Tecumseh Roberts: Gay Murder and Nation-making in Liberia

I have this theory–nationalism is bad for queers. Why? It seems to me that many nationalist movements are framed around an idea of nationhood that equates resistance with (hetero) masculinity. The idea of building a nation then means that the heterosexual family becomes the initial “seed” of the nation. All other people who fall outside of those terms of “reproducing” the nation, vis-a-vis the family, are expendable, and are often written off as socially dead, murdered, or suffer the brunt of infectious diseases or chronic illnesses (AIDS or breast cancer, to name a few specifics) Queer and non-normative sex, gender expression and identity become seen as counterrevolutionary in the nationalist politic.

I am not taking sides about “revolutionary”–I mean any organized group trying to overthrow a political/ideological government or regime. In the most recent case, Liberia. That West African nation “founded” by the U.S., using former U.S. slaves as the “colonizers,” is recovering from the throes of a very brutal period of violence and political instability which lasted, in various forms, for more than 20 years.To address the most recent conflict (1999-2003), the country has established a “Truth & Reconciliation” Commission to, according to the website, create “an independent and accurate record of the rights violations and abuses as a result of the conflict.”

Last week, Prince Johnson, a state senator and former guerilla leader was testifying about the death of Tecumseh Roberts, a Liberian popular musician. He testified that another member of his former militia killed Roberts because he was gay. Apparently Roberts was in charge of delivering rice to people in the territory that Johnson controlled, but read this synopsis from the Liberian Journal of Johnson’s discovery that Roberts was gay:

Mr. Johnson said following the discovery of musician Roberts, a stream of blood flowed down his pants leading to the confirmation of suspicion by Gen. Varnii that the musician was a “homosexual.”
“Gen. Varnii ordered Tecumseh Roberts to take off his trouser and when he (latter) took off his trouser, it was discovered that his butt [anal] was rotten. The man whole anus was rotten,” the senator told commissioners.
Following the discovery that he was a homosexual, Johnson said, Gen. Varnii shot and killed Mr. Roberts.
The suggestion by Prince Johnson in his testimony is that Roberts had been fucked so much and so hard that his anus was “rotten”–in a state of decomposing, no longer alive or viable. It was in fact, dying,and therefore Roberts’ whole body, and the idea of a gay Liberian, also had to die, and therefore he was shot (Nevermind the thought that if the man was in fact bleeding he may have been raped). One need not look to West Africa to find similar examples of non-heteronormative sex/sexuality is tantamount to social, political and cultural death. It is the reason why, I continue to blog about all the murders of Black queer folks here in the U.S.

5 thoughts on “Tecumseh Roberts: Gay Murder and Nation-making in Liberia

  1. First, I just want to encourage you to keep on doing what you do, honey. I appreciate your excellent writing and the loving concern that you put into this blog – I can’t say that enough.

    It’s possible that General Varnii murdered Tecumseh to silence him after raping him – and that Tecumseh might not have been gay after all. I wonder if Prince Johnson or any other Liberian considered that possibility. Probably not … but that’s exactly how homohatred works. Why put the energy and effort into investigating the death of someone that you believe didn’t have a right to live in first place? And those Liberians who ask themselves that question might being doing the same thing that General Varnii might have done – knowing that those deaths will never be vindicated.

  2. Hey Kenyon,

    Thanks for discussing this on your blog. ..and thanks for blogging. Your argument reminds me a lot of this book, Impossible Desires, where the author argues that there are relationships between heterosexism/ homophobia and nation as well as queer and diaspora. It seems that nationalism is largely responsible for the forced dispersal of queers around the world.

    The death of Tecumseh is incredibly sad to me as a queer and as a Liberian…

  3. Tecumseh was my cousin. I did not know him well being that he was older. He was and remains one of Liberia’s great musicians and stars. His loss is one felt by the nation not just his family.

    How can you build a nation without a soundtrack worth, singing, loving, living, striving and yes, sometimes even fighting and dying to..?

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