How the US shapes queer activism in Liberia

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06/22/2019

As the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean, dozens of queer Liberians and their friends and family gathered on a stretch of beach outside Monrovia, the West African nation’s capital. It was a Sunday night in November 2016, and they had been invited to an event marking Transgender Day of Remembrance. The program, though, looked to the future as much as it reflected on the past. In addition to honoring transgender Liberians who had died in the previous 12 months, activists planned to introduce candidates for the Miss Trans Diva pageant, one of the local LGBT community’s most important, and high-spirited, annual parties. After a moment of silence, the up-tempo beat of Beyoncé’s 2013 hit “Grown Woman” pulsed through the speakers, and the pageant’s seven contestants began their first passes down a red carpet spread over the wooden stage. Over the next few hours, each woman modeled three outfits—casual wear, evening wear, and “traditional” wear, meaning bright Liberian lappa prints—as the crowd danced and drank Club Beer, the more exuberant among them jokingly shouting marriage proposals. When it was over, a panel of judges selected the evening’s “winner,” presenting her with a pink-and-blue cake.

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