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Amid Increasing Persecution of Gays in Africa, Author Binyavanga Wainaina Comes Out

Wainaina

BY TRISTAN MCCONNELL / GlobalPost

NAIROBI — Binyavanga Wainaina has a hangover. Last night friends gathered for his birthday party, which turned into a coming out party, because Wainaina, one of Africa’s most powerful modern literary voices, had just published an article entitled, “I am a homosexual, Mum.”

On a continent where secrecy defines the gay experience and where a majority of countries outlaw homosexuality, coming out is a rare step for a public figure. Wainana’s piece, first published on Saturday, is being shared widely across social networks. “My dear @BinyavangaW writes a piece that springs open the prison doors of the heart,” tweeted Nigerian-born writer Teju Cole.

The timing of Wainaina’s coming out was a mixture of the personal and the political, and anything but accidental.

“Of course my friends knew, but I had been toying with how useful it would be to make a public statement for close to eight months,” Wainaina told GlobalPost on Monday, as his declaration of homosexuality picked up traffic on Africa Is A Country and Chimurenga Chronic, the two African websites where it was first published.

Last year Wainaina — perhaps best known abroad as the author of the satirical essay "How to Write About Africa" — returned home to live in Kenya after a prolonged period of international nomadism and began to feel “a certain falsity in the way I lived my life,” he said.

Wainaina struggled with the relative ease of being clandestinely gay while surrounded by his artist friends in cosmopolitan Nairobi, while elsewhere in Africa homosexuals faced increasing oppression.

Last month he went to a close gay friend’s memorial in the western town of Kisumu and learned that the friend's Christian family had been rejected by the church due to their son’s sexual orientation. Yet the young man’s parents had accepted their son’s homosexuality and even welcomed “half the queens in Kisumu” into their home to celebrate his life, Wainaina said.

Added to that were oppressive new anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria. Ugandan parliamentarians passed a law in late December making “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life imprisonment. An early draft proposed the death sentence. (President Museveni rejected the bill this week). Nigeria’s president last week signed a law imposing 14-year jail terms for homosexual acts.

“There was the anti-gay bill in Uganda first, but the Nigeria one! Nigeria is a country I go to — I was there three times last year — it is a place I love, it’s like a second home to me,” said Wainaina.

“It’s hard to imagine any more repressive law of any kind anywhere in the world. It’s just the most terrible thing,” he said.

And yet Wainaina does not believe the war for gay rights is being lost in Africa, even if some battles are.

“It seems like doom and gloom but my feeling is that the law is a reaction to a thing that they know has traction,” he said. “And that’s a good thing. There’s no way to put that s--t back in the box.”

Wainaina has little time for the trite argument that homosexuality is “un-African.”

“The idea that there is no such thing as gay in African culture is a mixture of an inherited Victorian puritanism via the first churches, mixed with sloganeering and fear,” he said.

B_wainainaWainaina had been mulling his coming out for the better part of 2013. He said that on New Year’s Day this year he was “one tweet away from just saying it.” Instead, he chose to write his coming out in a short essay styled as a “lost chapter” from his 2011 memoir "One Day I Will Write About This Place," which won a coveted recommendation from Oprah Winfrey.

He wrote the essay during a couple of feverish late-night hours on the eve of his 43rd birthday,  Jan. 18. “I was very giddy the whole time writing it, very happy,” he said.

The result is heartfelt, raw and honest.

“Nobody, nobody, ever in my life has heard this,” Wainaina writes. “Never, mum. I did not trust you, mum. And. I. Pulled air hard and balled it down into my navel, and let it out slow and firm, clean and without bumps out of my mouth, loud and clear over a shoulder, into her ear. ‘I am a homosexual, mum.’”

Openly declaring his sexual orientation is both brave and potentially powerful, given Wainana’s reach. He has taught at Bard College in New York State, was awarded the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing, and won acclaim for his brilliant "How To Write About Africa.” His smart brevity has earned Wainaina a growing Twitter following, and last year Foreign Policy included him in its annual Twitterati 100.

Wainana believes his honesty will be embraced in his home and in other African countries. “People who live in societies where you are being lied to a lot value truth,” he said.

Wainaina is set to become a still-louder voice for gay rights, a struggle that he sees as part of a wider defiance, an effort to break apart “the very, very hardwired restrictions that were imposed in 1885” by colonialists and which “are very alive in every facet of African life.”

“I want to be part of a generation of people in Kenya and Africa who change [Africa] to be accountable to itself,” he said.

(top image wikimedia commons nightstream - Writer Binyavanga Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival.)


Gay Kenyan Activist David Kuria On The Power Of Coming Out

DavidKuria

David Kuria made history this year by becoming the first openly gay political candidate in Kenya. Unfortunately, financial constraints, particularly pricey security, led him to end his campaign. But that doesn't mean it didn't still make a huge impact.

In an interview with The Guardian on his ill-fated run for public office, Kuria reflects on how Kenyans are starting to understand and accept gay people, largely because of people like him who are brave enough to come out of the closet.

I had seen changes in the way our people in the villages view gay people. For many people, gay people and gay rights are perceived though mediated interpretation of politicians and religious leaders. For the first time it was possible to talk with the people, answer their questions as well as point out the nexus areas of different forms of marginalization, including poverty and other challenges that affect them, too.

