I was honoured and humbled to be a part of a most unique strategic thinking process for one of GALCK’s key development partner last week. Not only was this a reflective time for looking back at where the East African LGBTI movement has come from, but we were together able to analyse the current state of the movement and create possibilities of what lies ahead in the movement’s future. I met, interacted with, learnt from and exchanged contacts with both seasoned activists from the EAC region, some of whom I had only heard or read about, as well as a relatively new crop of activists and organizations who are also doing exploits for the LGBTI communities in their respective countries.
Being the reflective kind, I am still chewing on a lot from this process, but I am particularly interested to narrow down on a few pragmatic thoughts especially at this time of galvanizing to map out the future of LGBTI organizing in Kenya. Chief amongst these is the fact that movement building for life and death matters is never a walk in the park. A lot of people tend to think that LGBTI Organizing (difficult as it is) is equivalent to LGBTI movement building. Well, the two can feed on each other, yet they have been mutually exclusive, and at times the former has worked for the detriment of the latter.
LGBTI serving CBOs and grassroots groups can organize themselves around a network or coalition and achieve quit some gains as is the case with the story of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK). To further leverage on the power of numbers for sustained pressure and demand that surpasses organizing and its politics and holds institutions accountable and gets laws implemented justly, there is need to serious shift our paradigms and begin reflecting some more on how LGBTI organizing can contribute to and not take away from movement building. This brief article is meant to just trigger more reflection and begin, and in some cases, continue that conversation.
Last Saturday afternoon, as we sat in an open area in Stone-town, I engaged two seasoned colleagues from Kenya and Zimbabwe on their take on the one most transformative movements from anywhere in the world which we can emulate. Much as the responses were varied, there was consensus that every one of the successful movements mentioned organized around an issue which already aroused outrage, a sense that the situation or problem in question could not be tolerated anymore and that change was absolutely necessary, and would be struggled for, regardless of the risk.
As I reflect some more, I see that the Kenya LGBTI scene, through a very surgical process, stands a chance to grow from the very young and disjointed efforts to a more meaningful, highly impactful social movement, potentially one worth emulating universally.
There are several existing, new and emerging mainstream LGBTI organizations, grass root groups and individual activists that are working for the welfare, livelihood, health, protection and promotion of human rights for the LGBTI community in Kenya. Does their existence and work mean that there is a well-organized movement in Kenya? What kind of organizing can ensure that all the contributions made are towards the overall desired change? What is this overall desired change anyway – meeting the more practical needs of the community such as welfare and livelihood opportunities of the LGBTI community or is it the politicising for long term interests such as decriminalization?
As we map out the future of LGBTI organizing in Kenya in this second half of 2012, we must move ahead with proper hindsight, insight and foresight on the place of organizing, even organizing around coalitions vis-à-vis movement building.
We must go beyond a sense of entitlement, founders’ syndromes, personality based activism, internal riffles, gate keeper mentalities all of which serve as energy robbers and engage in positive, issue-based advocacy and solidarity with one another in thought, word and deed.
We must together spell out and rally around principles and values in recognition to the higher purpose of the work. This should include minimum ethical standards of practice and living for LGBTI community leaders and individuals.
We must encourage broad membership, active constituency base (including members who are not necessarily LGBTI) and trans-regional, pan African and trans-national networking.
We must strike the balance between the activism outward bound strategies such as marches, protests and advocacy institutional lobbying strategies. As we embrace the multiple tier approach towards equality and non-discrimination at a political level we must also respond to daily welfare, livelihood and security needs of the LGBTI community.
We must stop and reflect, but also ensure that the great initiatives continue in stride realizing that a formidable movement is rooted in the unity between theory and practice, analysis and action.
Quite a lot has been achieved by the individual organizations and the coalition, but a lot more can be achieved by this movement. Real change requires time, unwavering commitment, collaboration, risk taking, energy, and unusual capacities, community members that are informed and empowered as well as diverse leadership with the capacity to dream, act, facilitate, mediate and mobilize.
From this winter month of July, the reflections over the next several months are dedicated to ensuring that we harness the collective organizing power for a stronger voice and visibility of LGBTI organizations at work at the national and community levels to make a significant contribution to achieving equality, democracy, justice, livelihoods and peace for all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The author, MaqC Eric Gitau, is the General Manager of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya.