#RafikiZetu: Kenyan LGBTIQ Stories, As Told By Allies is an anthology book aimed to promote acceptance of the LGBTI community in Kenya.
Same-sex sexual acts are illegal per Section 162 of the Kenyan Penal Code and punishable by 5 to 14 years’ imprisonment. Therefore, many LGBTI people are still in the closet.
But the attitude of society is changing and the book, edited by gay activist Denis Nzioka, might help in the fight to decriminalize homosexuality moving forward.
Kenyan straight allies helping out
Nzioka came out as gay about ten years ago, when he was 22. He was the first gay man to appear on Kenyan TV without the benefit of anonymity.
In February 2019, Nzioka published #RafikiZetu. The book collects opinions, plays, short stories, photos, and poems by straight allies. Rafiki Zetu is, in fact, Swahili for ‘our friends’.
Having straight allies speaking up allows gay, bi and trans people to protect their anonymity, while still giving visibility to the community.
‘As an activist and journalist, African LGBTI stories have fascinated me,’ Nzioka told GSN.
‘I have been involved, even personally, in changing the narrative about how African queer stories are told.’
Nzioka further explained he realized not all the stories were given the spotlight they deserve.
‘There are wonderful narratives out there about African LGBTI people, but that’s that. Yet, we do not live in a vacuum. We live with families, we work in offices, we worship with others. So my idea was to tell the story of the others. How do we capture the often untold stories of queer life in Kenya?’
And so #RafikiZetu was born. It’s a rich and diverse book and so is the Kenyan LGBTI community.
#RafikiZetu also features a black and white historical and current photo album telling different stories of queer organizations, stories, and events.
The book is available to purchase on hard copy only from all over the world. 99.99% of the proceeds will go to LGBTI organizations in Kenya.
‘All the book contributors are passionately pro-LGBTI,’ continued Nzioka.
‘We have wonderful opinion pieces from doctors, lawyers, journalists, religious leaders, politicians, and feminist activists. This goes to show how we often miss appreciating the diverse number of allies we have.’
Changing minds and hearts
Nzioka hopes his book will spark a much-needed conversation.
‘Public opinion is strongly against homosexuality,’ he explained.
‘Majority of Kenyan views on homosexuality are often shaped by the Bible or Quran, their leaders, be they politicians or clerics. We know it’s not easy to change minds overnight but we have sustained a conversation in various ways, and this is the most important. This is the work of a lifetime and I am glad we have wonderful, young, energetic and hard-working queer activists who have taken this up.’
He furthermore added: ‘We are experiencing renewed efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in Kenya through our #Repeal162 case and I am really hoping that #RafikiZetu can be used to highlight how, despite public opinion, there are courageous Kenyans who believe in equality and non-discrimination.’
Coming out in Kenya
#RafikiZetu could instill positivity in the Kenyan LGBTI community and encourage many more to come out.
‘It has never been easy to come out,’ Nzioka said, recalling his own experience.
‘Societal stigma is very high on matters around sex and sexuality, and so coming out as gay makes it even worse. But it takes courage and time.’
He also said: ‘I came out to my closest family members and it took a lot of explaining and time for them to finally come to accept me. It’s an ongoing journey.’
He also said that having straight allies to rely on was crucial.
‘My story is not the same of most LGBTI Kenyans. Some have had it easy to come out, others have been victimized, or suffered violence,’ he said.
‘I am glad I have a supportive inner circle and friends. It is some of these straight friends who were there for me at this time that also inspired #RafikiZetu.’