How queer female tourism in Africa broke down barriers

The legacy of European colonialism and Christian missionaries has created challenges for same-sex relationships in the Global South. In former German colonies Namibia, Tanzania, and Cameroon during the 1980s, anti-LGBTQ attitudes still prevailed. Jacqueline Wilson tells the story of a pioneering queer tourism project that challenged the colonial narrative

Before European colonisation, many African and Asian cultures had more relaxed attitudes towards sexuality and gender identity. But colonial administrators and Christian missionaries imposed conservative views on sexuality, spreading fundamentalist Christian attitudes and anti-LGBT laws.

Impact of queer female tourism

In 1980, queer women in Germany initiated a pioneering project, partnering with gay women in the former German colonies of Namibia, Tanzania and Cameroon. The partnership marked a historic moment in the fight against heteronormativity, and towards sexual freedom. Its interracial character challenged the dominant white Northern same-sex narrative.

The project was significant in promoting equality and breaking down various forms of discrimination. The tourists made a significant impact on the visibility of same-sex relationships. However, we should see their contributions in the context of colonialism, which shapes the narratives and experiences of queer women in these regions.

In the 1980s, the gay movement was far more visible in Europe than in Africa. Yet the German visitors remained sensitive to local culture, and respectful of local customs. They empathised with local queer women's struggles for acceptance of their sexuality.

History of white queer travel

Queer travel history reflects the intersection of sexuality and colonialism. There was a significant increase in queer tourism in the 1980s, especially among gay men. The gay community was gaining visibility, and the travel industry in general was also expanding rapidly.

In the burgeoning queer travel industry, women were often marginalised

Queer travel agencies and organisations emerged to cater for queer travellers' specific needs. But in this burgeoning industry, queer women were often marginalised. Many travel companies focused primarily on gay men. Options for gay women were limited, and tended to concentrate on traditional destinations.

This lack of representation led to the creation of gay women's travel groups. One such is the collective Lesbian Summer, which organised trips to former German colonies in Africa.

The legacy of German colonialism

Germany's colonial ambitions were shaped by its desire for economic and political power, and by its belief in Aryan superiority. Many African countries struggle with poverty, inequality and political instability. For queer German women, travelling to these former colonies was an opportunity to confront the uncomfortable facts of colonial history, and to learn about the experiences of marginalised communities. It also enabled them to challenge the dominant narrative of colonialism that often obliterates the experiences of women and queer people.

Critics contended that the Germans were exploiting their experiences in marginalised communities for their own ends

But the Lesbian Summer trip was not without controversy. Some critics contended that the Germans were simply engaging in 'neocolonialism'; exploiting their experiences in marginalised communities for their own ends. But Lesbian Summer's supporters countered that the mere presence of European gay women in Africa challenged the patriarchal, heteronormative structures that continue to oppress homosexuals worldwide.

Despite these controversies, Lesbian Summer travel continued throughout the 1980s. Their trips offered a space for gay women to mingle and explore the world beyond traditional tourist destinations.

Same-sex resistance movement

The trips also offered queer African women the opportunity to explore their sexuality. White German women struck up interracial same-sex relationships with locals. The Germans were drawn to Africa's vibrant, diverse cultures. They saw these countries as havens in which they could be themselves without fear of persecution.

Namibia was the most popular destination for queer women in the 1980s, then under South African rule. Namibia's German and African background made it an ideal destination for women wanting to explore both their German heritage and their interest in African culture.

In 1980s Namibia, lesbian bars and clubs sprang up, providing gay women with a safe space to socialise and exchange ideas. They attracted queer women from countries worldwide, and helped foster a sense of community among lesbians in Namibia.

The arrival of European lesbians offered the local queer women the opportunity to explore their sexuality

Another 1980s destination for queer women was Tanzania, then under socialist rule. Tanzania has a history of political activism and is known for its progressive attitudes towards gender and sexuality. The country is an attractive destination for queer women interested in exploring their sexuality in a political and social context.

Tanzania also offers diverse cultural experiences, from the city of Dar es Salaam to the natural wonders of Mount Kilimanjaro. Queer women visitors frequently engaged in cultural exchanges, and engaged with local activists to share queer-movement struggles.

1980s queer female tourism in Germany's former colonies shaped the gender and sexuality of that era's queer transnationality. These women sought destinations where they could express their sexuality in a safe, accepting environment while immersing themselves in a country's culture and history. Despite the taboo and danger, German queer women in 1980s Africa joined with local women to express their sexuality and their shared political activism.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Jacqueline Wilson
Jacqueline Wilson
Postdoctoral Researcher, CES, the Center for Social Studies, Coimbra

Jacqueline also holds a Research Fellow chair at INTI University College, Laurette International Universities.

She obtained a master's in Development Studies from Lund University and Bergen University, and completed her PhD in sociology at Rhodes University.

Jacqueline has participated in various interdisciplinary studies across several social science fields.

She continues to develop her research on anti-cosmopolitanism and its links with contemporary political discourse in Europe.

Her current study sheds light on the impact of right-wing social media campaigns on voting culture in the Swedish 2022 national election.

The aim of Jacqueline's research is to address the uncharted timeline of Sweden's right-wing progress in the social and political landscape of contemporary Nordic and European societies.

Her work sheds light on the complexities of these phenomena, and deepens our understanding of the social and political landscape.

Read more articles by this author

Share Article

Republish Article

We believe in the free flow of information Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License


2 comments on “How queer female tourism in Africa broke down barriers”

  1. In what ways can tourism stakeholders, both within the LGBTQ+ community and the travel industry, work together to create inclusive and supportive environments for queer female tourists in Africa's former European colonies?

    1. Excellent to question It's crucial to realize that LGBTQ+ people, notably queer female tourists, encounter special difficulties while traveling throughout the world, including in the former European colonies of Africa. However, things are gradually but surely changing as more individuals, groups, and corporations try to create inclusive and welcoming settings. Stakeholders can work together in the following ways to create surroundings that are friendly and safe for queer female travelers.

      *Training and awareness campaigns
      It's possible that many people working in the travel industry are unaware of the unique requirements and difficulties that LGBTQ+ travelers experience. All stakeholders, including tour operators, hotel personnel, and tourism boards, can be made aware of how to ensure safe and inclusive places through awareness campaigns and training sessions. These initiatives can also refute.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Loop

Cutting-edge analysis showcasing the work of the political science discipline at its best.
Read more
Advancing Political Science
© 2024 European Consortium for Political Research. The ECPR is a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) number 1167403 ECPR, Harbour House, 6-8 Hythe Quay, Colchester, CO2 8JF, United Kingdom.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram