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LGBTQ+: Where Must the Artist Stand?

Shadreck Chikoti

11 Jun 2023

"I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," Voltaire.

"Udzafa Imfa Yowawa,"(You will die a horrible death) is a widely acclaimed poem penned by a distinguished poet from Malawi. The poem has gained popularity for its vehement opposition towards homosexuality. This literary work intricately scrutinizes individuals within the LGBTQ+ community and those who advocate for their rights, cautioning them of an ominous fate should they persist in their current demeanor—an agonizing demise awaits them.


Mukangokhala mgulu lovomereza kuti amuna azikwatirana okhaokha, mudzafa imfa yowawa.  Chimsomali chachikulu ndi chonenepa chidzagwa pa denga la nyumba yanu nkubaya pa mutu wanu, kutulukira kuchibwanoku, magazi osakanikirana ndi ubongo adzayenda pakhosi panu, mothamanga ngati madzi a pa mtsinje wa Shire, koma Mulungu sadzakulolani kuti mufere pompo musanamve mbebe ndi ululu. Okukondani adzakunyamulani pa ka Banza, pa ulendo othamangira nanu kuchipatala, muli pa njira kabanza adzachita ngozi, phudulov nkulowa mkamwa nkugululamo mano asanu, za chisoni kufika kuchipatala mudzapeza ma pain killer atatha….


“If you are one of those who embraces same-sex marriage, you will die a painful death. A large, fat nail will fall from your house's roof and pierce your head, coming out of your chin. Blood and brain matter will then rush as quickly down your throat as the water of the River Shire. but God won't allow you pass away until you experience further agony. When your loved ones come to pick you up on Kabanza to take you to the hospital, you will have an accident, the bicycle pedal will fly into your mouth, breaking five of your teeth….” Says part of the poem.


Many artists in Malawi and around Africa are unwilling to discuss LGBTQ+ issues, and many have followed the easy and popular route of denigrating everything associated with LGBTQ+ groups. But the question is, what is the function of the artist in this situation?


In contemporary society, issues surrounding LGBTQ+ rights have become subjects of intense debate and often elicit strong emotional responses. Artists, as influential voices within society, are frequently called upon to take a stance on such matters. The question of where an artist should stand in relation to LGBTQ+ rights is a complex and multifaceted one. This essay will explore the role of the artist in the realm of rights, the historical context of artists speaking out against oppression, and the need for critical questioning and understanding in addressing LGBTQ+ issues.


Throughout history, artists have played a pivotal role in upholding the rights of marginalized communities. They have used their creative mediums to challenge societal norms, provoke thought, and bring about social change. They believe in the freedom of expression and the rights of every individual, even if they disagree with their perspectives. Artists, like Voltaire, who famously said, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," uphold the principles of freedom and justice and encapsulate the artist's commitment to defending the freedom of expression and rights of individuals, even if they personally disagree with certain behaviors or beliefs.


Voltaire was an influential philosopher, a poet and writer of the Enlightenment period who advocated for liberty, equality, and justice. His ideas laid the groundwork for principles that still resonate today, including the importance of free speech and tolerance. Voltaire's belief in defending the right to express differing opinions underscores the artist's commitment to safeguarding individual freedoms.


In oppressive regimes, artists have often stood up against injustices and fought for the rights of the people. In Malawi's history, the oppressive regime of Kamuzu Banda serves as an example of artists' duty to challenge tyranny and advocate for human rights. Banda's authoritarian rule suppressed dissenting voices and stifled artistic expression. However, artists like Du Chisiza, Wambali Mkandawire, and Jack Mapanje defied the oppressive regime through their poetry, music, and writings. They became beacons of hope, inspiring others to seek liberation and justice.They did not speak out solely for personal gain but rather to demand basic human rights for the marginalized. Similarly, the artist's role in advocating for LGBTQ+ rights should be seen as a continuation of this historical tradition.


Understanding LGBTQ+ Rights and Advocacy: While advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, it is essential for artists to seek understanding and empathy. It is crucial to recognize that sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental aspects of human diversity. Artists must engage in meaningful dialogue and education to better comprehend the experiences, challenges, and aspirations of the LGBTQ+ community. This understanding will allow artists to communicate their support for equal rights more effectively.


It is valid for artists to question certain aspects of LGBTQ+ advocacy that may appear to push an agenda beyond the scope of securing rights. For instance, the use of rainbow-themed baby clothes or TV programs targeting children can spark discussions on age-appropriate education and parental rights. However, it is essential to differentiate between a critique of specific approaches and the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. Artists should focus on fostering open dialogue and exploring nuanced perspectives rather than perpetuating stereotypes or engaging in harmful rhetoric.


Artists have a responsibility to contribute to a society that respects and values diversity. They can challenge prevailing prejudices, dismantle harmful stereotypes, and create spaces for marginalized voices to be heard. While some religious groups may vehemently oppose LGBTQ+ rights, it is essential to emphasize that supporting the rights of one group does not equate to infringing upon the rights of another. Artists can facilitate respectful conversations and bridge the gaps between different communities, helping society move toward a more inclusive future.


The role of the artist in the LGBTQ+ rights discourse is one that requires understanding, empathy, and the championing of basic human rights. Artists can draw inspiration from historical instances where they stood against oppression and advocated for the rights of the marginalized. While questioning certain approaches within the LGBTQ+ movement is valid, it should not undermine the fundamental rights of individuals. Artists should engage in meaningful dialogue, challenge stereotypes, and promote inclusivity to create a society that embraces diversity and respects the rights of all its members.



Shadreck Chikoti is a Malawian writer and social activist who writes in both English and Chichewa. He has received national and international recognition for his writing including the Peer Gynt Literary Award for his short story, “The Trap,” in 2001 and for his science fiction novel AZOTUS THE KINGDOM, in 2013. He was nominated by the Africa39 project as one “of the most promising 39 authors under the age of 40 from Sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora,” and named by CNN as one of the seven must read contemporary African authors. In 2019 Shadreck participate in the prestigious International Writers Programme at the University of Iowa in the United States, where he worked on his forth coming novel, “Prayer Doll.”

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