|THIS IS HOW THE HEART BEATS: LGBTQ EAST AFRICA |
BY JAKE NAUGHTON AND JACOB KUSHNER With texts by Jacob Kushner, a foreword by Ruth Muganzi, and an essay by Cynthia Ndikumana
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THE NEW PRESS / FEBRUARY 2020 Part of a groundbreaking series of photobooks about LGBTQ communities around the world, a moving portrait of a group of queer East Africans who face abuse and discrimination because of their gender identity. “This book is a celebration of diversity, of resilience, of love, of standing up to one’s oppressors, and overcoming. This is the LGBTQ community of Uganda. This is my community. This is our reality.” — activist Ruth Muganzi.
|Same-sex relations are illegal in thirty-two African countries. Most, including Kenya and Uganda, were former British colonies, and the legacy of the colonialists’ anti-gay legislation can be felt to this day. In 2014 Uganda introduced a so-called “kill the gays” law that sought to broaden the criminalization of same-sex relations, making it punishable by life imprisonment and, in some instances, death. In 2019 Uganda’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity called to introduce such a bill once again. This Is How the Heart Beats (The New Press, February 2020) by acclaimed photographer Jake Naughton and noted writer Jacob Kushner is a powerful and intimate series of portraits of LGBTQ Ugandans, Kenyans, and other East Africans. Some have decided to stay in their homeland despite the discrimination and abuse they face there. Others have fled as refugees, applying for resettlement to a part of the world where they will not be persecuted for who they love. Jake Naughton’s images in this compelling photobook chronicle the lives of an oppressed people from their darkest moments to more hopeful ones, following them as they navigate an uncertain future. In a world with more refugees than ever before, and at a time when prejudice toward refugees runs high across the globe, this work illuminates the stakes for one group at the center of it all. The book includes supporting texts by Jacob Kushner, a foreword by Ugandan queer activist Ruth Muganzi, and an essay by Cynthia Ndikumana, a transgender activist from Burundi. Here are some story highlights from This Is How the Heart Beats:|
Left: Javan is a transgender woman near her home in Kampala. Javan spent six months as a refugee in Kenya after falling out with her family over her gender identity. She returned to Uganda and has since reconciled with her family. Since coming home, Javan has been arrested and abused a number of times and at one point beaten and stripped naked by an angry mob who forced her to walk home naked while they chanted “She’s a homo.” Center: Pamela at her grandfather’s house. A lesbian, she is out to her mom, who is supportive, a rarity in present-day Uganda. Right: Raj, a gay refugee from Uganda, in a park in downtown Nairobi. Since this photograph was taken, he has been resettled in the United States.
Left: Ricky, Isaac, and Sharp, three transgender men pictured left to right, during an outreach event for a local LGBTQ organization in Bugema, a village near Mbale, Uganda. Right: Despite their challenges, Isaac a transgender male, and his partner Irene, a lesbian, had been determined to be a family and provide a counterpoint to the commonly held ideas of what it meant to be an LGBTQ couple. Their house was full of warmth and love. Since the taking of this photograph, the couple has parted ways.
Left: Vinka, Hajjati, and Shamin, three young transgender women pictured left to right, at Icebreakers Uganda. Right: Club Envy, a dance club in downtown Nairobi that was known, at the time, as being a semi-safe place for the LGBTQ community to dance openly. In his closing text, Jacob Kushner reveals that only a small percentage of queer East Africans who apply to resettle in the West are ultimately successful. “Even the very few who win a ticket to a new life will usually have to wait several years before they are authorized to leave. ‘Most of the population of Kakuma will be here for life,’ a Belgian refugee worker for the UNHCR told me. The result is that the collection of huts where many of the LGBTQ Ugandans live has begun to feel permanent.” Activist Cynthia Ndikumana urges East Africans to persevere: “I want to tell all LGBTQ people-the people in Burundi, in Kenya, in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, in all of Africa-to be strong, to never give up. It can be a long and difficult process getting out of the country and finding a place of safety, but there are good, kind people along the way who will help you-in my case, people I can’t thank enough for all they did for me. And now I am here and I am safe.”
About the Contributors: JAKE NAUGHTON is a photographer focusing on queer identity in the present moment. He has been published by The New York Times, Time, Vice, Wired, and others. His first monograph, When We Were Strangers, an up-close look at queer love co-authored with his partner, Juan Anibal Sosa Iglesias, was published in 2019. JACOB KUSHNER is a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, among other outlets. He reports on migration and human rights in East Africa, the Caribbean, and Germany. RUTH MUGANZI is a lesbian activist and programs director for Kuchu Times, the only LGBTQ media outlet in Uganda. CYNTHIA NDIKUMANA is a transgender activist from Burundi, where he founded the LGBTQ organization Rainbow before being forced to flee to Kenya. He eventually obtained asylum and was resettled in the United States.
