Why are we so shaken today?vigil It is because we are so used to living with fear, we are so used to the little put-downs so often described as “jokes”. So many of us were bullied at school and rejected by our families that we don’t trust the world around us easily.

We know that we are inviting verbal abuse and the danger of physical attack if we walk around holding our loved one’s hand or kissing in public. We know to check and not behave in a way that is “too gay” if we’re out on the street at night, especially if you’re on your own.

We know we are at risk, and what this foul act of terror in Orlando has done is take that fear and make it concrete.

For many of us, our clubs and bars are the only places we can be ourselves. They are safe spaces away from families, from fellow employees and others who might laugh and jeer. They are often the only places we can relax and show who we are and openly show our love for partners; these are spaces where we can hug, kiss, and just act like the rest of the world does every day.

This month is Pride Month. Our community’s way of taking a stance against the discrimination and violence most of us face every single day of our lives.

Well, on 12th June, one man silenced the voices of 49 individuals. Wounded 53 others and traumatized the whole world. One man hated so much that he caused so much pain to families, friends, lovers and acquaintances.

On 12th June, the world was shown, in sheer unadulterated horror, the result of preaching hate and denying diversity. This is not an isolated incident; thousands of people lose their lives every day. I remember the 147 lives lost in the Garissa Massacre. I remember the 67 lives silenced in The Westgate Mall shooting. I remember the 19 Yazidi girls burnt to death for refusing sexual slavery.

We stand in solidarity with all who have lost their lives in senseless killings the world over. Today, we honor those who died on 12th June. To honor those who lost their loved ones. To honor those who survived the ordeal. To honor those who have been affected in any way.

34-year-old Edward Sotomayor Jr, 22-year-old Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22-year-old Luis S. Vilema, 23-year-old Stanley Almodovar III, 36-year-old Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 25-year-old Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 50-year-old Franky Jimmy Velazquez, 40-year-old Javier Jorge-Reyes, 21-year-old Cory James Connell, 19-year-old Jason Benjamin Josaphat. These are just 10 of the 49 hopes and dreams that will never come true. These names may mean nothing to you. These names however mean everything to their parents, their friends, their brothers and sisters. They mean everything to the people who loved them.

These names could also belong to your parents, your friends, your brothers or sisters. They could belong to people who you love. And that is the message here. We are human beings. We are one people. We breathe, eat, sleep. We love, we are loved. We are one. Even though we may be one, we are diverse. We love differently. We eat differently. We are of different races. We are all different individuals. We must all embrace this diversity. We must all accept this diversity. We must all understand this diversity. That is the only way we will live in peace.

Completely unnecessary, the killing, maiming and traumatizing of all these people two days ago. Completely unnecessary, the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that drives people to committing such heinous acts. Hate is completely unnecessary. It is unnecessary because it never wins. Love always wins. We are not here to condemn anyone, any religion, any political affiliation. We are here to say that love always wins. And even as the families and friends of those who lost their lives start the process of healing, our message to them is this. Love always, every day, forever, wins.

 

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feminism_small-00319-year-old Ouma is brutally raped by police officers who are charged with the task of serving and protecting Kenyans. Nairobi County Governor Evans Kidero slaps Women Representative Rachael Shebesh to the glee of quite a number of Kenyans. As at 6 years ago, 16% of women in Kenya still lacked basic literacy skills compared to 9% of men. 95% (1,370 of 1,450) of ward members of county assemblies in Kenya are men. Honorable Malulu Injendi on 21st April 2016 said that the fact that Honorable Janet Nangabo’s (Trans Nzoia MP) hair may have cost KES 10,000 to do means that the women have money as a reason to reject changes to the law setting up a special fund to give all women candidates in the country campaign money in the next election. Women in Kenya are constantly being harassed, discriminated against, disempowered and whenever some of them do get to a point where they are at a position of power, we, the men, refer to them as entitled bitches. I realize that these may seem like incredibly generalized statements, but if we actually took some time to analyse the status quo, we will realize that said statements are actually true.

