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Gay Kenyan Senate hopeful David Kuria speaks to us (pinkpaper,com)

Exclusive by Pennie Varvarides
15 October 2010
Gay news from Africa is all too often bad news. But one Kenyan politician is giving new hope to gays in his country and the continent – and at the same time challenging European ideas about LGBT Africa.

David Kuria is currently racing for the Kenyan Senate to represent Kiambu County, to the north of the capital, Nairobi. The election isn’t until August 2012 but if he wins, he will be only the second openly gay elected politician in the entire continent – the other is in South Africa.

Kenya is, by African standards, a more liberal country. There are still laws prohibiting men having sex with on another (no such law exists for women) but the legislation is not often enforced. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean it’s safe for those brave enough to come out.

Groups such as the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, of which Kuria is a director, and the Coalition of African Lesbians have been working hard over the last few years to raise public awareness and get the faces of gay men and women out there, with the aim of making sexuality less of a cultural taboo.

Just a couple of years ago, the idea of a gay man running for a political position would not have ever even been considered. But Kuria is keen to demonstrate to the people on Kenya that your sexuality doesn’t restrict your abilities, and shouldn’t stop you following your dreams.

His frequent TV appearances and leadership within the gay movement has meant he is already well-known even outside his own country. Recently he told UK-based LGBT Asylum News: “Our voice will never be heard if we do not stand up and speak it ourselves.”

Kuria has spent much of his life trying to help those who most need it. He hopes to increase the number of those politicians who truly care about their constituents and are engaged in genuinely trying to solve people’s problems.

As one of the few openly gay politicians, he hopes to help the gay movement in Kenya. Speaking exclusively to PinkPaper.com, he said: “We need activists to join with groups in Kenya. And we’ve been doing that. I do hope that standing for a political position will encourage a lot of gay people to come out. People no longer have the courage unless they see someone who is campaigning in a mainstream position.”

He admits that the Kenyan public are not taking his run for the Senate too seriously, seeing it as “a joke”. But he is still very positive about his possible success nonetheless. With the election not until August 2012, he has almost two years to change public opinion. Kuria tells us he wants “to convince them [the people of Kenya] that it is true that a gay person can actually stand for a mainstream political position. And it’s possible to get elected. I’m sure it’s possible, we have two years!”

At least his family have got behind the campaign, though believe he should have ran a couple of years ago, before he came out. However, Kuria isn’t sure how that would have helped the cause. He has been actively campaigning for human rights and sees this as an opportunity to help more people.

So far his opposition have not used his sexuality against him. Although there was a threat of a hate campaign, it originated from the US and has fizzled out. Kuria suspects that his opponents have underestimated him: “They think, ‘in Kenya, how is it possible for anyone to be gay and run for a political position?’”

But he hopes his candidacy will mean “a lot more people will identify with our struggles as gay people”.

He said: “A couple of years ago this would have been unheard of, but we already see a lot more people identifying with our cause. So I do imagine that through our campaign a lot more people will recognise our ability to participate in achieving our goal.

“The West followed a strategy. Decriminalisation; then moved forward to civil partnerships; then marriage. But I think that’s not the only way of acquiring rights. I think we need to be more visible. People need to understand us a lot more. Political protest is an alternate route.

“Things are really bad for people in Africa. I think that highlighting the sad stories is important. Then the political people would have to be a bit more cautious about how they are seen to the world. However it’s also important to recognise the positive stories, the power struggles, the amazing things that are happening.”

Help from the West is extremely important to Kuria for the movement in Kenya, without which he believes they would never have got anywhere. He said: “by highlighting cases of abuse, you know, extreme cases of abuse is extremely important for human rights. Highlighting stories forces the government to recognise that it is part of the international community. To see that things are not isolated incidents. To understand that these are violations of human rights.

“I don’t want to talk about financial support because we should be able to support our own cause, but with the way things are at this point in history, we also need financial support and that would also be important.”

Kuria is currently not in a relationship and plans to remain so for the duration of the campaign. He said: “I know it would be a killer. It would make it impossible for success.”

But it’s not all about gay rights for this would-be senator. He holds an MBA in International Business from the University of Nairobi and is regarded as one of the area’s most liberal politicians.

He is passionate about helping the poor and is opposed to the current criminalisation of people suffering from Tuberculosis. He also plans to implement a world-class health system in Kenya to combat the rise of HIV, if elected
David Kuria Director of Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya,

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