Probably one of the best known out gay people in Kenya, Denis Nzioka was described by the chairman of the Gay Kenya Trust as “a super-star communications officer.”
Behind the Mask’s Kenya Correspondent Melissa Wainaina recently interviewed Nzioka on his resignation from his Gay Kenya job and about his future plans in the LGBTI movement. Below are excerpts of the interview:
Tell us a little about your time at Gay Kenya
I have been an active member of Gay Kenya since 2007. That being said, I was an anonymous online member from as far back as 2005.
My work in Gay Kenya began in July 2010 and was an Assistant Media Liaison Officer and after a rebranding of the organisation took up the position of Communications Officer.
I knew from the beginning that this post of Communications Officer was a huge and central one. In the beginning, as with every neophyte, I threw myself in this work. I had big dreams and big ambitions about what could be achieved.
Secondly, within the Kenyan LGBT movement this post was crucial. It was (and still is) by default, almost like the Papacy. Everyone who occupies this role becomes the face and the person who represents others publicly. It’s both a dangerous and fulfilling job.
Over time there was a mixture of happy and sad times. I found it fulfilling that I could be able to articulate issues regarding gays with ease and fearlessly. Going to the media houses, doing interviews and having a tight schedule of meetings, interviews and conferences was really fulfilling despite the toil.
On the flip side it a dangerous job. I bore the responsibility of being the face of a community that is often discriminated and largely misunderstood. I walked on a tight rope and represented a real face in the LGBTI community. More internally, I had to represent Gay Kenya as an organisation and sometimes it was difficult especially when my personal views were misrepresented as the views of Gay Kenya.
How about appearing on radio and in newspapers? Were you nervous in anyway? Is there anything that stands out from any of these encounters?
I can remember my first appearance in the papers it was page three of one of Kenya’s leading newspapers. It was a full photo of me with my body piercings. It was a nervous moment. And scary. Never before had this sort of thing this seen. Usually any photos of gays or lesbians were always either blurred, posed by models or using assumed names. Most of the time there was simply no photo. But in this case I was willing to show my face and that in itself was unprecedented. I believe revealing my identity set the ball rolling for the gay community. It showed that we need not hide anymore.
From there on many media houses and stations called my phone non-stop asking for interviews and I was happy to oblige. One encounter however left a huge impression. An article about a sodomy case on-going in court which we had no clue about was featured. It was regarding a 43-year-old man who had allegedly sodomised a farm help and was in court for whatever reason the editor decided to put my photo alongside the story with a caption reading: ‘Advocates like Dennis Nzioka (they even got the spelling of my first name wrong), push for recognition of sodomy acts.’ Speak of misrepresentation and bad publicity.
All in all, I ultimately created a fine and filial rapport with most media houses and reporters and that in itself helped in ensuring that any issues that were written or reported on (about LGBT) were given the ‘OK’ by me since most of them usually send me the draft of their pieces and asked for clarifications, corrections or additions. This shows that I had become an authority.
OK, please tell us about your best and worst moments so far?
My best moment was the first anniversary issue of the Gay Kenya newsletter that I founded and successfully edited and published for over a year and this happens to be lasting legacy that I leave with Gay Kenya. Forever using emerging and innovative media, it was my fulfilling moment to see its one year issue (it’s a monthly issue) given that I wrote the articles, took the photos, edited and did the layout and published it single-handedly.
My worst moment? Well, let us say, leaving Gay Kenya. However, I have ceased being a member of staff but not as member. I still retain full membership with Gay Kenya. Here, my contributions, albeit secondary, will still be felt and appreciated.
So then we have to ask, why did you leave the Gay Kenya job and what are your future plans?
The reasons for leaving, despite frictions here and there, were mainly personal. I felt there was need to move on to other working environments and institutions that would challenge, as well as utilize my full potential. There were other secondary reasons like the want of appreciation as well as tense, heated and irreconcilable differences with the management.
Currently, I am taking a one month sabbatical to rest. During this time, I will be looking at the one or two options that have presented themselves and which I feel I may be good at. One is becoming a consultant and/or researcher on LGBT issues.
Secondly, I am also setting my eyes on the Kenyan sex workers movement, a nascent, yet un-voiced movement. Can this (sex workers) movement be given the space and chance to be open, vocal, blunt and courageous as I did for the gay men? Yes, it’s possible. One way I feel they can benefit and which I can gladly give my time and energy is the use of new, emerging and innovative media routes to write, tell and share their stories, lives and history.
However the above are not concrete. I am currently, while resting, looking for another job where I will bring a wealth of experience and multiple skills as well as savoir faire. I am hopeful that something will appear soon.
Do you see yourself as a Kenyan “gay celeb”?
(Laughs). Someone once told me, ‘You are the most prominent, influential, powerful and well-known gay man in Kenya.’ That is a huge responsibility. But I guess it comes with the job. However, what motivated me was not a dash for fame or power, rather the passion and enthusiasm to fight for rights of LGBT persons.
Recognition came to me from different quarters and persons. One prominent example is that Generation Kenya (www.generationkenya.co.ke) wrote to me and said they have identified me as ‘one of the most influential young Kenyan and opinion leader born after independence (1963) free from political affiliations.’
I have met many different people, been to different environments, seen different changes, but through it all one hat I wore was that of being a proud homosexual.