Book Details: Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-62097-488-98 x 10, 152 pages. List Price: $21.99 (US). Media Contact: Andrea Smith / Andrea Smith Public RelationsCell: +1 646-220-5950 Email: email@example.com
The first time I saw the famous Fabienne Jean, she was limping toward me, slowly, but with the unmistakable elegance of the dancer that she was. Two years had passed since American donors and American media had turned Fabienne into a symbol of recovery from the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Well-wishers had promised her everything from a new house and an American visa to her own dance academy. At the time she was still hopeful; none of it, however, would come to pass.
The last time I saw the famous Fabienne Jean, she was sitting idle in her basement apartment, unable to work, unable to dance, still nostalgic about her brief encounter with American generosity. She took out her phone and flipped through photos. “Did you see this one, Jacob?” she laughed, showing me a photo of her posing on a Florida beach. Eleven months later, she was dead.
Had America let Fabienne down? For all the promises that American charities and politicians made to rebuild Haiti after the earthquake, it seems we somehow failed to rebuild even a single life — the life, in fact, of the person who received more attention and more promises than anybody else.
“When you promise something to someone, you encourage them,” a Haitian translator who worked as a liaison between Fabienne and her American donors told me. But as time goes by and nothing happens, unfulfilled promises can break someone’s will, even to the point of making them physically sick, he said. “And that’s what happened to Fabienne. It affected her mind, her body, and every part of her.”
Maria Nantale developed a new strategy to reach those most at risk of HIV
Uganda has the 10th highest rate of HIV in the world – 6.2% overall and 7.6% among women. Across the country, more than 1.2 million people are believed to carry the virus that causes Aids.
It is also one of the most homophobic countries in the world. Earlier this month an LGBT advocate was killed in the eastern Ugandan town of Jinja, not far from where the activist Maria Nantale works in Mbale. Last week, lawmakers said they would introduce legislation to bring in tougher punishments for homosexual acts, conjuring memories of the so-called “kill the gays” bill that was proposed in 2013 and initially included the death penalty for certain cases.
Twice a week, from dawn until dusk, Maria Nantale holds an “outreach” in the town of Mbale, population 76,000. She asks a local person to play some music while her “peer” educators discuss condom use and sexual health, and invite people to get tested for HIV. Her mobile lab is run by a trio of nurses, a lab technician and a psychological counsellor.
Many people in marginalised groups don’t get tested for the virus due to the double stigma of being both HIV positive and queer in a homophobic country. The method employed by the impeccably dressed, energetic anti-HIV campaigner is to attack that stigma head on, testing and counselling people outside and in public, in front of their friends, neighbours and family.
As a lesbian herself and an outspoken woman in a male-dominated community, gaining people’s trust was no easy task. “This has taken me years,” she says.
Read the full story and see photos by Jake Naughton at The Guardian.
A decade after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, nothing symbolises America’s failure to help the nation “build back better” than a new port that was promised, but never built.
After sinking tens of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars into an ill-advised plan to build a new seaport, the US quietly abandoned the project last year. It is the latest in a long line of supposed solutions to Haiti’s woes that have done little – or worse – to serve the country’s interests. Read the full investigation at The Guardian’s The Long Read.
Produced with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
MOMBASA, Kenya—In 2007, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it was committed to eradicating malaria across the globe. By then, it was late to the game.
That year, Chinese scientists working with a Chinese philanthropist and his company, New South, had already begun eradicating malaria from the small African nation of Comoros. Now they’re setting their sights on a more ambitious location: Kenya, the East African nation of nearly 50 million people.
As Western donors garner headlines for funding expensive, experimental malaria interventions, Chinese researchers are undertaking a far more tested approach. Read the full story at The Atlantic.
PODCAST: Listen to Jacob, Qian Sun and Anthony Langat discuss China’s anti-malaria initiatives in Africa on the China Africa Podcast.
Activists argue it is homophobia, not homosexuality, that has been imported from the West.
Same-sex relationships are not new to Africa. A century ago, it was not uncommon for a woman of the Igbo tribe in present-day Nigeria to marry another woman and cohabit. Similar women-to-women marriages have been documented in at least 30 different tribes across the African continent. Men of the Maale tribe in Ethiopia would sometimes have sex with other men.
But when Britain colonized large swaths of Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it imposed penal codes that punished actions “against the order of nature”—code for homosexual acts—with up to 14 years in prison. These would become the first anti-gay laws on the continent, laws that are now being targeted by African LGBTQ-rights activists who argue that homophobia, not homosexuality, was an import from the West.
That effort suffered a setback this week, as Kenya’s High Court unanimously ruled that the country’s own British-era penal code against unnatural acts, adopted into law at Kenya’s 1963 independence, does not violate the country’s 2010 constitution.
From conversations with a twenty-eight-year-old Kenyan refugee named Lucas. Since 2017 he has been living in Kampala, Uganda, where he fled after escaping from Kenyan police, who had kidnapped him for being gay. After Uganda passed what became known as the “kill the gays” bill, which was signed into law in 2014, hundreds of LGBT Ugandans began fleeing across the border to Kenya, where they lived in hiding while applying for asylum—but a few Kenyans, like Lucas, fled in the other direction.
