Dear Dr. Kigwangalla,

Tanzania-Flag

I write to you as a fellow proud African. A citizen of your neighbour country, Kenya. A person who has visited and loves the beauty that your country has to offer; the mountains, the lakes, the parks and most of all, the people. The unmistakably Tanzanian politeness makes me cringe every time I come back to Nairobi and see how we Kenyans relate to each other. And before any Kenyan reading this gets on the defensive, I should tell you, I am as Kenyan as we come. I am a gay man. At this point, you may want to stop reading this and dismiss it as western propaganda but I urge you to read on. It will only take a few minutes of your time and I assure you, this is far from any western propaganda.

The reason I write to you is because I have watched in awe how your government and a section of the Tanzanian population has been treating people of different sexual orientation and gender identity. From calling for their arrest to stopping the supply of lubricant to having sections of the society call for murder. This is a sad and scary trend and is no way for a society to treat a section of itself.

I’ll start by saying that the Tanzanian population (and in the same way, the Kenyan and Ugandan populations) has within it, people who are black, white, left handed, right handed, living with disabilities, living with albinism, gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex among many other identities. These people have existed in our society since time immemorial (except perhaps the white people who have also been a part of the human race). Homosexuality was not introduced by the west. Anthropological studies (which you may very well dismiss as western propaganda) have shown the existence of people of different sexual orientations and gender identities even before colonization. There are so many resources with this information and please feel free to contact me for links to them.

Having said that, you twitted yesterday, “I am a social justice activist. I am a professional. I know those stuffs. Same sex inclinations are not natural!” Allow me to tell you my story. A story that is the same for many, if not all, gay and lesbian people. At no point in my life did I make the choice to be attracted to people of the same sex as I am. As I grew up and began understanding myself and learnt about what sex is and what the feelings I had were, I realized that unlike the rest of the boys I grew up with, I was not attracted to girls. I am sure that the scenario is the same for people who are attracted to those of the opposite sex. You don’t decide to choose your attraction, you just have it. In my case, I tried to be different. I tried to fit in to what society wants me to be. It did not work. I prayed on it. I contemplated hurting myself. I finally got to the point of accepting that this is who I am. That was the only choice I made, not to be gay but to accept myself for who I am.

I was brought up in a Christian family. Most people in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya were brought up in families of a certain religion. Most religions in one way or another condemn homosexuality. If my sexual orientation was determined by how I was nurtured, I would not have turned out to be what I am. My parents brought me up in a society that vilified me for the feelings I have towards other men. Feelings I cannot control. To this day, my mother does not like that I have these feelings. But there is nothing I can do about them. There is nothing any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person can do about the person they are. We are all as we are.

If you ever sat down with members of the community and listened, and I mean really listened to their stories, you will realize that my story resonates with them. Unfortunately, some of us never got to the point of self-acceptance. Some of us hated themselves so much that they decided that it would be better if they didn’t exist in this world any more. A world that hates them for who they love. A world that discriminates against them in access to opportunities because of the gender they identify with. A world that has government officials declaring them worse than terrorists and calling for their arrest and murder due to something they have no control over. These people took their own lives. Lives that might have amounted to so much had society allowed them a chance to prove themselves worthy.

Banning of the supply of lubricants will not curb homosexuality in any way. What that does, and as a medical doctor I am sure you understand is increase the number of risky sexual practices. Use of condoms without lubricant or using condoms with oil based lubricant will increase the risk of the condom breaking and increase the risk of transmission of HIV and other STIs. Now you may say that banning distribution of lubricant will stop people from having sex but that would be burying your head in the sand. People will still have sex and unfortunately the sex will be risky sex. Let me quote some statistics. As of 2015, There were 1.4 million people living with HIV with the number of new infections being 54,000. That accounts for 5% of the Tanzanian population. HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men was 22.2% and heterosexual sex accounted for the vast majority (80%) of all HIV infections in your country with women being particularly affected. Now due to the crackdown on the LGBTI community, men who have sex with men will try, like I did, to fit in to the society. They will get into sexual relationships and marry women but that will not stop them from having sex with other men. With the risk brought on by the banning of lubricants, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is going to increase from the 22.2% and the attempt by this population to adhere to society’s norm will increase the risk of transmission to women and other heterosexual men and the vicious cycle continues.

In your tweets yesterday you kept repeating that Tanzania has not signed the “Kyogo Protocol”. I have searched all over and haven’t encountered a Kyogo Protocol. I did find a Kyoto Protocol which has nothing to do with homosexuality but all to do with climate change. What I have found however is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Tanzania is a state party to this Covenant. It says that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. Having said that, the protection of the rights of every citizen of Tanzania, Uganda or Kenya should not be hinged on the ratification of any international instrument. It should come from us as human beings. We will never all be the same. We do not all subscribe to the same religion, we are not all of the same skin colour, we are not all of the same sexual orientation or gender identity. The one thing that binds us all together is the fact that we are all human beings. Our differences are what makes our society beautiful. We should all strive to understand our differences and accept them as a part of what our society is. That way, in the spirit of Ubuntu, we shall all live in harmony.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me at oluoch@gmail.com should you wish to engage in further conversations. I am sure there are many other Tanzanian individuals who would wish to tell you their story. Allow them to. Understand where they come from and the struggles they have to go through on a daily basis because of something they have absolutely no control over and think about what you as a leader, as a deputy minister for health and as a human being can do to improve the lives of not only the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in your country but the general population.

Sincerely,

Anthony Oluoch

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Dear Black Lives Matter – Toronto…

Earlier today, I posted a video on Facebook of a lady talking about being an immigrant in (I believe) the United States. In it she says something that I considered really profound. She said, “If you have not walked in my shoes then you have no say in my world.” Jesse Williams in his brilliant speech at the BET awards said, “If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.” Well, this is a critique of Black Lives Matter – Toronto. I have walked in your shoes. I shall not compare oppression because, context. I have an established record of critiquing OUR oppression. So this is I. Standing up and giving you a piece of my mind.

Toronto Pride

What you did at Toronto Pride definitely needed to be done. Black people have for a long time been oppressed in your country. Black queer folk even more for reasons we all know, understand and live. But what point did it make? You said that it began a conversation that needed to be had. But what conversation exactly did it begin? Your list of demands, the signing of which let the parade continue was quite inclusive. But was it really?

Now I speak as a proud black person. A proud gay person. A proud African person. A proud [insert all my diverse identities] person. I am going to answer all my questions above.

What point did you make?

Yes. Black queer folk are oppressed. You have said that Pride Toronto “has shown little honour to black queer/trans communities, and other marginalized communities. Over the years, Pride has threatened the existence of black spaces at Pride that have existed for years.” This is the point you wanted to make. Unfortunately, though, this is not the point you made. Black Lives Matter is an incredibly important movement. The spirit of it is systemically being watered down by those who say that it should be “All Lives Matter”. While I agree that all lives do matter, when a section of “all lives” is constantly being negatively targeted by the rest of society leading to grave injury and death, the plight of that section needs to be highlighted. Not by limiting the rights of another section, but by showing said plight and making sure that everyone else understands it.

Your sit in did not do that. By stopping a parade, political as it may be, to raise a political issue and make demands of the organizers, you made a point. That Black Lives Matter – Toronto is all about themselves and nobody else. That Black Lives Matter – Toronto exists in a bubble. One that is constantly poked and prodded by the rest of society but a bubble nonetheless. That no other person should be until Black Lives Matter – Toronto is heard. But this isn’t the case in reality, is it? We black queer folk exist in an incredibly diverse society. We have white neighbors, cousins who are police officers and homophobic parents. The moment we start making the points you made in the sit in, that is the moment we start alienating ourselves.

What conversation did it begin?

Your sit in began a very important conversation. Not one that you expected I believe (you have got hundreds of incredibly threatening hate mail due to it: a terrible thing unfortunately), but one about actually thinking through our actions. As a queer man living in a country that criminalizes homosexuality with a penalty of 14 years in prison, I constantly have to ask myself what impact something I do with the aim of helping those in my community will have on them. I have to think about society’s reactions to it. I have to think about the benefits it will have to my community. I have to constantly consult to figure out if that is the best way to go about the matter.

Judging from the reaction to your action, it was not very well thought through. It did have the best of intentions but all it did was alienate the black queer community. It tarnished the spirit of Black Lives Matter. I am all for radical thinking and radical action but radical’s limit is where its intentions get blurred, and in this action, they were. So this conversation has to go on. A conversation about the limiting of black queer spaces needs to begin however this was not it.

Were your demands really inclusive?

They absolutely were! Continued space, brilliant! Self-determination for community spaces, great! Adequate funding, can’t question that! Double funding for Blockorama, not sure what that is but I’m pretty certain it’s something fabulous. Reinstatement of the South Asian stage, why was it excluded in the first place? Prioritizing of hiring of black transwomen, indigenous people and others from vulnerable communities, affirmative action works! More hearing impaired interpreters for the festival, fantastic! Removal of police floats, Really? THAT is exclusion.

The police have been some of the biggest perpetrators of violence towards black people. The police have been some of the biggest perpetrators of violence towards black queer people. This is true even in my country. I however do not blame the entire police force for the actions of a few of them. If I were to exclude every section of society in my life, some of whom have shown some form of discrimination or hate towards me then I would live alone in an island which I would probably not even be allowed to own because my government considers me a criminal.

I read the letter from the gay cop to Toronto Pride with a heavy heart. When he said that he had seen his first pride only to be excluded from the next, I shed a tear. I shed that tear for all the other queer police officers who would be excluded from the next pride. Some of whom are black. I understand that we live in different contexts and our struggles are different. What I know is that as a community we queer folk are looking for acceptance. We are looking to be included in every facet of life. Being exclusionary and not accepting dialogue will never achieve us that. What this demand unfortunately did was reinforce the rhetoric that Black Lives Matter is anti-police which in my opinion, it isn’t. Some who subscribe to it might be, but in essence, Black Lives Matter seeks to show the violence faced by black folk in the hands of some police officers among others.

We are at a point in our lives as black folk where we can’t afford to alienate ourselves from the rest of society. We can’t afford to be exclusionary. We can’t afford to seem like we are looking to be treated better than everyone else. We have suffered. But we are not looking for any special treatment. We simply want equality. We simply do not want to be racially profiled in the streets or shot dead in cold blood or arrested for being black. We simply want to exist. The action at Toronto Pride will not do this for us.