Sunday, 1 November 2009

Kenya: Chege and Ngengi; the accidental gay rights trailblazers

Source: The Nation

After the Sunday Nation broke the story of the gay wedding of Kenyans Daniel Chege and Charles Ngengi in London, hardly any other subject could get attention on call-ins into FM stations, the Kenyan blogosphere, and in Nairobi pub conversations.

Chege and Ngegi are the first Kenyan gay couple known to have publicly wedded. Chege has been in a previous gay partnership that broke up.

Most of the comments were, predictably, critical—and some downright hostile. By almost a ration of 10 to 1, Kenyans thought what Chege and Ngegi had done was disgraceful, a shame upon the country, their families, an affront to God and good old African values.

But then something that no one seems to have paid attention to happened. In a follow-up, KTN TV station went to the village of Chege’s parents, and in one scene that has proved particularly controversial, stopped a very elderly relative of Chege along the village path, flashed the photo of the gay couple, and wanted to know her views.

SMS messages and Tweets started flying even as the programme aired. By a ratio of, again, 10 to 1 most Kenyans felt that KTN had crossed the line in the way it treated Chege’s and Ngegi’s rural relatives. One remarkable collection of this anger was on, whose users abandoned their usually staid conversation on finance and business issues, and plunged into the more dramatic world of privacy and sex.

This reaction was surprising, because what KTN did would have passed off as good, aggressive reporting if it had been any other story. As far as most people are concerned, Chege and Ngengi went too far to break a taboo. But the fact that so many people also seemed turned off by a follow-up of the story that went beyond the couple to their relatives, suggested that Chege and Ngengi have broken a psychological barrier.

Going forward, discussions of gay issues will probably be less difficult. And, I suspect, the next story of another Kenyan gay couple is unlikely to attract as much attention. The novelty, or shock factor, around gay relationships in Kenya – and indeed people in the know say Kenya has East Africa’s largest gay community – has cracked considerably.

Chege and Ngengi never intended it that way. After all, they refused to speak to the BBC about their wedding, and their only other comment has been a plea to the media and the public to leave their families alone.

However, if eventually Kenya comes to hold a more tolerant public attitude toward gay people, history will show that Chege and Ngengi were the ones who opened public minds. They could be the accidental trailblazers for gay rights in Kenya and, who knows, maybe East Africa.

Source: Molisa Nykale

Perverse pleasure at other people’s pain

The article below is re/posted as a response to the Kenyan gay wedding post & the ”living the gay life” article in Pulse Magazine.

This is particularly for y’all who ain’t on the continent, to get a better idea of the interconnectedness of the backlash that we face. For example, after that badly written, homo/transphobic article was published….Living the Gay Life, by Shirley Genga and Matilda Nzioki, one of the people who was photographed has had to flee home. who knows the fate of the other folks photographed?

And, after the sensationalist and unethical manner that KTN followed up on the families of the men who got married in the UK, a cousin of theirs has been beaten up, and the poor granma can’t move around……….we’re getting distracted and exploited in our negative focus on these issues. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it many times, we got much bigger issues to deal with corruption, poverty, the impunity of our leaders, bringing the perpertrators of post election violence to justice, the list, as any Kenyan will tell you, is long…….but here’s what Ruth has to say…..

Ruth lumembe, Thursday October 22, Daily Nation

I watched a news “scoop” on a TV channel the other night in utter dismay. Energetic reporters, professional colleagues of mine, literally waylaid an elderly woman on the road, having taken it upon themselves to break the no doubt devastating news that her son “was married by” another man.

Waving the newspaper picture in her face, they assaulted her with questions: “Do you know this man? Is this man your son? Can you positively identify him?” At first, the 70-plus-year-old couldn’t get what they were saying — she could barely even recognise her son, expressing surprise at how much he had aged (he must have left home a while ago because the papers reported that he is 39).

After a few minutes, a neighbour was called in to explain the situation to her. Still, the concept that her son had married another man refused to stick and the only thing she could say was that if she had the means, she would get on a plane and go and ensure the man who had done this to her son was “thrown in” (jail).

Picture a rural woman going about her daily chores, which include taking care of her 80-plus-year-old frail husband. She probably believes her son is very busy making a decent living in the UK, but will no doubt return one day to take over the running of the homestead. After all, parents don’t live forever. That is why she has been struggling to build a modest house for the next head of the home.

Suddenly, while minding her own business, she is accosted by strangers waving cameras and microphones and telling her something her mind cannot comprehend. How can a man marry another? That goes against everything she has ever believed, so it must be that her son is the victim here. It doesn’t matter that things look very consensual between the couple in the picture.

DISMISSING HER BEFUDDLEMENT, the reporters, hot on the trail of a big story, get her to lead them home, where they meet her husband. He too, is ambushed with the news. He doesn’t say much, and in the end hangs his head in silence. A relative comes out to see what all the fuss is about, and after a few minutes, chases away the reporters.

(I almost cheer.) Undeterred, the news team moves to a shopping centre and interviews the people about the “bride”, in effect breaking the news that one of their own is a self-confessed homosexual who has gone ahead to get married to his same-sex partner in public.

On looking at the picture, some confirm that yes, that is the man they remember from years gone by. Others are only too eager to say to the cameras that actually, come to think of it, the man did come across as being a little too girlish. All the while, I’m trying to imagine just how much the lives of the couple have been changed in a matter of an hour or so.

Suddenly, the old woman cannot go to the market as she normally would. Or to church, or to her monthly women’s chama, or even borrow salt from her neighbour of many years. Suddenly, she and her husband are the object of finger-pointing and whispering from people she once called friends.

Suddenly, her son’s situation is a public “shame” through no doing of her own. What is it that makes us cash in on another’s vulnerability? Is it the responsibility of a parent to decide what a 40-year-old does with his life? This is not just about my professional colleagues; as a nation, we have become insensitive and courtesy, respect for privacy and for elders no longer matter. We call our politicians insensitive. Are we any different?

Ms Lubembe is an editor with the Nation


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