Kevin Mwachiro is a man of many talents. He is a published author, podcaster, film festival curator, and former journalist. However, his true passion lies in telling Kenyan stories, specifically queer stories. In our conversation, he shares his experience and love for storytelling in his community.
By Savita Sukul
Kevin is passionate about social justice and human rights issues, and he volunteers as a board member for the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya and the Amnesty International Kenya board. He said he found himself drawn to activism by mistake, as he was looking for a sense of community and family. In 2006, he had just come back to Kenya from the U.K. and didn’t know many people from the LGBTI community. Kevin stumbled across a meeting, which to his surprise, had many queer people, the majority of them Kenyan, which he found very comforting. He says “I found family in a space where I didn’t expect to find family and people who are living their best queer life. I wasn’t out publicly back then, but I knew I wasn’t alone anymore.”
He worked for the BBC at the time, where he used his position to do queer stories and make sure they were objective and respectful. The public narrative was typically stereotyped and very negative when speaking about those questioning their sexuality and Kevin wanted to use his skills as a writer to change the narrative in the local media, and to tell stories on Africa that were representative of their reality. Kevin loves to tell stories, and he tells me that what really, really excites him is telling stories on Africa, specifically queer stories.
He realized he was a storyteller at the BBC. He said it was an honor to tell people’s stories truthfully and with dignity in a way that gets other people thinking, entertained, and informed. This drove him through his work as a journalist. He says, “I am honored to be a custodian of these stories.” He wanted to respect the people who had given him their stories to tell and do them justice in a way they would like to be remembered and heard.
When I asked him what it is like to be LGBTI in Kenya, he responded, “Maybe it depends on the time of day or the day of the week” with a laugh. Since he came back to Kenya 15 years ago, he says things have definitely changed. Kevin mentions that now there is a lot more psychosocial support. For example, funding for the organizations he volunteers for goes to establish hotlines for people in need of counseling. The LGBTI community is slowly being seen more positively by media houses, and they know they are not alone.
However, LGBTI persons in Kenya, and around the world, still face a lot of social and cultural stigma. It is harder for trans women, masculine-presenting women, and effeminate men to navigate this change without pushback. For some people their appearance is what queerness is, and they are obvious targets.
In 2016, the national gay and lesbian human rights commission (NGLHRC) filed a lawsuit to declare one of the old colonial laws outlawing same-sex relations unconstitutional. Section 162 and 165 of the penal code outlaws ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature and indecent acts between males whether in public or private’. The petition was dismissed, but the commission will be appealing this and fighting for the law to be repealed.
In addition to problems like this, the pandemic has also created some limitations. Many people are going back to live in homophobic homes during the pandemic, and there aren’t any social spaces to meet because of government protocols. Another effect of the pandemic on the community is the sudden lack of donors, as they have been redirecting funds from the LGBTI organizations to funds for COVID assistance. Even with the existence of these problems, and others, Kevin is hopeful for the evolution of Kenya and is doing everything in his power to further the progress.
In 2011, Kevin co-founded the Out film festival (OFF) in Nairobi, which was the first LGBTQ film festival in Kenya. Besides films, the festival has a special addition that draws more people in. There are panel discussions focusing on matters that have touched on the existence of queer people in Kenya, and some people would come specifically for the panels. It continues to run, and Kevin says the festival turnout went from a handful of people to full houses. It even went virtual last year. The festival showcased how other people are navigating their lives from different cultures, which seemed to resonate with people from all over Africa.
Kevin also hosts a podcast that gives a voice to Kenyan stories and has a book available on Amazon, which contains a collection of stories from queer Kenyans. Kevin found a family in the LGBTI community of Kenya and works hard to help others find one as well.
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