I therefore write this from a position most men do not want to admit. That of privilege. A privilege stemming from the fact that I was born with a penis and not a vagina. A privilege that affords me opportunities that our womenfolk are not afforded as evidenced from some of the statistics herein. A privilege that assumes that I am the stronger sex. I write this knowing that my masculinity and the society’s perception of it has been used to perpetuate some of the most heinous crimes towards women. The violence and abuse, the lack of equality in pay, the expectation of sexual favors in exchange for promotions at work among other things.

I am a feminist. My particular brand of feminism is one that envisions equality for all women tempered with respect for them. It envisions a world in which our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunties are not viewed as weak. A world in which they will not be denied the opportunities we men have just because they are women. A world in which class is shattered and the voice of the mama mboga in Dandora is heard in the same space as that of the business executive in Lavington. Where we all experience life, not from positions of power but from an understanding that we are all human beings. Where personal moral convictions will not let a woman belittle the struggles of another just because they are queer. Where women are allowed autonomy over their bodies without having the predominantly male controlled state and religion tell them what to do.

Most people say that feminists are anti-men. I say, as a male feminist, I don’t hate men. I love them. As a queer male, I love them even more. I don’t believe that women don’t need men to survive in this society. I believe that as human beings, we need each other. I don’t believe that every man, by virtue of being just that, is an oppressor. I believe that some men have oppressed women. I don’t believe that every woman by virtue of being just that is a victim. I believe that there are some female victims of oppression and I believe that feminism should give these people a voice.

I have said this before and I will say it again. I want to live in a world where no one is treated differently because of something they have no control over. Being born with a vagina or a penis, how one expresses themselves in dress, being of a different sexual orientation or gender identity or belonging to a different social class. A world where we consider the differences in others as something to be celebrated and admired and not vilified and condemned. Where our sisters, mothers, cousins, grandmothers, neighbors and friends can feel safe in the knowledge that the men around them care about their well-being. I am a feminist. No, I do not have a vagina. I will however continue calling out the sexism in our society. I will continue trying all I can to make this world a better place for the women in my life and I will strive to ensure that someday, true equality prevails.

I’m thinking of the women in my life. I know how that may be uncharacteristic of me considering how gay I am but a shirtless picture of me got me thinking of the women in my life. My mother. She put up with my crap both literally all those years ago and figuratively now yet she still loves me. My little sisters Lucy and Suzy. The both of you light up my life in ways you will never understand. Annemarie. My rock. My confidant. My anchor. I love you more than you’ll ever know. Liz. I don’t tell you this enough but you’re awesome! Rhoda, you also put up with a lot of my crap and I still love you for it. Lorna. You are an inspiration. Njoki. Your resilience moves me! Abby. Strong, beautiful, full of life and oh so brilliant. Alexandra. What can I say, you are both brilliant and incredibly beautiful! Florence. You push me to places I never thought I’d ever get and I love you for it. You are not the only ones…just the few that could be mentioned at this time of the night…

Women have to go through so much in their lives. Regardless of class or position. They have to deal with being objectified and when they get empowered, they have to deal with being called a bitch for being empowered. Is this really the world we want to live in? Where people get treated differently because of who they are? Where women are paid less, are mistreated, are viewed as weaker just because they happen to be women? That is not the world I want to live in. And my shirtless toast is to every woman out there. Without you, I wouldn’t exit. Without you, the world would crumble. Without you, we are nothing. Here’s to you! Stay strong!

So this is meant simply to elicit conversation…

Human beings want to understand the origin of everything. In order to understand the origin of ourselves we invented God. The creator of all. The one “being” we attribute everything we cannot understand. The unexplained healing of a man’s illness. The magnificence of a perfect sunset. The fact that a heavy smoker lives to 90. Isn’t “God” then the incredibly simplistic cop out? I don’t understand this therefore someone greater than I am made it happen?

Now it is easy to attempt to understand our existence by placing the same on a higher being. I’m not trying to answer the existence or otherwise of God. I’m simply stating my thoughts…

Just how many lives need to be senselessly lost before we as human beings start treating each other better? How many families are we willing to destroy in the name of “morality”? What is “moral” about beating a person to death because of something he has absolutely no control over? Which are these African values that we so earnestly yearn to preserve that justify the level of violence that is faced by gay and lesbian people in this continent? Are we not all African regardless of the differences that we all have? Are we not a part of this incredibly diverse society? What gives you the right to take my life or deprive me of employment or evict me from my dwelling place just because I love differently?

