Stéphane Tchakam

Tchakam, Stéphane 2017

Stéphane Tchakam was born on December 16, 1971 (to August 13, 2012). He was a skillful writer, and a revered Cameroonian journalist, social critic, and LGBTI activist.

Stéphane Tchakam was born in the small village of Bayangam, in the Central African nation of Cameroon. When he was just seven years old, he was reading the Tunisian intellectual publication, “Jeune Afrique,” and absorbing its ideas about a post-colonial Africa and human rights. An intensely bright student who could always be seen “with a pencil and backpack,” Tchakam attended Park Repiquet School, and primary school and Bilingual High School in Melen, Yaoundé, followed by law school at the University of Yaoundé. After his studies were interrupted due to lack of financial resources, Tchakam was accepted into the École Supérieure des Sciences et Techniques de l’Information et de La Communication, where he received his journalism credentials in 1996.

Tchakam began his journalism career in the late 1990s at the “Mutations” newspaper, and then moved to the government daily, the “Cameroon Tribune,” where he served for eight years as head of communication service as its chief communications officer for the Littoral region of the Republic of Cameroon. In 2009, Tchakam resigned to work for the daily “Le Jour” as a reporter for its Douala desk. In 2012, he began work as news editor for “Le Jour” based in Yaoundé. Tchakam was also an editor of the newspaper “The Day,” and a respected music journalist for Radio Nostalgie Cameroon.

While editors valued his often brilliant political perspectives, Tchakam aspired to be a cultural journalist, to focus his unique voice on culture and the arts, even when, as he would write, “… employers felt that I was better used elsewhere.” He was a passionate dilettante, and his love for the arts was returned to him by artists from around the African continent, but especially in his native country. Tchakam was a huge fan of Miriam Makeba, and wrote the article “Miriam Makeba, was Africa” in tribute to her many contributions, after her passing.

Tchakam was revered by colleagues for his professionalism and work standards, but described by one Cameroonian publication as a “militant homosexual.” He was a man of great conviction who took his role as a journalist seriously, which sometimes put him at odds with less committed editors. Tchakam once said, “This is more binding, more demanding, more meritorious and that’s what there is most noble and difficult in journalism.” He saw beauty in the people, the land, the arts and the powerful words of Africa, and sought to elevate both his beloved nation, and his readers with his profound writing. He used his warm humor (he once said that laughter “was a symbol of freedom”), his intellect, his powerful reasoning, and his skillful writing to disarm foes and win friends in an openly hostile nation.

Stéphane Tchakam was openly gay in a country where homosexuality is punishable by prison. Defiant and fiercely proud of being gay, Tchakam functioned as an outspoken advocate in the LGBTI community, and a co-founder of the LGBTI support organization, Alternatives Cameroon. “It is not others that define me. I am myself and I decide what is good for me,” Tchakam insisted.

Tchakam pushed for greater exposure of gay and lesbian accomplishments and contributions in the media, and encouraged other Cameroonians to come out; friends described him as “the voice of the voiceless.” He was revered as an activist with a “positive passion” for sexual minorities in Cameroon, and deeply committed against any form of discrimination, including discrimination found within the LGBTI community. He often reminded professional, more affluent members of the community to be more sensitive to the needs of their poor and disenfranchised LGBTI brothers and sisters.

Known by many as “Pa’a Cha,” Stéphane Tchakam’s efforts were also internationally oriented. He understood the value of telling the world about the struggles of Cameroonians, in a respectful and compelling way. He was responsible for communication to the African branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, known as Pan Africa ILGA. In tribute to his efforts, the organization honored him by saying, “[he] was a man determined to play a role in the transformation of his country. His brilliant mind, his generosity and strength undoubtedly continue to guide [and] support the LGBTI in Cameroon.”

In 2008 and 2009, Tchakam received the Mediation Press Trophy for his extraordinary reporting, an honor bestowed by Cameroonian media professionals, and he even served on the board of the organization. To honor him, the “Journal of Cameroon” republished a portrait of Tchakam.

In late July of 2012, Tchakam began to complain of not feeling well. A relative visited his home in Makepe, to bring him fish broth and plantain. But as his condition worsened, Tchakam complained of being in pain, and was transported to Douala General Hospital. A violent attack of malaria subsided after a few days, and he was sent home to rest. Tchakam looked forward to returning to work, but just as it appeared he was getting stronger, complications ensued. He was returned immediately to the hospital, suffering from malaria and severe anemia. Tchakam died of his illness on the morning of August 13, 2012. Later in the day, his body was sent to Yaoundé at the request of his family.

Shock waves reverberated throughout the Cameroons press corps, the arts community, and especially the LGBTI community. Tchakam was a vibrant and joyful voice that was suddenly and unexpectedly silenced. His legions of friends flocked to the hospital in total disbelief. They prayed, pleaded and openly wept, seeking comfort in each other’s company. But their beloved Stéphane was indeed gone.

