An uphill struggle: Out and confident in Kenya
“It’s been a long journey, a challenging journey, coming to terms with my sexuality. I was just starting to get comfortable with it when I was sexually abused, so it has been a difficult time in my life," says Anthony, 24.
Around the time he was abused, four years ago, he also found out he was HIV positive. “To start with I wasn’t getting any services. It wasn’t easy to get them. But then I began getting involved with peer education, not for men who have sex with men but for young people in general.”
Anthony, 24, is now a volunteer for Ishtar in Nairobi. Ishtar has monthly voluntary counselling and testing sessions at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) centre, open forums and peer education; offers condoms and lube, together with safer sex information; networks and advocates around men who have sex with men (MSM) and gay issues; runs post-test clubs; and has a range of social activities. Ishtar is a member of KANCO (Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium).
"Ishtar has helped my confidence so much that I want to share that experience with other people."
Reaching out to others
Anthony is one of the youngest people involved with Ishtar. “I wanted to find a way to discuss what I’d learned, to reach out to other members of my community. Now I’m a life-skills facilitator, doing outreach activities, as well as peer counselling and referrals. I’ve always known I was gay. I had lots of problems with my family when they found out. They show affection in bits and pieces, but they have traditional African values. They don’t see how MSM relates to masculinity. They think the man should be strong and bring up a family, father children. So MSM are inferior in the community. They don’t belong. This has an impact on your health and social wellbeing. You have low self-esteem and can’t discuss things.”
Arguing for health
Anthony recognises that gay men and other men who have sex with men in Kenya face an uphill struggle in the face of the criminalisation of sex between men, and the stigma that they face as a result. “Arguing for rights for men who have sex with men can be tricky. But you can argue on health and access to health especially HIV and STIs. We need to have more information, extra services on wellbeing, and somewhere to meet which is not branded as just for men who have sex with men but as a men’s wellness centre. Ishtar has helped my confidence so much that I want to share that experience with other people.”
Anthony believes that Ishtar has been an enormous help to him personally, and he wants to extend its services to other MSM. “I am very out and confident. Ishtar has helped my confidence so much that I want to share that experience with other people. I want to increase the numbers involved so that we can all have more pride.”
Anthony does have one thing in particular he would like to change in his life – he has been single for a year and a half, and is looking for a partner. Difficulties in being openly gay in Kenya mean that most MSM are married and not able to commit to a full-time relationship. “Gay is my lifestyle and I want to meet someone who can accept that. I want someone who doesn’t need to be discreet, someone to share my life.”