We will now never know what Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi would have brought to this world. His life was taken by people who felt that he didn’t deserve to live a full life because he was gay. His life was taken in the cruellest of ways. I keep wondering what must have gone through his mind in his last moments. Was he grateful to have been taken out of a world where fellow human beings hate him and others like himself so? Was he forgiving of his attackers? Did he regret that he chose to live his life authentically? Did he curse his maker for having feelings he couldn’t control that caused him the pain he must have gone through?

I’d like to think that in his last moments, in all the pain he must have been going through, in all the psychological torture he must have been going through, I’d like to think that he forgave his attackers. That he prayed that what happened to him does not happen to any other person. I’d also like to ask those who are saying that he deserved to die to think about his last moments. To think about the fact that this person could have been your brother, your father, your uncle or your best friend. Just think about what would be going through that person’s mind.

We are all human beings. We are all different. It is that difference that makes this world a beautiful place. Let’s embrace it. Let’s not hate others simply for loving differently. No good ever comes of hate and violence. Love always wins.

Rest in Peace Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi. You are in a better place.

~Terrorism Has No religion

I have been watching this very necessary yet disgusting debate on social media in the wake of the attacks in Paris. I have observed. I have my opinions. Most of which may not be palatable to some, especially some fellow Kenyans. I’ll share them now. This is simply my opinion, one which I am entitled to and one that is meant to make you think.

Who is to Blame?

Islam of course. Most of these attacks have been carried out in the name of Islam and I therefore would have no qualms placing the blame squarely on Islam. This is a reaction anyone would have. It is a reaction that has already been had by many people. It is one that has been and will be used to threaten the lives of and discriminate against millions of Muslim individuals around the world. But wait, I am not done yet.

Reza Aslan in an interview with CNN said something that I have carried with me ever since I saw it. When he was asked whether Islam promotes violence, his brilliant response was that Islam does not promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you are a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent. He went ahead to give an example of what is considered the least violent religion, Budhism, being used to perpetrate the slaughter of women and children in Myanmar.

People, due to various reasons, are violent or peaceful. We therefore cannot, and should not condemn an entire religion based on the actions of a few individuals. There are 1.57 billion Muslims in this world. An estimated less than one percent of that population are at risk of becoming radicals. These are the people that need to be dealt with. They are the ones who perpetrate the kind of violence in the name of Islam that we see in the world today. To quote Dr. Aslan again, these kinds of oversimplifications only cause more danger. There is a very real problem. ISIS, Al Qaida, the militant Islamic groups like Hamas, Hezbolah and the Taliban have to be dealt with. But it doesn’t really help us to deal with them when instead of talking about rational conflicts and criticisms of a particular religion, we instead slip so easily into bigotry by paining everyone with a single brush as we have been doing in this conversation.

To also quote the Holy Qur’an as my good friend Michael Timm highlighted in his quest to educate the masses, revealed approximately 1400 years ago, the Holy Book states most categorically: “There is no compulsion in religion”. (Ch 2 V 257) and “It is the truth from your Lord, where fore let him who will believe and let him who will disbelieve.” (Ch.18 V.30). It is our individual interpretations of religious texts that makes us do what we do in the name of religion. And it is the violent people’s interpretations of these religious texts that lead us to witness 9/11, Garissa, Beirut, Syria, Paris and countless other lives pointlessly lost supposedly in the name of religion.

Has there been a disparity in reactions?

Absolutely. I have seen many Kenyans (and non-Kenyans) on my timeline say that they will not put up the Facebook filter in solidarity with France. Reasons for this range from the fact that there was no such solidarity shown the previous day when Beirut was hit. The Garissa attack back in April came back to haunt us. Some even went to the extent of saying that they will not show solidarity because some African countries still pay colonial taxes to France. I cannot comment on this as while these sentiments may be valid, stooping that low when lives have been lost is something I will not do.

Halima Saadi, 33, and Houda Saadi, 34, sisters from Tunisia were celebrating a birthday in a Paris café when they were attacked. Ludovic Boumas a French national, tried to save them but all three eventually died. Juan Alberto Gonzalez Garrido, 29 from Madrid, Spain was also at the Bataclan concert. He was an engineer living in France with his wife who managed to escape after they got separated amid the mayhem. Italian national Valeria Solesin, 28, of Venice, had been living in Paris for the last six years. She was attending the concert at Bataclan Friday night with her boyfriend who survived with a minor injury.

