Yesterday afternoon a group of 24 LGBTI people met in a conference room at the Arkland Palace Hotel, predominantly but not entirely Anglican. The objective was to learn about the distinctive work of Changing Attitude and to discuss how progress towards practical change in the church might be made.
The Revd Michael Kimindu, Changing Attitude’s contact in Kenya, described his involvement with CA from the time of the Lambeth Conference 2008 and talked more personally about his journey in the church as he became more actively involved in pastoring LGBTI people. He is at present involved with two groups, Other Sheep Africa and the MCC congregation which meets in Sunday afternoons
He then introduced me and invited me to talk about the history and work of Changing Attitude and the ways in which we are working for change in the Communion. This led into a lively debate and it was instantly obvious that many of those present were now willing to work actively for change in the Anglican Church in Kenya. There is great frustration with the church, both for its failure to be honest about the presence of LGBTI people and for its lack of vision and imagination in responding to the new things that God is doing in creation. They were clear that a group distinct from the existing groups is needed, one focussed on strategies for change and identifying ways, however small, in which the work can be started. The need maintain security and privacy, the ‘stay in the closet’ remains imperative.
Moving around Nairobi, I have felt safe at all times, whether with Michael who is straight or with numbers of gay men. But none of the 22 last night were out to their parents, although I have met some out to siblings and in a careful way to straight friends. They are open almost exclusively only to other LGBTI people.
Many talked anecdotally of clergy they knew to be gay, of incidents when pastors and clergy had tried to initiate sexual activity, and of wives and families that were compromised by the husband being gay, and unfaithful.
The foundations of a new, active Changing Attitude group were laid in Kenya yesterday. I will be meeting three diocesan bishops in the next 7 days and will test the ground with them. Michael Kimindu’s experiences show the fear lies with those reluctant to meet me this week or with any gay member of their congregations. They fear the criticism of colleagues who would accuse them of approving of homosexuality and being too gay-friendly.
In the morning I spent three hours with members of staff in the offices of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, based in a discrete office building in an industrial area of the city where neighbours speculate about the nature of the work they are engaged in.
The Coalition includes groups for LBTI women (MWA), an LGBTI advocacy group (Gay Kenya), TEA, working for transgender education and advocacy, Ishtar working with MSM integrated and holistic sexual health approaches, AFRA-KENYA, an artists group, and PEMA, a community-based organisation in Mombasa (and I will meet them next week).
Eight staff members joined us and described the work of GALCK. I was particularly interested in the strategic plan they have developed which covers 7 areas:
- Personal education
- Health and access to services
- Legal framework
- Religious leaders and key opinion formers
- Stakeholders – police, nurses, educators, etc
- Political (recently added)
The strategy is in the process of development, but they are already engaging on various fronts, and politically, the new constitution is an invaluable tool protecting human rights across a broad front. Their are senior politicians who are gay and other courageous enough to voice support for LGBTI issues. GALCK staff are more likely to the atheist or agnostic than the general population having been hurt too often by the prejudice and abuse they experienced in the churches.
Everyone I have met holds the church accountable as the source of prejudice and abuse against LGBTI people. I committed Changing Attitude to work with them in whatever ways are possible for us to enable people to be more open, to educate Anglican leaders, and to overturn prejudice and abuse wherever we encounter it.
This morning I’m meeting Canon Sam, a University Chaplain, then John Makhoka and Other Sheep Africa, and at 17.00, the Magi, a newly-formed group for more mature gay pastors.