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(Photo: Nichole Sobecki)

Kevin Mwachiro, journalist, queer activist, podcaster [Kenya]

"The reality of being queer is real. It is not a foreign thing. It is as Kenyan, as African as it may be, and it is ours. I remember I did an interview anonymously for the BBC back in 2006. And I told them, maybe within 50 years, I will see movement, it has happened so much faster. And not just in Kenya, but I've seen very many countries across Africa. And I am so, so happy that that is happening."

I was a church boy for a good part of my life. So, I was sometimes whore by night, Christian by day, if I can put it like that.

I had just come back from the UK where I did my masters and I knew I was not going to go back into the closet. I went to therapy and after going for over a year, I just got to accept myself for who I am. And I realized that I'm okay and I didn't want to come back and go back into the closet. I figure that closet stays in the U.K.

I was trying to find my space and a friend invited me to a group meeting. It was people talking about formalizing a movement or a way of coming together and it was fascinating. It just blew my mind. There were these people in the room and I'm like, "Fuck, these are all Kenyans." These are all Kenyans and I knew that I'd be fine.

And, along the way, being a journalist, I made sure that I would use the platform that I have to make sure that LGBTQI+ people are well represented. So I used to cover those stories shamelessly. People in the office wondered, 'Why is Kevin always doing the queer stories that no one wanted to touch?" I really didn't care. I figured I'm going to represent my people in the best way that I can.

But, Kenya is a lot more open now. It's amazing. I mean, it's fantastic to actually think that you can live a reasonable level of queerness here. Younger people are coming out, because it is possible. There are a lot more resources. There's a lot more support from what we had. There's a lot more, in some cases, visibility. There's community, there's a movement. There's, to some degree, health services. The internet has helped. There's visibility on TV and online.

But, we're not even out of the woods - far from it. But, there is light we're seeing. We've seen trans women being attacked, we've seen people being attacked in clubs. People being kicked out of their homes by landlords, there is still that. We've seen pushback in the arts. There was a movie called Rafiki which featured a lesbian couple - that got banned. And then we had Stories of Our Lives and that also got banned. I'm like, 'You motherfuckers!' They're silencing voices of not just queer people, but of talented Kenyans who want to see themselves represented in content created by Kenyans for Kenyans.

In 2011, there was a clinic in a town an hour away from me in a town called Mtwapa. Like a 'sexual productive' clinic that was targeting men who have sex with men, sex workers, etc. And they were very open about that. And then the community turned on them. Last year, I met one of the people who was at the forefront of this attack and they've made a total turnaround saying, "We acted on ignorance, these people are also a part of the community." These were Christian and Muslim faith leaders. And these same individuals are now engaging with other religious leaders to try and to ask them to be more accepting of the community so there is that. So for me, it's important that we recognize the good work that's been done, but also recognizing that we are far from out of the woods.

A key driver for me with my activism is to make sure that no one ever has to go through that feeling of loneliness as a queer person. No one has the right to go through that. No one. And I feel really sad when I hear of both the young and old killing themselves because of their sexuality. That shit should not be happening. That shit should not be happening anywhere in the world and should not be happening in Africa. I hope to work a lot more with young queer people, queer Africans, because I really want to show them and that it is possible to be black, African, and queer or just African.

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Kevin has recently been accepted into Amnesty International Kenya as their first openly gay board member. He has gone on to publish Invisible: Stories from Kenya's Queer Community, a collection of stories from Kenya's queer community, spoken at TEDx Programs and launced his own podcast Nipe Story (Tell me a Story).

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This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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