Ali Awad, a 14-year-old, ran outside to see what had happened after the first blast in Beirut and was caught in the second. Adel Tormous, hailed by many as a hero died tackling the second bomber. Khodr Alaa Deen, a registered nurse, was on his way to work his night shift at the teaching hospital.

Before making blanket statements on whether or not to stand in solidarity with France, or Lebanon or any other country hit by terrorism, think about the young lives lost. These people had families and friends. They had vibrant lives before the cowardly actions of a few individuals hell bent on destroying the world. Think about these people and stand in solidarity with them. Granted there are discrepancies in the level of concern shown by the global media on atrocities happening in Africa and the Middle East but when lives have been lost, this is not the time to think of our differences. It is the time to think as one. As a global community terrorized by extremists. As people who, at any given time, could fall victim to the same heinous acts.

I stand in solidarity with a world facing terror from all angles. The cause being that we refuse to embrace the diversity that makes this world beautiful. We refuse to understand that we will all never be the same. We need to end these petty squabbles about what Facebook did or didn’t do and start thinking about the people who lost their lives, those who lost their loved ones and those whose lives will be eternally different because of terrorism. We need to figure out a way that works to end terrorism because what we have been doing clearly hasn’t worked.

Gay Kenya Trust has once again teamed up with the Goethe Institute to screen LGBT themed films in Nairobi. This year’s partners also include AFRA Kenya and The Nest. The fifth annual Out Film Festival runs from Thursday 10th to Sunday 14th October.

The theme this year is “Speak Out”. To encourage conversation around issues faced by LGBT people in Kenya. The conversations began on the first day after a screening of episode 3 of the series Sense8 and Pride. Sense8 showed the life of a closeted gay man, a transgender woman not accepted by her family and an interracial relationship between a transgender woman and a cisgender woman. Pride showed that we live in a society with many other issues besides our own and in order to succeed in the struggle, we have to collaborate. We have to be in solidarity with others whose struggles some of us share.

Both films showed an intersectionality of struggles. I moderated a panel consisting of Professor Ian Govendir, founder of an incredibly brilliant charity, AIDS Orphan (please support them by sending your contributions here or by becoming a guardian angel) and Barbra Murunga, one of the founding members of Jinsiangu and an amazing gender and sexuality activist.

Barbra shared her experience as an outspoken feminist and the work she does for Jinsiangu. The Professor shared his experiences marching at gay pride in London in the mid 80s (the time depicted in the film Pride). This generated an incredibly vibrant discussion around the rights of women, feminism, the boy child, and how the LGBT movement ought to be in solidarity with the striking teachers.

One member of the audience noted that we do not live in a vacuum. That we live in a society and that we need to get more of our friends realizing just how amazing we are.

Day 1 was as amazing as we are! The film schedule as advertised has been slightly altered…but shouldn’t be a problem. Join us for the rest of the festival. More fantastic films. Brand new panels with amazing individuals and conversations that will take Kenya to even greater heights in understanding and accepting the diversity that makes this country so beautiful.

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As much as the literacy rate in Kenya is far better than in most other African countries, quality education is something hard to come by. Most students graduate from school with degrees upon degrees but unable to apply what they’ve learned in school to help better their living conditions. About 50% of the entire Kenyan populace live below poverty line according to the new multidimensional poverty index with the unemployment rate around hovering around 40%.
Although youth education especially girl-child education is helping a lot in breaking the cycle of new HIV/AIDS infections in Kenya, the number of children orphaned by HIV in Kenya is as high as 1. 3 million.
 
