Brian, in his own words:“In a few words (being gay) is liberating, being my own self, inspiring,
Challenges, living with limited means, living in society largely homophobic and conservative, low self-esteem which perpetually broke my spirit.
Successes – Coming to terms with my sexuality, getting an education despite prevailing circumstances. Learning to love and defend myself against everyone and everything.
(My coming out story is) a story of strength, resilience, patience – Was cut off by my parents after a compromising letter fell into the wrong hands, crept back into the closet so I could continue with school and have a roof over my head, broken relationship with family. Recently came out again to family members some of whom expressed unwavering love and support while others….well…
(The gay community in Nairobi is) a community of diverse and brilliant men and women with a big, loving and strong heart, achieving success against all odds. Truly inspirational
(Advice to my younger self) be yourself and proud of it. Embrace who you are and you will be fine.”
Peter, in his own words:“(the situation for LGBTI individuals in Kenya) has really improved for now. I can say that is is unlike five years ago, where you would not find an exclusively openly gay clinic. It used to be hard before, but it is still not easy because when you have a stand alone clinic people fear that you might also out them–if they’re found attending the clinic, people will know they are gay. What I can say generally is, I think in this country (with regards to the) LGBTI community we are much better than most of the African countries. But still, the stigma, the discrimination, the law is still against us. (With) the penal code you can be arrested if you are assumed gay. And (one) might be discriminated on health, or going to school–we have seen people kicked out of their houses by landowners or neighbors thinking that (you are gay). They don’t even have evidence, they just assume that you might be gay. It’s still a struggle.
Generally, (the biggest challenge) is the culture. (People think) You have traveled out of the country, that is why you have brought (being gay) into this country. Or normally our funds come from outside the country, so mostly they say ‘You’ve been paid, you’ve been funded so you can continue the Western agenda.’ So basically I think (the biggest challenge) is the culture and religion.
Basically, the general thing about being an African man, if you’re a man you have to behave like a man. At a certain age you have to start courtship with girls, and after that is marriage, and after marriage is having children. That’s generally on the African continent how they perceive you. A family is between a man, woman, and children.
(With regards to progress) Africa on a whole is really hard. As we all know, in South Africa at least (being gay) is legal there, but we thought once South Africa legalized other countries would start replicating that. But it’s the other way around. We found out they wanted even stronger laws that will criminalize homosexual acts, so it’s really difficult. So I think in Africa we still have a long ways to go. But what I can say as a Kenyan, as far as we are, what we have really tried (working for) is not human rights issues or even marriage, it’s specifically on health. So when we start talking about health issues, people know that if it affects gay people it might also affect the heterosexual community. (Then) they are willing to start listening to you. They are willing to accommodate, they are willing to tolerate.
The biggest health issue for gay men is if you are sick as related to how you have sex to another man, there is a lot of stigma with the health care providers. And if they are willing to help you and to listen to you, they don’t know how to handle your case. So there is a lot of ignorance. And the other thing, especially in the rampant case of HIV and AIDS, the only health promotion that you can see in all the media, all the publications, anything that kids are growing up knowing, is that HIV can only be contracted between a man and a woman. So we have cases of people saying, ‘I didn’t know. I thought when having sex with a man, I’m safe. Because what I’ve been shown has only been man and woman. If I’m a man and have sex with a woman, that’s when I’ll contract HIV/AIDS. So if I’m with another man, I’m safe.’ So with those kind of things, we find that people don’t know if they are at risk or are at a higher risk to contract HIV/AIDS because they don’t have that information and they can’t find that information. So we are trying to bridge the gap and trying to help in that scenario and trying to come up with health promotion that says (gay men) are even more vulnerable, because we don’t see that today.
(The gay community in Nairobi) is thriving and it’s diverse because we find that a culture of Nairobi is that people don’t care what you do. Whatever you do in your house, as long as it doesn’t affect me. So you find that people have an ‘I don’t care attitude, unless it affects me.’ Unlike a city like Mombasa, which is mostly (about) majority. But you find in Nairobi people are busy, doing good to others, people want to make their living, so they won’t mind about my business. And that has made gay people live better in Nairobi, people can live freely in Nairobi. In fact, sometimes I call Nairobi the New York of East Africa. Because if you look at East Africa, Nairobi is more safe than the rest of the cities. You can get health care services, you can go to a doctor and talk about issues and the doctor doesn’t care.
I think for me, and for my hope, I have been fulfilled because I’ve been working for the LGBTI (community) for the last eight or nine years. And I’ve seen a lot of growth, and a lot of impact that we have made for the community. Because what has been happening before for the last five years was we had straight people working in a clinic which is for gay men. And they would not really understand our issues. So for now, what is happening currently, gay people are running their own clinic. So that has always been my dream, and I hope it continues. That we ourselves know the the issues had, we know what is our problem, and we are the people that are going to solve our problem. So that has been my dream and I see now that it is coming up.
So for the country, I hope one day that I will walk freely, I’ll have my partner, I can walk freely with my partner, I can go to a club and dance freely with my partner. I can do whatever other heterosexual people are able to do. Because we find most of these things we do, we hide. We go to clubs and we are kicked out, we bring money to people and they accept us for one month and then they realize we are gay people and the next month they are kicking us out. So I wish one day that we might be protected by the state, that nobody has the right to come and beat me, nobody has the right to come and kick me out of their house, nobody has the right to deny me the occupation because of my sexuality, deny health access because of my sexuality, stigmatize me in whatever situation, I hope one day we can be protected.”
Patrick, in his own words:“What does being gay mean to you?
Tough question. Definitely one that a straight person doesn’t face and doesn’t have to answer. In my view, that’s the path I’ll take when faced with this question. It means being Patrick. It means being a person. It means being there for my friends. It means being a source of humour for them. Kevin that’s a really, really difficult question!
(With regards to challenges) Too many to even think of and furthermore, being a really private person makes this a difficult question to answer. I’ve been very lucky academically and professionally and I’m very happy with my career. The biggest challenge was accepting that I’m prone to bouts of depression and having to learn how to deal with it. It probably stems from when I was younger and susceptible to bullies at school. It all happened a very long time ago and I’m glad that I developed skin as thick as a rhino’s. I’m very sure of myself now. Perhaps a tad bit too sure.
There comes a time in your life when you have to make a very personal decision and let your truth come out. I had always known that I was different and it disturbed me. It took me a long time to accept my truth and when I got to that stage in my thinking, it was time to share it with those closest to me. I came out at 22. The first person I told was my sister, and I followed it up by telling our cousin. It wasn’t complicated, lacked drama and was a bit of an anticlimax to be honest. Same thing with my mother. I was expecting fireworks and didn’t get any (my sister will probably insist that I have a penchant for drama even though I categorically deny that I do). Truth is, I still find myself having to come out all the time-to new friends, at work, wherever. I’ve never had to make any major announcements. I just assume that people assume that I’m gay and will always answer in the affirmative if asked.
(The gay community in Nairobi is)Vast and varied. There is a diversity of groups divided along age and class lines. There are multiple scenes. It’s really hard to describe it because I don’t really belong to any of the scenes therefore I’m probably not best placed to answer the question. I do have gay friends in the city, but our interactions are completely merged with experiences with straight friends. With the group of friends I spend a lot of time with, it’s very integrated.
(With regards to advice to my younger self) Another daunting question!
-Make no apologies about being who you are-particularly in your dealings with bullies. It’s quite likely that they’re working through major insecurities and might be projecting these issues on you.
-Do not focus too much on what you think people may be thinking of you. They’re busily wrapped up in their own lives and have their own problems.
-Be happy, smile, be radiant! Do the things that give you pleasure, no matter their opinions of people around you.
-Always remember that your dearest and nearest have your back.
-Most importantly, try not to avoid the rugby pitch!”