It all started with a tweet. The day is 17th May 2020. 17th May is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Usually, we would celebrate this day at an event hosted by one of the queer organizations in Kenya. It would probably be a night full of performances, lived experiences and solidarity. But unfortunately, this year, this would not be possible because of COVID-19. We are all stuck in our homes, showing our solidarity to each other and our community through social media.
The Kenyan queer community has a large and united presence on Twitter. It is a platform where we have raised issues and addressed them, where we have shared our pains and our joys, where we have found community in each other. I would like to say it is our main platform of organizing; where we rile up with complaints when one of our own has had their rights violated, where we do our bit of activism and advocacy in fighting for recognition of our rights, and where we celebrate and encourage each other to keep going. This was especially clear last year as we supported queer organizations that had filed a petition seeking the repeal of legislation that criminalizes same-sex activities. It was dubbed #repeal162 and I’m sure if you look it up, you fill find countless tweets from many queer Kenyans and allies. Why do I bring up #repeal162 now? You will find out soon.
So, its #IDAHOBIT2020 and queer Kenyans are spreading love on Twitter, celebrating each other and holding each other and the society at large accountable to ensure that homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and any form of hate to the queer community is frowned upon. None of us knew that this year, this day would be historic for the Kenyan queer community. Amongst the many tweets about the importance of this day, one stood out.
“I propose that in Kenya, we begin our own Pride Week: from May 17th (#IDAHOBIT) to May 24th (we can call it Liberation Day, build it on the ruins of a shambolic High Court judgment that confirmed that the State sees is as sub-human). every year. starting this one. homogays?” – Valiant Waiyaki.
Now, I’ll explain the importance of May 24th as Liberation Day and the use of the term homogays. On May 24th 2019, the High Court of Kenya gave their judgment on the petition to have section 162 (a) and (c) and section 165 of the penal code repealed. To simply put it, these sections in the penal code criminalize same-sex relations and allow for up to 14yrs of imprisonment for any persons convicted of this. The foundation of this petition was that it was unconstitutional as they violate the rights to privacy, right to freedom of expression, right to health, right to human dignity and the right to freedom from non-discrimination, all of these being rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights in the Kenyan Constitution. The argument, therefore, was that the existence of these provisions contradicted the constitution and also promoted the discrimination and persecution of queer people in Kenya. More on this can be found on www.repeal162.org.
The high court was set to give its ruling on February 22nd 2019 but postponed it to May 24th 2019. On May 24th 2019, exactly one week after the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the High Court gave their ruling. To sum it up, the High Court denied the petition and refused to decriminalize these sections of the penal code stating that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to show that queer folk in Kenya were discriminated against and suffering due to these clauses. And so this was an incredibly sad and disappointing day for the queer community and allies as we had all waited with bated breath and hope in our judiciary. The fight still continues.
Homogays? This was a term used as an insult to the queer community but a term that we reclaimed and now use with pride in reference to ourselves.
Thinking about it, it’s actually quite befitting to have Kenyan Pride Week celebrated in this particular week. It reminds us to keep going, to keep fighting, despite our government and judiciary not guaranteeing our rights, we still continue to exist and show up fearlessly in our spaces.
Needless to say, the homogays responded positively to Waiyaki. He brought to life something we all needed. So, pride week has been set. What next? A theme. Now seeing that this wasn’t something that had been planned for, we were all just bouncing ideas off to each other and figuring it out together. Mumbi Kanyogo suggested a brilliant theme to kick off the first pride week in Kenya: ‘Solidarity with trans and queer folk in need of economic and financial support.’ Needless to say, everyone was in agreement. It wasn’t difficult to figure out how to support this year’s theme because there was already a trans & queer folk fund set up.
When COVID-19 hit hard and life changed for all of us, Mumbi Kanyogo and Makena Ngito did not wait around for queer NGOs to organize for the affected members of the community. They took matters into their hands and quickly set up a fund where we as the community and allies could contribute and they used the contributions to support trans and queer persons who had been hit hard by the pandemic and lacked resources. They supported folk with money for rent, money for food, money for medication and so on. So with this theme in place, all we had to do was spread the word and the trans fund poster to reach as many people as possible.
Brian Kimeu, an incredibly talented creative (writer, photographer, designer) and member of the community was quick to create the first poster for #PrideWeekKE. The image shared alongside this article was his creation.
What’s pride week without a pride event? Because of COVID, we couldn’t organize a march, parade or even a party to celebrate this, but, we still needed to celebrate this, together. Jeff Wamwaki, another member of the community, organized a zoom meeting exclusive for the queer community. We would drink and share this joy with each other behind the safety of our computers. There’s a lot that is still being figured out and planned and other queer persons that I know will come into play in the realization of this, but, this is how it all started.
And then, of course, there’s me; sitting in awe of this community that I am grateful to be a part of. Amazed by how quick and hands on everyone mentioned was in actualizing this and making sure it doesn’t end at just being an idea, a tweet. I’m sitting watching my queer siblings making history and grateful to have the chance to document this. Often, history is documented and narrated from the white man’s view and almost always is the erasure of black people’s contribution to historic events. This will not be erased.
In 30 years, when people look back, I want them to know how Kenya’s pride week came to be and the amazing queer persons who made it a reality. So, cheers to making history. Cheers to celebrating Kenya’s incredible queer community. And cheers to Kenya’s first annual Pride week.
Feature photo -painting by Steve Johnson