By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com January 22 2014 8:37 PM ET
Binyavanga Wainaina, one of Kenya’s most prominent authors, has come out as gay, defying the increasingly antigay atmosphere in Africa.
Wainaina came out via a short story, “I Am a Homosexual, Mum,” published on his blog to coincide with his 43rd birthday Saturday, reports London newspaper The Guardian. Over the weekend he also tweeted, “Thank u Martin Kimani and June Arunga my closest peeps 4 hosting a surprise party of love 4 my birthday and coming out,” according to Kenya’s The Star. And for those confused about whether the story was fact or fiction, Wainaina tweeted, “I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy.” This week he also posted a six-part documentary, We Must Free Our Imaginations, on YouTube.
Wainaina has spent much of his adult life away from Kenya, largely in South Africa, and he has also been director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College in New York State. Last year he moved back to Kenya, where “he has been conscious of his comparative freedom in artistic circles in Nairobi and contrasted it with that of a gay friend, in the city of Kisumu in western Kenya, who died last month,” The Guardian notes. The friend was in danger of physical attacks due to his “mannerisms,” and his relatives were ejected from their church when they tried to hold a memorial service for him.
The author “said he would continue to travel to Nigeria, where gay and lesbian people face arrest and up to 14 years in prison under new legislation, and Uganda, where MPs have passed a bill imposing life sentences for homosexual acts,” the paper reports. Uganda’s president has vetoed that nation’s bill, but it could be revived.
“I’m a pan-Africanist; I belong to this continent,” Wainaina told The Guardian.
Wainaina’s books include the memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and the satirical essay collection How to Write About Africa. He founded the literary journal Kwani, and in 2002 he won the Caine Prize for African Writing.
Watch the first part of his documentary below.