Content Warning: toxic/homophobic language (quoted verbatim) in article and used by Zimbabwe government to insult humans. Police brutality. Threats of violence
It wasn't easy to switch and become an LGBTI+ journalist. I come from Zimbabwe, where the country´s rulers once labelled LGBTI+ citizens as “worse than dogs and pigs.”
A guest blog by Ray Mwareya
I have just changed my journalism beat to become an LGBTI+ journalist after spending years writing about climate change, economics or wildlife. However, on arrival in Ottawa in Canada, I suddenly found myself so passionate to be switching over to LGBTI+ journalism.
It wasn´t easy. I come from Zimbabwe, where the country´s rulers once labelled LGBTI+ citizens as “worse than dogs and pigs.” Zimbabwe is a place where police once forcefully brought down a first ever LGBTI+ beauty contest. My country is a place where any attempt to hold a pride walk could attract extreme penalties for both participants and organizers.
So, arriving here in Canada as a refugee and journalist, and switching to writing about LGBTI+ topics, attending and covering my first ever Pride Walk in 2020, this all has been a super-pleasant experience. Not least because Canada is rated among the top five of the world´s “safest places” for LGBTI+ visitors and citizens but its cute capital, Ottawa, was described by my former landlord as the most “gay and lesbian friendly city in Canada.”
Finding my beat as an LGBTI+ journalist began in Africa but not in my country Zimbabwe. In 2016 I was one of the 30 journalism participants from Africa chosen by the University of Missouri and The Religious News Foundation to attend the first ever “Reporting on Sexual Minority Rights Course” ever held in Africa.
The hosts were quick to remind us: “We chose to hold this course to be held in Cape Town City because frankly speaking where else can this training be held safely here in Africa?”
The course was such an emotional occasion. Half the number of reporters flown in didn’t want to have their names or pictures published for fear they may face substantial punishments back home simply for the crime of “attending an LGBTI+ rights journalism training.”
I experienced so much friendship at the course and learnt the important distinction between often wrongly used words like “cis-gender, intersex, transgender, queer and others.” I became so aware that as a journalist describing people correctly as She/He/They in line with their gender identity is a crucial show of dignity.
The only blight of the course´s ending night was that, whilst we feasted dinner to a jivey African band, one Donald Trump was elected president of the United States that very farewell night. A trainer from Florida, USA, drenched the table cloth with her tears. I didn’t understand why but in 2020 now I know.
Two years on, arriving here in Canada, I finally decided that – from a list of climate change, economics or politics – the LGBTI+ beat is my true journalism beat. I am thrilled to say that here in North America, the LGBTI+ journalism sector has some of the best funded writing scene and numerous magazines starting out. I´m overwhelmed by the sheer number of writing gigs I have landed. I wish I had robotic hands to write with fierce speed.
I have enjoyed so much the opportunity with Soule.LGBT Magazine in New York that they have appointed me a staff writer. It was my first time in life to receive an official email account. On a more fulfilling note, I have found great joy to write for LGBTI charities. In particular, I will mention The Mathew Shepard Foundation which has published my writing on Medium. I actually received 300 claps on Medium for my writing on “Quarantined with homophobic parents? Here is how to beat the hate.” The claps gifted me so much pride that readers actually care about my topics.
Ray Mwareya is a staff journalist for Soule.LGBT Magazine. Ray lives in Ottawa, capital of Canada.