The gay and lesbian communities now have an opportunity to tell their stories in their own way, thanks to a new joint initiative. Gay Kenya, Kenya’s only exclusive gay identifying men’s group and AFRA-Kenya, a lesbian, bisexual and trans women group, with the support of Internews has launched an online newspaper as part of the initiative.
The project saw 14 participants, drawn equally from Gay Kenya and AFRA Kenya undertake a one week journalism crash course at the Internews offices on I&M Building, Kenyatta Avenue.
Patrick Rukwaro, a trainer at Internews said the training would equip the trainees with basic journalism skills. “The training was very intense and compact. They were trained on writing, reporting, multimedia, recording, photography and any other emerging genres we thought were significant to ensure they write good stories.”
A member of AFRA Kenya who attended the training, said it offered her a chance to tell her story in her own words. Having suffered a homophobic attack from some young men in her neighborhood and possible attempted rape, her story was picked as one of the main stories in the soon to be launched website – freedominspeech.org
This story and others is what inspired Internews to engage Gay Kenya to highlight the human rights violations and challenges this minority group faces.
Internews Executive Director Ida Jooste said the project was part of Internews’ human rights project. “Our initial engagement with the gay community in Kenya was mainly on health issues like HIV and AIDS and research about men who have sex with men (MSM). There was no comprehensive reporting we could identify. When a chance came to engage human rights in a much broader and full way, we knew the gay and lesbian community, considered a minority, was a prime candidate to kick start this project. So far, the results are positive and the response very encouraging,” she said.
After the training, a website was launched that will carry the stories, photos and audios that the trainees came up with during their training. The website – freedominspeech.org – has been envisioned as news site for news and information on LGBT issues. It carries interactive and emerging links that will make it a one stop source for information on the gay and lesbian community.
Mark Irungu, a web developer from Internews, and one of the trainers said it was fulfilling and eye opening to work with the gay and lesbian community. He came up with the outlook and features of the website that adapts an online newspaper format while at the same time being making it gay friendly.
“This website is interactive and informative it is. Its layout is from the conversation I have had with the trainees and how they would wish the site to look like.”
When asked how the training was for both the trainers and trainees, Nixon, a member of Gay Kenya said he felt “comfortable” and “easy” and saw that there was a lot of misconceptions regarding how media houses and reporters handle gay persons. Margaret from AFRA Kenya concurs: “At first, there was that natural fear of what this may turn out to be. There was hardly any friction. The trainers were warm, friendly and open.”
Dorothy Otieno, from Internews said the training allowed her to interact with an oft misjudged and misunderstood community. She sees potential in the fruits of this project. “All the participants were attentive and their stories were heartwarming shocking and original. They opened up and shared so much that it surprised me that there can be so much below the surface. It’s these stories that we want them to tell and I am glad this chance is offered them.”
The trainees learned photography and recording audio. This enabled them to tell stories using photos and having audio that can be uploaded to the website. One of the tasks involved the trainees going out on the streets to take photos that could tell stories.
Gaundencia Awuor came back with the photo of a male couple holding the hands of a child. She said it showed the capability of gay couples to be good parents. Kinyanjui Muchiri, a seasoned photo journalist seems to agree. “That photo was natural, original and emotional. It showed a male couple with a child that simply spoke volumes. Clearly, it shows two things. One, potential for the trainees to be adept at what they have learned and secondly, the photos they take speak can tell stories which is what is fundamentally needed. They are fast learners.”
The training ended with a small party to launch the website with the stories that the trainees came up with as well as other news. “The site is colourful and features amazing. It’s definitely a news website and we hope it will be visited frequently from everywhere and we hope that is goes a long way in educating, informing and entertaining’ said Bernard Sakata, one of the website editors.