The life of an LGBTQ+ performer in Zimbabwe comes with its own set of challenges. In a nation where gay sex remains illegal and discrimination persists, gay and transgender artists navigate a tough path to pursue their passion. The struggling economy, combined with homophobic attitudes, has made it an arduous journey.
Stewie Le Savage, a 27-year-old trans musician from Bulawayo, highlighted the additional hurdles LGBTQ+ performers face in the corporate world, saying, “To get gigs in the corporate world, your brand has to be extra good because before everything else, your sexuality/gender identity already disadvantages you.”
In the face of these challenges, LGBTQ+ artists often turn to civil society organizations (CSOs) for support. They participate in events hosted by CSOs, which aim to promote inclusivity and provide a safe space for their creative expressions.
However, even in these supportive spaces, artists can face hostility. One musician and dancer shared her experience of performing at a public event where audience members hurled abuse and objects at her, emphasizing that people often focus on her sexuality rather than her talent.
Farai Munroe, director of Harare’s Shoko Festival, acknowledged that LGBTQ+ artists still confront significant barriers and stereotypes. The Shoko Festival has taken steps to address this issue by dedicating space to LGBTQ+ performers, including panel discussions with LGBTQ+ speakers and reserved slots for LGBTQ+ artists.
Efforts to empower and protect LGBTQ+ creatives in the arts industry are vital, Munroe emphasized, given the persistent challenges they face. In Bulawayo, the Intwasa Arts Festival follows a similar path, offering a platform for LGBTQ+ artists while prioritizing their works over their sexual preferences.
Nonetheless, such initiatives remain limited, leaving many LGBTQ+ performers to grapple with public opinion at more mainstream events. Spoken word poet Prince Rayanne Chidzvondo disclosed that he received online death threats after attending the National Arts and Merit Awards (NAMA), where he was nominated.
Chidzvondo’s experience reflects the ongoing struggle for recognition faced by LGBTQ+ artists in Zimbabwe. Discrimination hinders their acknowledgment, despite their talent. While some, like Le Savage, have achieved mainstream recognition, the country’s challenging economic conditions make survival in the arts industry an ongoing battle for transgender individuals.
In Zimbabwe, as in many places worldwide, the fight for LGBTQ+ artists to find their place in the spotlight continues, marred by discrimination, economic hardship, and societal bias.