Homosexuality is illegal in both countries. When the British colonized East Africa, they introduced penal codes criminalizing acts that were “against the order of nature,” which included homosexuality. Those codes remained on the books in countries like Kenya and Uganda even after they received independence. On May 24, Kenya’s High Court is expected to rule on whether those penal codes violate the nation’s new, progressive constitution.
Like Kenya, Uganda is conservative when it comes to gay rights. “In these countries, religion is really impacting on a lot of things. We have the Islam and the Christianity, which outlaw these acts,” says Lucas. “Uganda, I knew that there’s a law there, too. But I didn’t know the extent to which it’s really deeply rooted, to the citizens there.”
Born in Nyanza province in Western Kenya, close to the Ugandan border, Lucas corresponded from Kampala, where he was moving between different apartments and friends’ houses, about his life as an undocumented refugee and his attempts to apply for resettlement abroad.
Read the Oral History at Harper’s Magazine.
On a recent Friday, gay and lesbian couples, dressed in matching outfits, posed for photos outside of a Nairobi courthouse, in anticipation of a decision that they hoped would decriminalize gay sex in Kenya.
The country’s penal code punishes acts “against the order of nature”—usually interpreted as sex between men—with up to fourteen years in prison. It also prescribes up to five years in prison for “gross indecency with another male person,” which is often interpreted as other, undefined sexual acts between men. Worldwide, at least seventy nations—more than a third of all countries—still outlaw homosexuality, and it remains illegal in more than thirty of the fifty-four African countries.
After Kenya’s independence, these codes appear to have gone largely unenforced. For decades, homosexuality wasn’t widely talked about, Njeri Gateru, the director of the National Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, one of the gay-rights groups litigating the case, told me. In the nineteen-nineties, when she was growing up in northeastern Kenya, “there was no name for a gay person,” she said. “There was also no name for a heterosexual. There was no separation. Nobody was speaking about it at all—there weren’t even the words for it.”
By the late two-thousands, religious leaders across East Africa had begun publicly denouncing homosexuality—sometimes with the encouragement of American missionaries. According to a Pew survey in 2013, ninety per cent of Kenyan respondents said that society should not accept homosexuality. Since homosexuality remains illegal under the penal code, family members and neighbors sometimes report suspected homosexuals to the police. The Kenyan government claims that, between 2010 and 2014, nearly six hundred people were criminally investigated under the unnatural-offenses penal code.
In 2016, L.G.B.T. activists looking for a way to curb discrimination began targeting the laws that criminalized homosexuality. Changing a society’s values would take generations, they reasoned, but striking down an unjust law could be accomplished in just a few years.
Read the full story at The New Yorker.
Haiti’s earthquake shattered several cities, but it also birthed another.
When a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince in 2010, it sent the concrete floors of buildings toppling down upon one another, crushing people beneath. It sent mothers and fathers digging for their children, sent tens of thousands of people abruptly into early graves. Their bodies were buried by the thousands at Titanyen.
But a place with space for the dead is a place with space for the living, and in post-earthquake Haiti, space was in short supply. Some 1.5 million Haitians—one out of every six—were displaced by the earthquake, and many were left homeless. International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began eyeing the vast stretch of vacant land east of Titanyen as a place to house them, and with the help of the United States Navy and the United Nations, they erected hundreds of small, temporary structures to house 7,500 people at a spot called Corail-Cesselesse. Haiti’s president used eminent domain to declare the land public, which Haitians took to mean free. Within days, people began flocking to the area around Corail, building shacks out of tarps and wood. Soon thousands of people were migrating north to this once-empty landscape, lying down bricks that would become the foundations of their future homes.
Haiti’s earthquake shattered several cities, but it also birthed another. Called Canaan, after the biblical holy land, a place defined by death has come alive.
Can cities function without a government? In Canaan, Haiti, residents give it a try.
CANAAN, HAITI — NINE years ago, Canaan 1 was little more than a nameless, hilly swath of land patchworked by boulders and cinder blocks marking where people hoped to one day see proper houses, a hospital, a school, a police station and a basketball court. The land was so rocky that only motorcycles, trucks and the rare four-wheel-drive vehicle could pass.
Today, the neighborhood is one of many rapidly expanding areas of Canaan, Haiti’s newest city – named for the biblical promised land – home to between 280,000 and 320,000 people. Soda stands, two-story houses and hardware stores line many of the dirt roads, and a handful of public plazas dot the city. The crown jewel of the Canaan 1 zone is a beautifully painted public plaza complete with benches, a table for playing checkers – and the basketball court residents had hoped for.
“We wanted to show the state who we are – that we can put down more than just one or two dollars here,” says Evenson Louis, a smiling man with a soft voice and big plans as a member of Canaan’s informal city council.
But what the city doesn’t have is running water, legally wired electricity, a hospital or many of the other basic amenities cities in Haiti offer. That’s because, since the city’s inception as a haven for people who were displaced by Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, its residents have been largely left to themselves.