Later in the interview, Kuria noted that while it's tempting to view Kenya as entirely homophobic and agreed that many Kenyans still think being gay is "unAfrican," he says things are changing for the better, and will continue to do so...

"I think the narrative of Kenya being a homophobic society is taken out of context. True, many people do not approve of same-sex relationships, but that is because of the stereotypes they have been made to believe in," he said. "Again [the idea that being gay is "unAfrican"] is one of those stories that have been told over and over again that it has come to be seen as true. But there are also very few public LGBT voices – these need to increase for the narrative to be debunked."


President Obama Censures Mourdock, Mocks Trump On 'Tonight Show': VIDEO

ObamaLeno

President Obama touched on a whole slew of topics during his appearance on NBC's Tonight Show last night.

The commander-in-chief talked Halloween, the debates and test-driving a pal's Chevy Volt. He also poked fun at Donald Trump's offer to donate $5 million to a charity of Obama's choice if the president would unveil his college transcripts and passport application, another volley in Trump's publicity campaign to "prove" Obama is foreign.

"This all goes back to when we grew up together in Kenya," the president laughed. "We had constant run-ins on the soccer field. He wasn’t very good and resented it. When we finally moved to America I thought it would be over.”

The biggest headlines out of last night however are Obama's comments about Richard Mourdock, the Romney-backed Indiana Senate candidate who pulled a Todd Akin by saying that rape is "something God intended" and victims should keep potential babies produced by said crime.

Obama of course disagrees:

I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas. Let me make a very simple proposition: rape is rape. It is a crime. These various distinctions about rape don’t make any sense to me. This is exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, make decisions about women’s heath issues.

Watch Obama's comments about Mourdock and Trump as well as the NBC-provided footage of Jay Leno's entire interview with President Obama AFTER THE JUMP.

Continue reading "President Obama Censures Mourdock, Mocks Trump On 'Tonight Show': VIDEO" »


U.S. Embassies In Latin America Get Down With Gay Pride

ElSalvadorSecretary of State Hillary Clinton has made no secret of her commitment to LGBT rights around the world. "Gay rights are human rights," she has said on a number of occasions. Apparently her State Department colleagues in Latin America agree.

Only a few weeks after it was reported that the U.S. Embassy in Kenya was celebrating pride, Andrés Duque reports that half-a-dozen U.S. satellites in the Latin America took part in their own pride events.

For example, Anne Andrew, the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, held a "roundtable" on LGBT rights there, while the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Lisa Kubiske, sent out a tweet reiterating the States' engagement on LGBT issues. "The US Government supports the Honduran LGBT community in their fight for equality and respect," she wrote.

Officials in Chile, Panama, El Salvador and Ecuador also sent representatives to pride parades or held their own events, including a high heel race to erode traditional gender norms in Ecuador. As you can see in the photo above, the participants were in it to win it.

Read Duque's excellent article HERE.


U.S. Embassy In Kenya To Celebrate Pride

KenyaPride

American diplomats in Kenya are breaking some pro-gay ground next week.

Identity Kenya reports that the U.S. embassy there will celebrate LGBT pride next Tuesday, June 26th. This is the first time American officials have celebrated pride in the African nation, where gay love remains illegal, and local activists hope this will be a watershed moment for Kenyan society.

Eric Gitari, a queer activist who works for the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, told reporter Denis Nzioka, "Pride, which the White house and most American embassies across the world mark June every, is a powerful example to governments on how to leadership should be in protecting minority groups, in celebrating diversity and fighting prejudices."

"For some of us fighting for the respect and equal rights of LGBTIQ persons in Kenya, it inspires hope for a near future where the Kenyan government will take a strong stand against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity-in legislation, policy and practices."

It's unclear whether there will be any backlash against the U.S. effort, but it wouldn't be surprising. Homosexuality is still very much disdained by the majority of Kenyans, so much so that earlier this year a crowd stoned a gay man to death in the nation's capital, Nairobi.


Gay Man Stoned To Death Outside Nairobi

Kayole

Identity Kenya reports that an apparently gay man from Kayole estate, outside Nairobi, was stoned to death on May 27th.

The man was a cook at a food-vending kiosk in an open-air market portion of the estate. He was discovered by passersby having sex with a male co-worker, who seems to have done prep-work in the kiosk. According to Identity Kenya:

It is said the two have ‘been enjoying prolonged stares for month and the deceased made the first move.’

The two are said to have agreed to have meet up behind the Catholic Church building in Soweto estate at 8pm on the fateful day.

From there, sources say, they began to have sex.

The area is described as ‘deserted with bushes and a dumping site.’

In the darkness, the two were caught with passersby as they were having sex and they were beaten up.

Later, a crowd milled around and started to stone the two men amidst insults.

One of the men survived by crawling away from the mob. "Anonymous sources" tell Identity Kenya that the survivor suffers broken arms and internal bleeding.

The dead man's body was discovered by authorities on the morning of May 28th, in a "dump site" not far from where he was murdered. His remains were taken to a mortuary, and he was buried in early June. Identity Kenya doesn't report whether police are searching his killers.

Note: There was something very much like a witch scare in Kayole not long ago, in which the townspeople became terrified of half-mythical transvestite serial killer. Anti-gay sentiment is always prevalent in Kenya, but the scare probably doesn't help.


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