Tributes poured in from around the nation. The “Cameroon Tribune,” “SlateAfrique,” the “Journal of Cameroon,” and his colleagues at “Le Jour” published memorials, tributes, and obituaries. Prominent human rights lawyer Alice Nkom admitted, “The loss of Stéphane Tchakam is a huge earthquake. We will miss him. He is irreplaceable.”

Steave Nemande, a co-founder of the health and human rights group Alternatives Cameroon, remembered Tchakam as “someone very cultured and full of joie de vivre. He was a first-class advocate for LGBTI causes. He was a founding member of Alternatives Cameroon, where he served as board member and treasurer for many years. He deserves the credit for the recent trend toward objective treatment of homosexuality in the press in Cameroon, especially in the newspapers he edited. This is a big loss for gay rights activists. Many people will remember him as very friendly and warm, a person who was always ready to help a young colleague.”

We remember Stéphane Tchakam in deep appreciation for his brilliant journalism, his passionate support for the arts, and his uncompromising contributions to our community.

 

Maurice Mjomba

Mjomba, Maurice 2017

Maurice (Morris) Mjomba was born on October 10, 1982 (to July 27-30, 2012). He was a Tanzanian HIV/AIDS coordinator, human rights activist, and a founding member of Stay Awake Network Activities (SANA).

Mjomba was a coordinator  at the Centre for Human Rights Promotion (CHRP) as well as a leading activist in Stay Awake Network Activities (SANA), an organization in Tanzania dealing with sexual health awareness for men who have sex with men. He was one of the founding members of SANA, and served as assistant secretary and executive committee member. His work focused on combatting discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS and in providing outreach to intravenous drug users. He also worked with regional organizations to provide sexual health awareness for LGBTI populations.

On July 30, 2012, Mjomba was found dead at his home in Dar ed Salaam. According to reports, he was found “in a slumped position on a couch, his mouth and nose taped, his hands bound behind his back, and he appeared to be severely beaten.” Mjomba was last seen three days prior, and no one had been able to contact him until his body was found. Mjomba was buried on August 1; the official cause of death was “asphyxia due to homicide.” There is no evidence Mjomba’s death was a homophobic hate crime, and no arrests have reportedly been made.

Mjomba’s passing received very little attention in the press, but those who had the opportunity to know Mjomba remember him as a passionate advocate for the LGBTI community in Tanzania, where homosexuality remains taboo and punishable by prison and fines.

“Courage is not measured by standing in front of a marching band of enemies. It’s measured by that internal push brought about by much thought of the consequences of one’s action—as it were, jumping in the deep when one has to jump. The step to the unknown is but a product of that,” wrote Alessia Valenza, who met Mjomba at a university course in late 2010. “Maurice needed not to announce to the whole world he was gay for him to be known he was. He lived a quiet life; permeated by his work with injecting drug users and responsibilities in the gay group he helped form. His human rights work at the Center for the Promotion of Human Rights was admirable.”

We remember Maurice Mjomba for his tireless advocacy and sacrifice for our community in Tanzania and beyond.

William Brandon Lacy Campos

Campos, William Brandon Lacy 2017

William Brandon Lacy Campos was born on August 31, 1977 (to November 9, 2012). He was a poet, writer, social media personality, prolific blogger and columnist, as well as a policy wonk, organizer, and warrior focusing on civil rights, feminism, LGBTQ equality, and HIV/AIDS.

Known simply as Brandon to his many friends, William Brandon Lacy Campos was born in Duluth, Minnesota, to Deborah Carey Watt and William Edward Lacy. His great-great uncle was historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the second Black man to be awarded a doctorate from Harvard University, and the founder of Black History Month. Campos had a troubled youth, suffering physical and emotional abuse early on.

He attended schools in Minneapolis, and graduated in 1995 from Patrick Henry High School, where he served as a member of the Student Council. While still in his teens, Campos became co-chair of the National Queer Student Coalition, and began writing a column for “Oasis” magazine in March of 1996. He was a graduate of the National LGBT Task Force’s Youth Leadership Training Institute in 1999. Campos continued his education at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa Valley, North Carolina; the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, where he majored in feminist studies; and at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Spanish.

William Brandon Lacy Campos worked in Oakland, California, at the Center for Media Justice, a national movement to strengthen the communications effectiveness of grassroots racial justice efforts. He previously served as Associate Director/Fellow for the Democratizing Elections for Liberty Tree Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin. Campos arrived in New York City in June of 2009, and accepted a position as Development and Marketing Manager for Words Without Borders. Eager to meet other activists and writers, he joined his friend Charlie Vázquez, who was hosting a monthly reading series in the East Village called “Hispanic Panic.”

Campos served as co-executive director of Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ), and was a prominent figure within the nation’s social activist and “artivist” communities. While at QEJ, he worked on LGBTQ issues of social justice in New York City. His service began there in June of 2011, when he accepted a position as Development Director.

Campos was an emerging voice who garnered respect and admiration in the writing, spoken word, and arts communities across the United States. In March 2011, he contributed to the anthology, “From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction.” A few months later, Campos published his poetry collection, “It Ain’t Truth If It Doesn’t Hurt” (Rebel Satori Press) with illustrations by his friend and former partner, David Berube. He was the author of the blog, “My Feet Only Walk Forward”, and a contributor to the “Huffington Post,” discussing Black masculinity, image, perception, and stigma. Campos also contributed a regular column to “The Body” magazine, entitled “Queer, Poz and Colored.” In 2009, MyLatinoVoice.com named him the “number two, queer Latino blogger to watch.”

His poetry was published in the “Ganymede” literary journal, and he was a contributor to the “Queer Twin Cities History Project,” a 2010 LGBTQ oral history collection. Campos also contributed to Emanuel Xavier’s poetry collection, “Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry,” as well as to “Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change: New Democratic Possibilities for Practice and Policy for America’s Youth.”  He was the host and author of the “Naked Poetry” series on YouTube.

In 2006, the “Minneapolis Star Tribune” named Campos a “Young Wonk to Watch,” for his insane love of breaking down complex public policy issues into language the rest of us could understand. In addition, Campos guest lectured at several colleges and universities on the intersection of race, sexual orientation, and art as a tool for social change. He performed Off-Broadway as the opening act for Bebe Zahara Benet’s “Queendom.” He also created the Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry in honor of his grandfather.

William Brandon Lacy Campos was a board member of the Audre Lorde Project, and an active supporter of the Hetrick-Martin Institute. He became a model, spokesperson, and an early supporter for Volttage.com, a dating site aimed at eliminating stigma, and providing support to the HIV-positive community. Campos was also a founding member of “Lavender Greens,” the Green Party’s LGBT Caucus. He was a regular presenter and participant at the National LGBT Task Force’s annual “Creating Change Conference,” and co-chaired the United States Student Association’s Queer Student Coalition.

Campos lived with HIV for years and, in his online writings, made no effort to contain his fury at those who contributed to the ongoing stigma faced by those in his situation. Always candid and often blunt, he described himself as “a poet, playwright, journalist, amateur chef, and life commentator doing his bit to put his foot in the asses of the regressive masses, while putting filling and nutritious food on plates of folks that ain’t got much and deserve better.”

In a 2012 speech at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference at Hampshire College, he called for HIV to be a central concern of the movement for reproductive freedom. “Let me be clear,” he extoled his audience. “HIV isn’t over. It’s relevant to your work. It’s relevant to your lives. It is not just a disease that affects white gay men. It isn’t a disease that impacts only men of color on the down-low. In fact, it isn’t a disease that impacts only men. Women, and specifically women of color, and even more specifically African American and Latina women, are the fastest-growing population of people living with HIV. And with 300,000 women living with HIV in the United States, and women representing more than 50 percent of HIV cases around the world, you cannot in justice or in faith, remove issues of HIV from reproductive justice.”

On November 6, 2012, at Tufts University’s annual Black Solidarity Day, he tackled a recurrent theme in his life—his status as a multi-racial man. “I am standing in front of you a Black, white, Ojibwe, Afro-Boricua, HIV-positive queer man,” he told the gathering. “And I am just as Black as any of you. You are my community, you are my salvation. I am in community with my queer and trans Black family, and being queer or trans doesn’t make you less Black than anyone else. No more high yellow and midnight blue conversations when talking about skin, unless it’s to talk about how that high yellow or midnight blue person rocked your socks last night.”

William Brandon Lacy Campos held nothing back when talking about his addiction to crystal meth, and his battles with depression, racism, and homophobia. He wrote candidly about his HIV-positive status, and as a gay man of color living with HIV, he literally bared his soul for all to see. Campos spoke out not just for the LGBTQ community and those living with HIV, but for those who may have felt that they had no voice. He was a dedicated blogger whose raw honesty, anger, and emphatic certainty could startle and even put people off.

Campos died unexpectedly in New York City on November 9, 2012. The artist and activist was only 35 years old. At the time of his death, he had been putting the finishing touches on his debut novel, “Eden Lost,” and working on his second poetry collection, “Songs My Ancestors Sing to Me When I Am Dreaming.” Services were held near Campos’ parents at United Methodist Church in Ronceverte, West Virginia; he is interred at Mt. Zion Baptist Cemetery in Sinks Grove, West Virginia.

Tribute events were held in his adopted hometown of New York City, and on the one-year anniversary of Campos’ passing, Café SouthSide in Minneapolis formally dedicated its revamped library in his memory. He is remembered as a man who touched the lives of others everywhere he went, with a smile that could light up a room, and a passion for social justice that ignited souls. “He was someone who took the time to actually connect with people face-to-face, person-to-person, and who cooked from his soul—as he fed not only stomachs but hearts,” said friend Aundaray Guess.

“I am living this life as lovingly as I can be as flawed as I am,” Campos reportedly stated in one of his last Facebook messages. “My saving grace is that the God in which I believe has sent me more love than I Could believe my due and that love I have been able to share to u. To u amor.”

We remember William Brandon Lacy Campos, and thank him for his passionate activism, and for making a difference in the lives of others.