restricted access Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa by Ashley Currier (review)
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Ashley Currier. Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. xii + 255 pp. Acknowledgments. Acronyms. Introduction. Conclusion. Methodological Appendix. Notes. Works Cited. Index. Cloth. $75.00. Paper. $25.00.

Out in Africa examines lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activism in South Africa and Namibia between 1995 and 2006, primarily through ethnographic observation and interviews with the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) in Johannesburg, and Sister Namibia and The Rainbow Project (TRP) in Windhoek. Impressively researched, pragmatic, and even-handed, Out in Africa is an important contribution to the fledgling field of African queer studies and to scholarship on global LGBT politics. Currier's book complements, in particular, the work of Andrew Tucker on queer visibility in Cape Town, Kapya Kaoma on the U.S. religious right and political homophobia in Africa, and Rafael de la Dehesa on sexual rights movements in Latin America. Currier adds to a larger critique of the neocolonial aspects of Western advocacy for gay rights in the global South, and her emphasis on women's organizations is much needed. The book questions the assumption that "visibility" should be the measure of LGBT movement success; she sees visibility, instead, as a strategy that is used in conjunction with deliberate forms of invisibility. Perhaps her most crucial point is that international organizations and donor nations involved in Africa—and indeed scholars—need to be far more aware of what visibility strategies local activists are using when they bring publicity to LGBT issues, since what Currier calls "uncontrolled visibility" can make same-sex loving and gender-nonconforming people extremely vulnerable. [End Page 209]

Currier examines the concept of visibility engagingly. Within mainstream Western gay rights activism, the act of "coming out," making your identity visible to others, has long been understood as politically crucial. Without intelligibility, one cannot become a political subject, or, collectively, a constituency. The hypervisibility of stigmatized identities, however, indicates the importance of having visibility on one's own terms. Currier attends to how, when, and to whom groups become visible— through public protests, statements to the media, meetings with politicians, presentations to international organizations, workshops advertised through LGBT Web sites and magazines, the use of welcoming drop-in centers or discreet offices, or even the self-fashioning of activists themselves. Organizations thus interact with more than one "public," so that visibility is never total or static.

Visibility effects are perhaps impossible to fully predict and contain. Currier addresses, for example, the negative repercussions of southern African LGBT visibility elsewhere on the continent, even as activists have been trying—for example at the 2006 African Commission on Human and People's Rights—to build a visibly black pan-African movement that works in concert with other African NGOSs. The key issue, as Currier persuasively argues, is controlling the terms of visibility by making gay rights intelligible as African rather than foreign. She highlights the tension between the imperative to authenticate queer identities as African, and the dependence on foreign funding in order to operate. These donor relationships, when made visible, make organizations vulnerable to accusations of cultural betrayal and being "gay for pay." Currier addresses the problem, too, of how the use of Western nomenclature marks these organizations as "un-African" from the outset. She stakes out an interesting position in regard to her own use of these terms, arguing against replacing the existing activist discourse with language of her own choosing, while keeping in view how the meaning of a word such as lesbian is never fixed or fully coherent, whether in the global North or South.

The contrast between Namibia and South Africa indicates how differently the politics of sexuality can play out even for neighboring countries with shared history. South Africa's 1996 Constitution enshrined gay rights, but the country faces growing homophobic violence. FEW's focus has been on secure spaces and initiatives for working-class black lesbian survivors of sexual violence, in which they can cultivate community, healing, and the material transformation of their lives, rather than high-profile campaigns directed at a national or state audience. Meanwhile, Namibia had been a "haven for interracial and...