David Kuria works for the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) and is running for Kenya’s Senate. If elected, he will become the second openly gay politician in Africa. POZ recently interviewed Kuria about his work at GALCK, the impact of David Kato’s death in Africa, the link between HIV/AIDS and LGBTI rights and about life for LGBTI Kenyans in general.
At GALCK, we advocate for [LGBT] human rights. We also advocate for access to health services and safe spaces. We try to change policies and laws. The center is free.
We have a drop-in center where people can just come to be who they are, to drop that other persona, drop the mask that they have created. Often people are just interested in having a chat with a fellow human being at a human level and then going home.
Of course, we have security features. Video cameras see who is coming in. If you come as a group, then the door will not open. It is relatively safe, [but] at the end of the day, the center closes down and people have to go home. [Then, they are less safe.]
Did you know David Kato, the Ugandan LGBT activist who was killed earlier this year?
Yes, I knew David Kato. We met for the first time in 2006 at an East African convening of LGBT rights activists in Kenya, then in 2007 at the World Social Forum in Nairobi.
David was an outspoken activist who did not accept any form of discrimination. It pained him personally, even when he was not the one being discriminated against.
At one point, when Ugandan activists ran to Kenya for safety and worked for a few weeks at the GALCK offices, we in Kenya still relied on David back in Uganda to speak out on our behalf. He will certainly be missed.
How has his death affected GALCK and your activism?
David’s brutal murder woke us all up to the fact that there are people out there who are ready and willing to kill on account of sexual orientation or gender identity. On any single day, we are likely to face verbal abuse and occasionally physical abuse.
We know that we may have to pay the ultimate price for our work, but it is not the kind of thing we think of until it happens to one of us. It happened to David Kato. The [LGBT] community is scared.
Even though David’s murder does scare us—knowing as we do that our own murderer could be lurking behind some corner—we feel we owe it to David to be even more vocal and energized in our work. We cannot give up. If we did, David’s death would be in vain.
Has the situation worsened for activists in Africa as a result?
The immediate reaction was an emergence of two kinds of schools of thought. The first says LGBT activists, and David Kato in particular, had it coming. Their view is that LGBT people are sinful and the wages of sin is death. They view this as the religious outcome.
Then there is the second group who, without engaging in the moral debate, are now asking whether it is acceptable to stand and watch while human rights are violated. The discussions are ongoing, and it is hard to know which group will hold sway. But for the first time, there is no automatic and universal condemnation of LGBT people.
We hope the accused, if found guilty, will be given the maximum sentence. We do not support the death sentence, not even for him. But he should spend the rest of his life behind bars. The same should happen to all the others who have cut short the lives of LGBT people in East Africa [and worldwide].
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