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Radio Free Qtopia

BY ON October 24, 2016

rfq-logo-largeAround the world, LGBTQ people stand at a pivotal moment, simultaneously winning historic victories for political rights and cultural inclusion and facing a tremendous backlash. Conflicts over LGBTQ rights have drawn unprecedented attention in recent years, seemingly pitting the West against Russia, Africa, and the Middle East. But why now? Why are these conflicts erupting now, if LGBTQ people have “always” been here and if anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence are particularly egregious in societies that have been “always” homophobic?

This coming January, I am launching Radio Free Qtopia, a new podcast dedicated to boosting the signal and preserving the stories of LGBTQ changemakers working on the front lines of the global culture wars over sexuality and gender. I hope you’ll consider supporting this project by making a donation here.

Almost immediately after I began transitioning from my academic career to one advancing the human rights, inclusion, and security of sexual and gender minorities across the globe, the urgency of a useable queer history became glaringly obvious. It is easy enough to roll one’s eyeballs, for example, when former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared his country had no homosexuals or when numerous African political leaders claim homosexuality is “un-African.” But the historian – and especially changemakers on the ground – will be quick to note how of the 70+ countries that still criminalize same-sex sexual behavior, the vast majority are former European colonial possessions whose current-day sodomy laws are the direct product of 19th-century imperialism.

Moreover, those mindful of how the past shapes the present will note the challenge facing queer changemakers all around the world: though sexual and gender diversity has existed in some form or other in most human societies, the dominant constructions of sexual orientation and gender identity and the movements that articulated the demands for liberation and full citizenship rights based on those constructions did emerge in the West. Put more simply: when self-identified LGBTQ people and groups wave rainbow flags at Pride celebrations in Moscow and Mumbai, in Kampala and Kingston, they are using language and symbols that did indeed develop in Europe and North America.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” William Faulkner once wrote. Through Radio Free Qtopia, I am deeply excited to share the stories of the remarkable activists, artists, teachers, health workers, NGO staff, and other people making the world more queer-inclusive, to explore the interplay of past and present in their work, and to build an archive that preserves these narratives and makes them accessible for the duration. I’m currently in talks with funders and institutions to ensure the long-term viability of Radio Free Qtopia, but your support will help get the podcast up and running – thank you!

Ian Lekus is the LGBT Thematic Specialist atAmnesty International USA. Beginning in January 2017, he will be the host/producer @Radio Free Qtopia. He has a Ph.D. in History from Duke University, and is the author of Queer and Present Dangers: Sexuality, Masculinity, and the Sixties (forthcoming from UNC Press). You can follow him on Twitter @ianlekus.

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