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13 gorgeous photos reveal what it's like to be LGBTQ and African.

'Saying something is "un-African" is saying a kaleidoscope can only be one color.'

13 gorgeous photos reveal what it's like to be LGBTQ and African.

Growing up, Mikael Owunna felt like the African and queer sides of his identity were at odds with each other.

Owunna, a 26-year-old Nigerian-American photographer who identifies as queer, had a difficult time finding a way to reconcile those two parts of himself.

Mikael Owunna. Image used with permission.


"I experienced considerable homophobia in African spaces, and was told that being gay was 'un-African' - a disease from the West and white people," he wrote.

But after personal reflection and seeing the work of Zanele Muholi, a black lesbian South African photographer he admires, he realized these two sides of his identity didn't have to be at odds.

So Owunna created a photo project, "Limit(less)," which explores African and queer identities through style.

The portraits and stories he captures reflect the joy, rich history, and resilience of queer African people living outside the continent. The people he shoots are empowered, joyful, and confident — and, as Owunna quickly realized, so are their clothes.

All photos by Mikael Owunna, used with permission.

For Owunna, the project is a love letter to those who are navigating two worlds and a reminder of how far he's come.

"Coming from my personal experience where I experienced a lot of trauma around these two identities and didn't feel like I could be both, it's a way for me, with each click of my camera, to heal myself," Owunna says.

Here are 13 memorable moments from the project thus far.

1. "I don't look like a stud, I don't look like a dapper queer. I look like something else..."

Terna is Nigerian-Liberian American. She is bisexual but identifies as queer most of the time.

"...and that something else is a nod to where I come from. It’s me standing in my power, but it’s also distinctly you, like I have my little fedoras and those types of things, which I think do tip over into some of the queer aesthetics particularly, I would say, the queer aesthetics of people of color."  

2. "[My style is] more of a postmodern Angela Davis."

Gesiye is Nigerian-Trinidadian, born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. She identifies as bisexual/queer.

"I don’t limit my African or LGBTQ identity to one form of expression, everything I wear is and can be a blend of these identities because that’s who I am and how I’m choosing to define it."

3. "I’ve always been around white LGBTQ people and they didn’t really see me as queer."

Juliet was born in Uganda and raised in Sweden. She identifies as queer.

"I’ve overcome all of this by finding other black queer people and forming Black Queers Sweden, the feminist and anti-racist movement and independent organization for black LGBTQ+ people, where we can be ourselves; both black and queer."

4. "The most beautiful part about being African/of the African Diaspora is our resilience."

Odera's country of origin is Nigeria. They identify as queer.

"To live and thrive as an African is an act of revolution and power. And for me, living my truth as an LGBTQ person is simply an extension of that power."

5. "The first time I met another queer African person was indescribable, and reaffirmed my identities in ways that nothing else could have."

Eniola is Nigerian and was raised in the U.S. She identifies as queer, but also "fuck labels."

"I hope that 'Limit(less)' reaches people who benefit from this affirmation. Too many of us think we’re the only one."

6. "My style has been described as old Somali uncle."

Wiilo was born in Washington, D.C., while their parents were on vacation. Their family returned to Somalia but emigrated to Canada because of the civil war. They identify as queer.

"Wiilo in Somali means, 'girls who dresses like boy.' It’s a nickname that I was given by my elders when I was younger. I am drawn to clothes that I feel both my dad and mom would have worn living in Somalia in the 70’s and 80’s."

7. "We are dynamic, bold, and beautiful, and queer."

Em is Nigerian-Efik from America. They identify as agender/genderqueer.

"Our Africanness is only stronger with this identity because everyday we breathe, especially for African trans folk, we are resisting and revolutionary. That’s pretty damn African to me." 

8. "Starting in university I started to embrace all facets of who I am because that’s what I need to survive."

Taib was born and raised in Canada to an Ethiopian mother and Kenyan father. He identifies as queer.

"I have big plans for my future and in order for me to reach my full potential I need all of me at the finish line not just the pieces that white society can stomach."

9. "Walking this world as a Black queer femme womxn, it is sometimes a struggle simply to survive."

Kaamila is Somali-American, biracial, and black. She identifies as a bisexual queer dyke, a fluid femme, and a womxn.

"Some days, makeup is my war paint and accessories are my armor. Some days, I decorate and adorn myself in a ritual of affirmation of all that I am. Not simply surviving, but thriving! I could be described as gaudy, often dripping in gold, and maybe a little bit gangsta. My style can be big and bold, taking up space in a world that tells me to be small. I make myself art in a world telling me that who I am is not beautiful. But I am not above leaving the house in sweatpants and uggs. It’s wack that women’s worth is wrapped up in whether we are considered appealing to others. My style is personal, political, playful, practical. It is a mix-and-match and mashup of all of the above."

10. "I have for a long time thought that I could only fully embrace one of the two identities, that they were mutually exclusive."

Brian is Rwandan but grew up in Tanzania, Niger, Kenya, Benin, and the Central African Republic. He identifies as queer.

"When I decided to embrace my LGBTQ identity, I subconsciously pushed away my African identity. I found myself becoming what some call a 'Bounty' or 'Oreo', black on the outside and white on the inside. But prior to that I had already tried to push away my LGBTQ identity. It was complete denial... And then one day I thought to myself why not try embracing both identities, just for the sake of trying. I remember feeling butterflies in my stomach and feeling so light as if an enormous weight was lifted off of me. I never felt so complete and comfortable in my skin."

11. "I’m a hard femme with an hourglass silhouette, a Goodwill budget, and a firm grasp of anti-capitalist rhetoric."

Netsie is a queer Ethiopian Namibian.

"I wear whatever makes me feel comfortable and powerful and safe. I’m too clumsy to own a pair of un-ripped tights. I love wearing bold patterns that clash, things that could be pretty but aren’t, anything to remind people that when they look at me, I am looking right back at them."

12. "My beard feels like a connection to my Muslim heritage, and it feels transgressive to wear it with this body, living the life I do."

Yahya is a half-American, half-Moroccan boi. They identify as a second-generation radical queer (on their mom's side) and pansexual.

"To be honest, I think I reserve most of my Moroccan clothing for special occasions. I think the examples that have been given to me of powerful queerness have mostly been through a Euro-American lens (which is why this project is so important!)."

13. "As the cliche goes, my style is a way for me to express myself - and my multiple identities, those discovered and undiscovered, all play into that."

Tyler is a Kenyan-Somali-Canadian. He identifies as queer.

"I guess my queerness, in part, fuels my ability to transcend the expected. And that is what I try to do with my style, transcend the expected and, in many ways, come home to myself."

For photographer Owunna, the work isn't done. He hopes to expand on "Limit(less)" in Europe this fall.

He's photographed and interviewed 34 queer Africans for the project so far, primarily in North America. He's crowdfunding an effort to cover the trip to Europe, where there are four times as many African immigrants, an ongoing refugee crisis, and the rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric and the far right; essentially, there are countless stories that need to be told.

And Owunna, centered, happy, and at peace with himself, is just the person to do it.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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