTQI people and we want to send a strong message to them that they are not alone and show them that there is a community where they belong."
African countries have some of the world's most prohibitive laws governing homosexuality. Gay sex is a crime across most of continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.
Gay rights groups say the laws promote intolerance and discrimination in housing, education, healthcare and the workplace as well as hate crimes such as blackmail, and most victims are too scared to go to the police for help.
The three-day event, which will be broadcast live for two hours daily, will feature LGBT+ speakers and advocates from Tunisia in the north to Mozambique in south, as well as from the diaspora.
These include former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe and Tunisia's former presidential candidate Mounir Baatour, who is gay and was forced to flee to exile in France after death threats
There will also be discussions ranging from the history of the LGBT+ community in Africa and media portrayal of sexual minorities to how LGBT+ people can better organise for their rights and care for their mental health.
Bademosi, who is director of social innovation and design at Baltimore City Health Department, said growing up in Nigeria he never knew what Pride was and the significance it played in bringing sexual minorities together as a collective voice.
"Visibility is very important. We are all on different journeys, but at the end of the event, I hope people will feel more empowered by listening to other people's stories," he said.
"We are not forcing people out of the closet, but we want them to know that they are not alone and if they need support, they have universe of people out there to help them."
Bademosi said he expected about 20,000 people to tune in during the event, but believed its reach after the event would be much more significant given the challenges of digital access across the continent.
"We can't be like the Global Pride event that was broadcast for 24 hours. Many members of our community are in difficult economic situation and are unlikely to be able to afford data or have good connectivity," he said.
"It's not just about what is happening over the next three days. I think more people will see it in the days, weeks and months to come - we are leaving the LGBTQI message in the cloud for all Africans."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.
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