Story 4: The Queen Harold Project
The Queen Harold Project is dedicated to the late Harold Thomas also known as Queen Harold. Queen Harold was a young Sierra Leonean gay drag queen who was the victim of a homophobic attack in late January 2020 and later died as a result of sustained injuries on February 4 2020. Queen Harold used the pronoun she.
For those who knew Queen Harold, they knew she was a fierce and unapologetic drag queen. She was a strong LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) activist in Sierra Leone and refused to live in fear. She was a beacon of hope and inspiration to many. In this series, the stories of four LGBTQI Sierra Leoneans will be told every Sunday in the month of July. All interviewees' identities are falsified; their names have been changed to protect their identities but their stories are real. It is their hope that through their stories they can empower others to live their truth, embrace who they are and love who they are.
This is the final story of this series.
Meet Alpha Mansaray*
Alpha Mansaray* (name changed) is a 27 year old gay man. Alpha was raised in Freetown and works in the tourism and hospitality industry. He wants people to know that sexuality is a spectrum and not all gay men are flamboyant as portrayed in mainstream media and that gay men should not be looked down upon or be considered weak.
Q: You told me your family knows about your sexuality and that you are quite open with friends, family and like minded people. How was your coming out story?
A: Well, I didn't have much to come out to as I was caught red handed. Unfortunately, I was with my partner at the time and my mother came into my room unexpectedly and caught us in the act. Of course it was shocking, not so much me being gay but her stumbling into us in the room. After much talking and discussing we were able to move past that incident and she knows who I am. It was not easy, especially growing up in a conservative Muslim home, but I am thankful I am able to be me.
Q: You're very active in the LGBTQI community in Freetown, how is that like for you?
A: I love it. Being in the LGBTQI community is very enriching and it's a great support system. You get to organize events with people not only like minded but people LIKE you. Unfortunately, there are incidents wherein our WhatsApp groups are infiltrated by homophobes and that causes a safety issue for myself and members. We try to screen members in our group both offline and online as best as possible. I just don't understand why people can't mind their business, we aren't hurting anyone -- so why do people go out of their way to hurt us? Other than that, it is great to be a part of the community.
Q: Tell me what pride month looks like in Sierra Leone?
A: Pride month is THE month and it just happens to be in December. A lot of our out brothers and sisters who come home for holidays are a great addition to our pride festivals that we have. It is also the time that we have a lot of parades and gay weddings. I have been to a few gay weddings myself and they're just fabulous. I can't wait for the day these weddings are recognized by Sierra Leonean law, but for now we celebrate them at our festivals and within our community.
Q: I know you have worked with Queen Harold, how was that like?
A: Yes I have and it was a joy. Queen Harold was amazing and a beautiful soul. She has really helped other LGTBQI people in need and honestly that's very important in a place like Sierra Leone where our kind is hated upon.
Q: How is your day to day life outside the LGBTQI community?
A: At work I conceal my sexuality. Though I am openly gay, I work in an overall homophobic industry so I am cautious because many people assume or want gays to be flamboyant when we all aren't that way. Just because we like men it doesn't mean we are women by default. No, we are men who like men. Many of my friends are gay but I am friends with allies and open minded individuals.
Q: For people reading, what do you want them to know? What's your message to Sierra Leone and the world at large?
A: I want people to know that judging people solely based on their sexuality is wrong. Get to know someone before you decide that you do not want to associate with them. Who someone is attracted to or sleeps with is none of your business, judge someone's character based on their actions, not who they're with. If we are able to do that we would live in a much better Sierra Leone.
This is Alpha Mansaray's story.
Please share widely. And to other Alphas out there, you are not alone.
For more information on LGBTQI safe spaces and organizations in Sierra Leone, please visit the following websites:
Pride Equality - http://prideequality.org
Human Dignity Trust - https://www.humandignitytrust.org/country-profile/sierra-leone/
Youth Arise - https://youthariselgbtsl.wixsite.com/website