Like in most African countries, about a large percentage of the total population of Kenya are subsistence farmers who grow crops and rear animals just to feed themselves and their families and in times of crop failure, most of these families go starving. The unpredictable climatic conditions in Kenya sometimes worsen the situation. From the tropical regions along the coast to the arid interior regions of Kenya, natural havocs such as recurring drought and unpredictable flooding during the rainy seasons sometimes put many rural families in nothing but absolute poverty.
Corruption and poor leadership are the other major concerns faced by Kenyans. Corruption in Kenya has become so bad that citizens consider corruption a “normal” part of everyday life. Incompetent leadership and poor governance continue to tear Kenya into pieces.
On the 16th of May 2014, twin explosions at Gikomba market claimed the lives of more than 10 Kenyans. On the 4th of May 2014, homemade bombs were exploded on two commuter buses on the Thika Highway in Nairobi killing 3 Kenyans and injuring at least 62 others. On the 3rd of May 2014, twin terrorist attacks in Mombasa killed 3 Kenyans. In Nairobi’s Eastleigh district, 6 Kenyans were killed and dozens more injured when terrorists exploded bombs at two separate locations. On 2 April 2015, gunmen stormed the Garissa University College in Garissa, Kenya, killing 147 people, and injuring 79 or more. These are just a few of the deaths that have happened in Kenya due to insecurity. 
What isn’t and shouldn’t be an area of priority for our leaders is homosexuality. Two consensual adults loving each other should not be reason for Kenyans to stop what they are doing and go out in the streets to demonstrate. Gay and lesbian people suffer the same insecurity, corruption, unemployment and everything else that the rest of the Kenyans are facing. Yet the deputy president, backed by other politicians and religious leaders says that there is no room for homosexuals in Kenya. Let us break that statement down for a moment. 
A gay man owns a hotel. He provides employment to more than 50 Kenyans. He pays his taxes. He provides services as hoteliers do. He supports the declining tourism market. A lesbian woman has a kiosk selling vegetables. She provides sustenance to members of her community. She does no wrong. She pays her taxes. Another gay man owns a beauty salon. He beautifies ladies so that they look good enough to attend political functions with their husbands who are the same politicians who say that there is no room for him in this country. He also pays his taxes. There is no room for these people in this country? These people whose hard earned tax money goes to pay these politician’s hefty salaries? These same politicians who claim that there is no room for these people in this country use the same tax money to grab land owned by schools, issue questionable contracts among other scandals (allegedly).

We need to place priority where priority is due. My relationship with another man has no effect on you whatsoever. I do not threaten any family. I do not cause you not to eat your Ugali for dinner. I do not cause you any harm. Corruption, insecurity, unemployment; these are the things that affect you. No matter what any politician says about homosexuality. Consider the fact that they are only using homosexuality to divert attention to what they are doing or not doing in their capacity as leader. They are using this highly emotive issue to get attention away from that land they grabbed. Away from that contract they irregularly offered. Away from all the issues that actually affect you and yours.

I do have the audacity to say that gay and lesbian people pay taxes on national TV because, guess what, we do.

I don’t normally respond to hate messages online. The reason I do so now is because I feel the urge to state the obvious. That I am the same person who spent 4 years with you in high school. I haven’t changed one bit. Granted there is a bit of facial hair and a bald spot on my head where they didn’t exist back then but I am still essentially the same person. You didn’t seem to have any problem with me back then. Why is it that you do, now that you know that I am gay and support the rights of gay and lesbian people?

I have known that my sexual orientation did not conform to the “norm” since as far back as I can remember. I knew I was gay when I was in high school. I didn’t say it then because I didn’t know anyone else who was like me. I lived an incredibly lonely life. A lonely life that I didn’t choose. A life that was filled with questions to myself and my maker. Why did I have to be the one person that society shuns. The one person who will bring shame to my family. The one person who will be violated, beaten, spat on, stigmatized and ostracized by society. Why? I went on a journey of self loathing to understanding and finally accepting myself for who I am. This is a journey all gay and lesbian people have to take. Unfortunately for some, acceptance doesn’t happen and they end up taking their own lives. I almost did.

So, yes. I do pay my taxes. I contribute to society. I provide employment to fellow Kenyans. I am a brother, a son, a friend, a confidant and an incredibly patriotic citizen of this beautiful country. I live through the same security concerns that all Kenyans live through. I experience the same rise in cost of living that all Kenyans experience. I am Kenyan. If my being gay, something I have absolutely no control over, or supporting “gayism” is cause for you to feel ashamed, for you to feel like I am shaming my former school, if my sexual orientation causes you to call on Jesus who, as the Bible so clearly says, preached love, if you have a problem with who I am, what I do, where I do it, then bye Felicia.