|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: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Uganda, a lesbian activist helps straight people fight stigma of a disease once thought of as ‘gay.’
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.
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.
The law in question is a colonial-era ban on “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is part of the penal code in dozens of former British colonies. Many of them are former British colonies with the exact same law on the books.
The activists who brought the case contend that the law is used to exploit and extort, and that it is used to justify discrimination against LGBT people. Opponents have said they will consider alternative measures if the law is overturned, including, potentially a referendum.
“Solutions journalism” is built around understanding not just what’s failing, but also what is working–and why. Too often we report singularly on problems without taking the time to explain when viable solutions to them exist. Solutions journalism doesn’t argue against covering abuses of power, conflict or corruption. It merely asserts that unless we also shed light on potential solutions to those problems, we haven’t quite finished the job.
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.
A surprising turnaround for LGBT Africans in a most unlikely place
Since 2009, Uganda has made international headlines as one of the world’s most dangerous places to be gay or transgender. That year legislators and religious leaders first championed an anti-homosexuality bill to criminalize gay sex and marriages, even if they take place abroad, and obligate Ugandans to report them. “Aggravated homosexuality,” including repeated offenses, was to be punished with death – later amended to life in prison.
And yet, today many rural LGBT Ugandans are finding ways to fit into traditional family and community structures – and without always having to entirely hide their identities, either. Rural Ugandan towns might be the last place you’d expect to see LGBT acceptance. Cities are often assumed to be more tolerant, where strength in numbers allows people to advocate together.
But in places like Mbale, where neighbors all know one another, prejudice is often no match for personal relationships. By adapting to, rather than rebuking, traditions and societal norms, some rural LGBT Africans are achieving a level of tolerance that just a few years ago seemed unthinkable.
Some of eastern Congo’s small-scale farmers are benefiting from a surprising—and illegal—crop.
Cannabis has become a major source of income for tens of thousands of farmers in Congo’s unstable east. It isn’t hard to see the appeal. “Cannabis (is) a robust plant which is easy to grow, requires little labor outside of harvesting and drying, yields several harvests per year, and can be harvested as early as six months from sowing,” writes Ann Laudati, a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has interviewed more than 100 cannabis farmers in eastern Congo. “They’re making a living off it,” said Laudati. “They’re not getting rich, but they’re surviving.”
Congo isn’t alone. “The highest levels of cannabis production in the world take place on the African continent,” according to the UN. In 2005, Africa produced an estimated one-fourth of all global cannabis. In 2005, seventeen African countries reported that cannabis use was on the rise, including Congo. Be it by land or by sea, the drug also makes its way outside Congo’s porous borders. Quite possibly it’s what’s being smoked by western expats and humanitarians in African cities as far away as Nairobi.
But there’s one major factor limiting the crop’s proliferation: Cannabis is illegal in Congo, as it is in almost every African country. Since 2011, there have been more cannabis seizures in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Africa’s crackdown on cannabis reflects an international narrative that blames cannabis for all manner of the continent’s ills–the product of a century of European and U.S. pressure meant to stop it. According to the RAND Corporation, “in no Western country is a user at much risk of being criminally penalized for using marijuana. “ At a time when the United States is rapidly decriminalizing marijuana at home, it continues to endorse a narrative that demonizes the drug abroad.
Read the full article at Columbia Global Reports.