Fred Ochieng has sent a report of the court hearing which took place last Wednesday, 4 April, when Stella who was born intersex, was released until a further hearing on 18 May. Stella was given the name Michael by her parents at birth, thought they later accepted her choice to identify as female and to change her name to Stella. In the second part of this report, Fred has recorded Stella’s own account of her life. Stella had identified as Michael in her male identity when arrested and was interrogated in court as Michael. Fred used the male identity in writing his report. I have edited his account, changing this to Stella’s chosen, female identity.
Fred’s report of the court hearing
Yesterday our day was long. Dan, Rena from 3w , Irene who runs a program on football for rehabilitation all round Kenyan prisons and I went court for the court hearing of the case concerning Stella one of our own people, arbitrarily arrested and jailed on the grounds of defamation of character and pretence of sexuality.
Stella had resorted to use the pseudonym of Michael Ochieng Otieno at the prison and consequently at the court had to be referred to using the male identity she had adopted. The 17 year old Stella looked weak, hopeless and desperate at the court stand. She raised her arms up at the point of objection so that immediately the Kisumu Winam Residence Magistrate Court judge was through with reading the summons, Stella could get a chance and air out her grievances before the court for consideration.
Stella brought tears to the eyes of those in court when she was granted the opportunity to narrate her discomfort with her environment, her sexual orientation and her sexual outlook. She did not state categorically that she is intersex but said that it was as with God’s wishes and creation that he/she is like that. She described all this in a shrill voice making the Judge to be moved and inquiring about it from the crowd at the Court room.
Dan in sign of honour to the court raised his arm and was given an opportunity to elaborate. The judge later concluded that sexual orientation is just like religion, we are born with it and we discover it, hence it is not a basis for argument and we human beings have no control over it. The judge in his pre-ruling stated that the court awarded Stella a free bond and that the next determination of her case is schedule for 18th May 2012. She is now set free until she returns to court for the hearing on May 18th.
We helped process her bail sheet, and she was then taken to NYAWEK’S office in the company of Daniel, Rena, Irene and myself. At NYAWEK she bathed, took tea and was bought new clothes and slippers to wear. We let her relax for a couple of hours after which she began sharing her story with us. (NYAWEK is Nyanza Western Kenya LGBTI Coalition)
Stella informed us that she comes from Ahero, Nyando district within Kisumu county. She lost her parents at a young age. When she was young and her parents were still alive, knowing of her intersex status, and of the societal stereotypes that surround existing human diversities, particularly within the rural set up where was born and brought up, her parents bought her dresses and gave her feminine roles which she confesses she enjoyed. They generally treated her as a woman, going by the existence of two sexual organs within their child. Some community members viewed this as a curse. This is why the parents feared to disclose to anybody about her intersex condition, hence treating Michael as a female.
Unfortunately his parents passed away, which marked the end of her education. She now had to live with and under the custody of her grandmother who happened to be a widower and a devoted Anglican. The grandmother could not understand her and the way she was created, physically. She treated Stella as an outcast and every day in her presence could ask anyone, visitors included, whether the hermaphrodite condition of her grandchild could be cured through prayers or by an operation. At one point she asked Michael/Stella whether she would be really viable for marriage and would be able to bring her cows.
Life became tough and unbearable. After Stella had lost her 3 siblings, she was brought up in a family of five. She now has only a sister who also survived. After the burial of her most lovable brother who understood her, cared for and cared about her, Stella was left feeling hopeless. That marked her destiny and a turn around to look for a decent life where she could be independent and live without any stigma, earn some for himself, not knowing the unforeseen intolerable situation at her future place of work.
Michael admits that though he/she possess both male and female genitals, she identifies as a female. She enjoys performing feminine roles, wearing feminine outfits and contrary to the names given by her parents, Peter Ochieng, she prefers to be called Brenda Stella Achieng.
Stella left Ahero for Kisumu town for a job as a house girl/maid at Nyamasaria estate located just a few kilometres from Kisumu city central business district (CBD). At Perez’s house where she worked for almost 6 months she was known to her employer as Brenda, before the employer realized her intersex status. She worked for mama Perez with trust and diligence to such an extent that mama Perez referred to her as ‘my daughter’ and she fondly called her mum.
At the commencement of the seventh month she was outed by her employer’s kids as an intersex. Perez her employer could not tolerate it and instead reported the matter to Nyamasaria Police station where Stella was detained and taken to Winam Law Courts the following day accused of pretext/defamation of character.
She was then taken to Kodiaga remand prison where she had to spend 2 months before the hearing which took place yesterday. At the same law court she was acquitted on free bond at the mercy of the court and as a result she waits for the next hearing of the case and probably the final ruling. If she is found guilty she will be required to pay a fine of 20000ksh, (158UK pounds).
After the narration she was taken from NYARWEK’S office to KIPE for a medical check-up, treatment and psychological counselling to help her out of the traumatic situation she was subjected to – sexual harassment, stigma and discrimination. We resolved that she should stay with Rena from 3w until we work on the possible ways of making her realize self acceptance and general inclusion amongst various peers that she will come across.
With your prayers and support we got a break through to secure Stella’s release from prison. We humbly appeal for your continued support so that we may be successful in our endeavours to achieve sanity and a better lifestyle for Stella as it is always every single stride we make to improve LGBTI life in Kenya. It is not only an individual success but the entire sexual minority family’s success that we celebrate with joy and pride.