In a country where homosexual acts are illegal, you would never believe that an openly gay man could run for public office. And yet, David Kuria has never backed down from standing for his beliefs. He’s been Kenya’s most visible activist beginning with his work as Chairman of the Kenya Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) and Kenya’s first out candidate. The soft-spoken Kuria’s non-threatening approach and charming personality allowed him to walk into churches and community centers where he sparked conversation among the 1.6 million constituents of Kiambu County.
Kuria’s attempt already marks a huge shift for the growing political power of the LGBT community. David struggles to raise money for his campaign and has considered suspension from the race if he can not obtain the support he needs. As the Kenyan government develops under their new Constitution, representation from the LGBT community will continue to be a key factor in law reform.
Out & Around met with Kuria in Nairobi to learn about gay life, the law, and how the Western world can help.
O&A: What’s your coming out story?
David: I don’t have a coming out story. I never came out. You have to be in the closet to come out. I had no concept of gay. I just thought everyone was born this way and that something magical happens in your 20s when you become straight. In my early 20s, I realized other people are different and that I was the minority.
O&A: You were also quite involved in the church at an early age.
David: At the age of 13 I entered the seminary to become a Catholic priest. From an early age, I knew I wouldn’t marry. So there was never a time in my life that I figured marriage was an option. While studying theology, I learned the Church categorized homosexual acts as sinful. I studied the issue of consciousness and how to make moral judgements. Just before ordination, I realized that I couldn’t take a vow in good conscious about teaching only what the Church teaches. At that point, I knew I needed to leave.
O&A: What has it been like for you to be an out gay Kenyan?
David: In Kenya, it is not a crime to be openly gay but it is a crime to have homosexual sex. Here a lot of friends abandon you when they find out you are gay. If you speak out, you have a lot of problems. My family really created a huge distance between me and them when I became an activist and headed GALCK. I’m the firstborn among boys in my family which have certain expectations, and they cut me out. But if you are quiet, you are ok. Now that I no longer work for GALCK, they’ve accepted me more.
O&A: You are running a campaign in the race for Senator of Kiambu County. Your campaign website looks great. What made you run for Senate?
David: There are great disparities in terms of wealth in Kenya, including in my own family. When you go home you want to help. The only way to create a lasting impact is to put in appropriate governance structures. The second reason is that I want to leave a legacy. I don’t have children. I have a lot of time, and I have a lot of skill to give to society. I want to do all this without denying the reality of who I am and so I talk openly about my life as a gay man.
O&A: Have you had concerns about your personal safety?
David: There was a website started by an American Evangelical that threatened my life. I was really scared at that time because they were asking for me to be killed. There are people here who kill out of a religious obligation.
Q&A: How did the death of Ugandan LGBT activist David Kato affect you?
David: David Kato was a friend of mine and we knew each other since 2006. We started the movement of Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya and the Sexual Minorities of Uganda at the same time in a hotel downtown here in Nairobi. Six months before his death, we spent the whole time at the International AIDS conference together in Vienna. So when he was murdered, it was devastating for me. I always enjoyed talking to him, especially because he was always critical of our activism strategy here in Kenya. He thought we were too low key. We always had a lot to talk about.
O&A: What do you think of the UK threatening to cut financial aid to anti-gay nations?
David: That strategy has to be country specific. In the democratic process of Kenya we appealed to governments, the world bank, IMF, and others to withdraw aid on the Moi government to compel it into certain actions. We wouldn’t have the democracy we enjoy today if we didn’t have international partners withdrawing aid.
Having said that, this may not work in the case of Uganda focusing soley on sexual minorities. The view of many people here is that it would be more accepted [by the Ugandan government] if it included broader human rights.
O&A: What is the best way for Westerners to help LGBT East Africans?
David: The ideal is to work with the activists on the ground. They know how to move the process forward. If they say to withdrawal aid, then discuss it with them. I do not think it is good to issue unilateral stances. Also, LGBT Organizations run on shoestring budgets need financial support. Helping them to get a better reach will encourage more people to come out. The more people who come out, the less stigma we will have.
Source – Out & Around