A Catholic religious brother is credited for having started Kenya’s burgeoning LGBT community.
In a recent article on allAfrica.com, the writer surveys the great progress this African nation has made in regard to LGBT people and organizations. The writer, Denis Nzioka, a leading Kenyan LGBT advocate and editor of Identity Kenya, proclaims:
“Change is here. Visit any town in Kenya and, if you know where to look, you will not miss a pub, clinic, youth center, church yard, school or social hall where gays and lesbians meet to relax or discuss issues of concern to them. . . .
“Four years ago, it would have been unimaginable that public participation of gay people, at least ‘out’ ones, would be possible. Fast forward to a few months before elections under the new constitutional dispensation and what does my magic orb say? Gays are out there and they are not afraid. We had the first ever openly gay politician to declare interest in a political office. He joins the other 15 per cent of ‘not open’ gays, lesbians we have in the current parliament who will be seeking re-election next year. There is debate – most of it negative – on gay political candidature but people have missed the point: It is not winning the gay politicians are after. It is about making a statement.”
Most interesting is Nzioka’s explanation of the genesis of the Kenyan movement:
“I remember when the first gay group was formed by a Catholic brother at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi in 1997. Being the oldest daughter, as they say, the group saw tough times, learnt things the hard way and managed to survive up to now. Brother Daimo, who started the first group – Ishtar – under the noses of senior Catholic clerics in Nairobi would blush if he saw the now close to 50 regional gay, lesbian and transgender groups we have all over Kenya. Visit any town in Kenya – and if you know where to look – you will not miss a pub, clinic, youth center, church yard, school or social hall – where gays, lesbians are meeting to discuss health, human rights, economic empowerment, etc. Why, you may ask, do they not meet on ‘gay’ issues? It is because being gay comes second to a decent meal, access to education and eradicating poverty. Yet, these members are all similar – the only thing straight about them is how they take their vodka.”
Nzioka’s comment on Brother Daimo is tempered by the fact that Christianity still fuels the homophobia which still exists in this nation. He states:
“Homophobia is rife in schools as I found out when applying at a Christian university that flatly refused me admission on account of being openly gay. The comments by an Anglican bishop that gays are worse than terrorists show that religion is still playing hard ball. Instead of focusing on spiritual orientation, they are busy focusing on sexual orientation.”
Still, it should be a proud moment for Catholics to know that one of Kenya’s foremost gay advocates credits a Catholic religious brother with starting the movement in his nation. It shows the power that so many of our own country’s Catholics can have as they gather in their parish support groups and discuss the intersection of their faith and their sexuality. Who knows what good can happen from humble beginnings?
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry