|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
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.
Kenya has become a safe haven for scores of refugees fleeing war and famine in neighbouring states. But that sense of sanctuary doesn’t always stand true if you’re young, vulnerable and gay. In secret hideaways and temporary homes, LGBT refugees are being forced yet again to hide their true selves, instead of walking out into the world with pride.
American evangelicals’ antigay gospel forced him to flee Uganda. Then Christians in California offered him a home. A refugee’s story, in words and pictures.
Read the full story at The Atavist.
At Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, workers face few humane options.
From Turkey to Pakistan, from Iran to Ethiopia, refugee workers are being forced to make painful choices regarding the future of more than 21 million refugees, part of a record 65 million displaced persons around the world. They must choose between political and economic refugees, individuals and families, the healthy and the sick, the elderly and unaccompanied children, gay and straight. They try to move those most in need of help to the front of the line for resettlement somewhere safe.
But when it comes to triaging the world’s humanitarian crises, there are few humane choices.
Read the full feature article in the February 27, 2017 edition of The Nation magazine or online.
“We have a bad, bad story,” begins Gloria Ibara, a refugee from Burundi and the mother of four. Sitting on a mattress in a simple Nairobi apartment, she tells me of her problem: “They want to kill our family.”
Gloria, whose bright smile accents her worn face, was born in rural Gitega province to a family of farmers. As her children grew, Gloria came to realize her son Eric was gay. (The names of the family members have been changed out of concern for their safety.)
At first “I told him to stop, that it’s not good,” Gloria says. But over time she decided that “that’s the way he was, and he couldn’t change it.” So she went on loving and caring for him just the same.
In many parts of East and Central Africa where homophobia is rife, parents react harshly on learning that a child is gay. Parents feel enormous pressure to either “fix” their gay kids or disown them. I’ve met dozens of LGBT refugees who have fled their home countries and escaped to Kenya, and only one—a woman, also from Burundi—wasn’t disowned by her family. So when Gloria learned that her son Eric was gay, it was extraordinary for her not to reject them. Stunned as she was when she later found out that her older son, Claude, then well into his teens, too was gay, she supported him too. It’s for that reason that they are now a family on the run.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Cynthia, an LGBT activist in Burundi, was thrown in jail and beaten up by police after she gave a radio interview defending the rights of gays and lesbians. Upon her release she fled to Kenya.
Raj, a gay teenager from Kampala, Uganda, was found kissing a boy in his high school locker room and the principal called an all-school assembly to shame him. The principal then ordered teachers to beat him. Afterward Raj’s father drove him to jail and asked police there to further punish him. After several days of beatings, the police released Raj, and he too fled to Kenya.
Mbonimpa, a gay man who fled Congo’s civil wars for Kenya as a boy, was reported to police at Kakuma refugee camp by his own mother. Ineligible for asylum, he’s living in Nairobi where he hopes no one will learn of his sexual identity.
Gay Ugandans fleeing a wave of homophobia have been covered widely in the international media. But LGBT people are fleeing countries across East and Central Africa, where religious crusaders are pushing forward anti-gay laws.
Over the course of four months, GroundTruth interviewed and stayed in touch with LGBT refugees from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and Ethiopia — all countries where anti-gay ideology is on the rise.