Since arriving in Kenya, the days have been a stream of activity, conversations and meetings. It’s now Monday morning with but I want to begin on Sunday when I woke in the beautiful grounds of Philadelphia, the Christian retreat and conference centre built by retired Archbishop David Gitari on the outskirts on Embu, a two hour drive from Nairobi. I was driven there by David Kuria, a remarkable 39 year old gay man who trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood but declined to continue a month before he was due to be ordained, after 7 years at the seminary.
Until 2 years ago, David was the founder director of GALCK , the Coalition of 5 or 6 groups but stepped aside two years ago into consultancy from the need to earn money to live. He joined us on the visit to meet David Gitari because he wanted an opportunity to talk about the devastating effect the hostile attitude of the churches is having on the gay community in Kenya living with HIV/AIDS.
The minister responsible for HIV and other key government ministers are fully committed to ensuring that gay men in particular have access to the anti-retroviral drugs programme in Kenya. Twenty seven per cent of those affected in Kenya are gay men. The programme wisely requires those accessing the programme to have a mentor, someone who knows them well and will ensure that they maintain their drug regime. Evidence shows that failure to do has disastrous and costly consequences. But for gay men to access the programme necessitates coming out to family and friends and few are willing to do so.
David says he is losing 3 gay friends to AIDS every week, a fraction of the number in the whole country, and is becoming overwhelmed by the emotional loss. The church is the problem. It campaigns and preaches constantly against homosexuality, forcing gay men to remain deeply in the closet. The churches are intimidating the government and the woman minister fears she will lose her job, and her campaign to provide access for gay men, if other ministers lose their nerve.
David Kuria asked Archbishop David if he was prepared to speak to the minister. She needs to know there are senior church leaders who are prepared to support the Government’s AIDS campaign for gay men. The Archbishop is a playful, kindly man with a wonderful memory. As Archbishop he had close relationships with the government, and is indeed prepared now to talk with and even meet the minister and challenged the church’s anti-homosexual position.
Later in the conversation Michael Kimindu asked if Archbishop David was prepared to host a seminar at Philadelphia for bishops, gay Anglicans and members of GALCK, to begin a conversation in which some of the prejudices can be challenged and some understanding develop among the bishops of what it means to be gay.
These two developments are potentially of huge significance, not only for Kenya and the Kenyan church, but for the whole of Africa.
Eventually the Archbishop turned to me and wanted to know whether I had been to Lambeth and to Primates meetings, and we shared our experiences. He said nothing negative or judgmental about gay people, but affirmed the positive parts of Lambeth 1.10, that we are equally children of God and that the church should be openly welcoming and loving us. If only he had been able to say these things when he was in post.
This morning I am meeting the member groups of GALCK for the first time and in the afternoon, Other Sheep Ministries, which Michael Kimindu is now identifying as an Anglican ministry to LGBTI people in Kenya. There are complex relationships between the groups, both secular and religious, and I know that in this morning’s meeting, a serious serious situation, news of which broke over the weekend, is going to have to be dealt with.