As the debate about sexuality and sexual rights in Kenya heats up, one personality is taking the discussion a step further as he vies for the country’s top position in the 2012 General election. Denis Nzioka is the PR and Media Communications officer for Gay Kenya as well as an avid blogger, writer and social commentator, and now Kenya’s first openly gay presidential candidate.
He started his career studying for the priesthood in a large Nairobi seminary, but while exploring questions within himself about his sexuality through his writing, blogging under the pen name Caritas Diablo, he found that he had a vocation within a vocation. Today he is one of the most vocal agitators for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexed (LGBTI) rights in Kenya. Only a few months after the UNHRC adopted a resolution on violence and discrimination against LGBTI people for the first time in its history, Denis has chosen to stand for those same rights in the most public office of a region that is not known for its tolerance of alternative sexuality. “Running for political office is a matter of pushing the boundaries; it’s a litmus test for Kenyan society. Can we overlook the fact that he doesn’t have a wife and family and look at his agenda … elect someone who does not fit the stereotype of what a politician should be? Can we move from petty politics to look at the person and what they bring to the table?”
From his humble beginnings at Martin Luther Primary School in Hamza Estate and later Aquinas Boy’s Secondary School, Denis, once touted as a high achiever, has continued to rise and today is being referred to as the most powerful gay man in Kenya. When asked why now, Denis responds in simple terms; “The gay community feels it’s time its issues were put on the forefront, and they’re keen to have representation, being openly gay is already a significant political statement.” The new Constitution enables all Kenyans access healthcare and ensures that they are free from discrimination violence. This includes people from the gay community. Denis’ platform in the next general election while presented on a unique platter seeks to serve the benefit of all Kenyans. His main election points are poverty eradication, access to education, and human rights. The new constitution will need to filter down to the common people and, if implemented in full, Kenya will change.
Denis has no trouble reconciling religious views with sexuality: “Sexuality is an inborn trait – it’s God given. Discriminating against someone for it is like chopping off the hand of a left handed person. It’s not something that can be helped. I am not a gay who’s Kenyan, I am a Kenyan who’s gay – I do believe God works in weird and mysterious ways and if he can make a donkey talk he can make a man gay. “Why would anyone choose a lifestyle that is so discriminated against? We have to be open to diversity. We have to be open to the possibility that people will not always fit the social constraints and it’s not for us to judge them or to discriminate against them. The reason why our society has so many issues with homosexuals is not because our sexual activity directly affects them but because women are still considered to be inferior. For a man to take on the role of a woman is so degrading so humiliating – because women are still seen as second rate. The gay rights movement will only be successful if the women’s movement is successful because then people won’t equate femininity with something negative.”
Speaking to a diverse youth, Denis advises that it’s time for the youth to take control of their society and that the only way to do that is by being proactive. “It is important that the youth make inroads in all these channels and take advantage of the opportunities that are afforded to them. By making a political block the you can come together and realize that they are the next people who will lead this county and that there is nothing they cannot do”. Denis states that for Kenya to progress the country needs to move away from all stereotypes as the stereotype becomes the quality by which you’re judged as a leader. We must own up to our mistakes. As a politician you must modify your behavior to up your credibility. “Be a visionary, don’t look at short term goals. Meet the people and sell your idea to them. Ask the people what it is they need. Changing peoples’ mentality and attitude takes years. Be that breath of fresh air! We can sell a different type of leader, one that is committed to this country.”