Yesterday evening in Nairobi, I was the host, with Michael Kimindu, of a group of 10 men, all married, all gay, all in their 40s and 50s, who were meeting with other gay men for the very first time in their lives.
Michael and I had travelled 35km earlier in the day to meet John Makokha, Chief Executive Officer of Other Sheep Afrika-Kenya. The return journey took over 2 hours, and we arrived very late for the meeting with the gay men. All were anxious about meeting for the first time, but had the courage to stay until we arrived. Some of them waited to arrive until the meeting had begun, phoning to check the environment was safe. They feared it might be a set-up, or secretly filmed. There were a further ten who had been expected but who didn’t come at the last minute, too afraid to take the risk. Those present agreed to meet again before I return to the UK and I anticipate a much larger second meeting.
At least three of the group were Anglicans and the others from various denominations. Michael Kimindu opened the meeting and told them something of his journey from being a Kenyan Anglican priest with conservative ideas about homosexuality, to having learnt from his training in the USA that LGBTI people are simply among the ‘Other Sheep’ Jesus said would become part of the flock. Those present then introduced themselves, some with a great deal of caution and reluctance to reveal very much.
The floor was then handed to me and I described briefly my own journey into knowing myself as gay and how, in later years, Changing Attitude came into being. Questions were then invited, and they ranged from the expected questions about the Bible, Romans 1, Leviticus and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to basic questions about sexual activity and relationships. I told them about the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation which I had once convened in the UK and of how to the end of its 30 year life, absolute confidentiality had to be maintained.
To be able to ask questions for the first time in their lives was clearly a huge relief to every person present. After three hours together, we broke up just before 10pm having agreed the second meeting. I think a new group has come into being thanks to the ministry of Changing Attitude in Kenya than is going to grow in numbers and have a long life.
Yet again, we discover the truth of the numbers of LGBTI people in Africa, Christians who in the case of these men, have waited all their lives for an opportunity to meet and talk about their feelings and identity. All had experienced judgement and condemnation by the Church.
At the beginning of the day, before driving to meeting John Makokha, Michael had taken me to meet an old friend of his with whom he had trained for the ministry, Canon Sam, Chaplain at the University of Nairobi. Canon Sam is a senior priest in the Church of Kenya. He is totally accepting and affirming of the presence of LGBTI people but found it hard to accept that it isn’t easy for a heterosexual to empathise with the experience of someone born with a different sexual or gender identity and of the isolation and confusion that can be part of LGBTI experience. He wasn’t aware of any of the students he ministered to who might be LGBTI.
I have now been involved in wall to wall meetings each day with new groups and individuals, primarily with LGBTI people but also with a retired Archbishop and two senior clergy who are at ease with the presence of gay people in the Church. This undermines the arguments of those who say it is unAfrican, that we have no gays in Africa, and that the Church is never going to change its mind and accept LGBTI people. I am meeting people in Kenya who prove this simply isn’t true. I knew it wasn’t true, of course, but now I have further evidence from another Province.
This morning we are travelling to Machakos to meet the bishop, returning this evening to meet with a group of clergy from the Anglican Church of Kenya who are not gay but gay-affirming. I believe my mission here is not only assisting in the launch of new groups but in the evolution of a movement which is going to bring about further change in the Anglican Communion – an even greater awareness of the presence of LGBTI people among us in every Province.