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Exhibition Focuses on Sierra Leone’s Hidden LGBT+ Community

House of Kings and Queens

Documentary photographer Lee Price explores what it means to be gay in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

A powerful new photography exhibition is set to launch at Humber Street Gallery in Hull on Thursday 27 July as part of Hull 2017’s LGBT 50 programme. The House of Kings and Queens is the brainchild of international documentary photographer Lee Price and explores life as a member of the LGBT+ community in Hull’s sister city of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

It will open to the public on the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 that decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men in England and Wales. It remains illegal to engage in homosexual acts in 77 countries around the world and in Freetown a maximum sentence of life imprisonment can be imposed upon members of the LGBT+ community.

While the law is rarely enforced, many LGBT+ people in Freetown face daily persecution, including harassment, ridicule, eviction and violence at the hands of people who say homosexuality goes against their religious or cultural beliefs. Because of this, the vast majority of LGBT+ people choose to keep their sexuality a secret.

Providing a glimmer of hope to the community is a young transgender woman who offers a warm welcome to those in need. Her home is a sanctuary where individuals can live without oppression and communicate with those who understand and accept them for who they are.

Lee Price was commissioned by Hull 2017 to visit The House of Kings and Queens in order to create this unique collection of photographs which act as a window into the lives of the house’s inhabitants and convey both the cloud of secrecy that its subjects live under and the sense of liberation they feel at being able to express themselves freely in a safe space.

One visitor to the house, who can’t be named for fear of persecution, said: “Life is tough for gay people in Sierra Leone and especially those who are transgender. We face a lot of problems here; transgender people can be flogged in the streets and we don’t feel safe going out after dark in case we are attacked.

When Ebola came to Sierra Leone it was blamed on gay people. We suffer so much humiliation every day, but I am proud to be gay.

As a gay man, Lee Price’s personal work predominantly focuses on the topic of sexuality and sociological attitudes towards it. He has explored this subject matter in various parts of the world, often documenting groups and subcultures that are hidden from view, from the gay cruisers of Sex with Strangers to the discriminated LGBT+ community of Uganda in Against the Order of Nature (links contain adult content).

Lee said: “I was delighted to be asked to document such a poignant subject matter and to mark this important anniversary year of decriminalisation.

“The work, whilst a reminder of the progress still to be made with regards to international gay rights, is also a celebration of the inspiring defiance of oppression and segregation among the gay community of Sierra Leone.”

Lee’s goal with all of his work is to raise questions and spark debates surrounding issues he feels ought to be addressed, and this project is no different.

Martin Green, CEO and director of Hull 2017, said: “In this country we are in the privileged position of being able to celebrate how far LGBT rights have progressed, which is an important part of our LGBT 50programme. However, we also wanted to shine a light on those parts of the world where they do not enjoy those same advances.

“We often hear the question ‘why does the LGBT+ community still need Pride?’ and the answer is simple. It’s because there are parts of the world where people are still being persecuted for being themselves.

“That happens in Sierra Leone, but it also happens on the streets of our towns and cities where many LGBT+ people do not feel confident and comfortable to be themselves for fear of physical or verbal abuse.

“Lee Price’s strikingly beautiful, yet thought-provoking, photographs show that hope can persevere, even in the face of adversity and I hope that in some small way, they will inspire people to be more supportive of each other closer to home.”

The House of Kings and Queens will be on display at Humber Street Gallery’s Gallery Four in Pier Street from Thursday 27 July until Sunday 24 September. The exhibition will also be the subject of an interactive Moved by Art session for young people aged 18-24 on Thursday 17 August, from 5pm to 8pm.