By Lucinda Pepper, contributing writer
June is LGBTQI+* pride month in the U.S. and many countries around the world. Tens of millions of people will gather at pride parades and events. Celebrants will carry joy, grief, pain and courage while calling for equality for LGBTQI+ people.
LGBTQI+ pride is rooted in a foundation of defiance and resistance. Community members regularly face threats, violence and discrimination. People mobilizing against injustice creates more pride celebrations worldwide every year.
People mobilizing against injustice creates more pride celebrations worldwide every year.”
At CVT’s Nairobi, Kenya location, people who are part of both the refugee and the LGBTQI+ communities can find support to heal from torture, war trauma and from the traumas they experience simply by living as who they are within restrictive cultures. At CVT, we celebrate the survival, healing, resilience and persistence of our LGBTQI+ clients.
Participants in our six-week aftercare program come from countries including Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia and Zambia; slightly more than 1,000 LGBTQI+ refugees are currently in Kenya. Senior clinical advisor for mental health Dr. Paul Orieny noted that, “Aftercare sessions focus on unique issues that continue to impact LGBTQI+ survivors, such as reclaiming goodness, creating new meaning; living with continuous trauma due to their identities, dealing with rejection, healing from shame…and rediscovering [their] hope, goals and strengths.”
Our interdisciplinary team approach is unique among human rights organizations in Nairobi. CVT senior clinical staff train, support and co-facilitate with a team of LGBTQI+ identified peer facilitators; paraprofessional service providers with shared cultural identities who offer valuable support to clients. Peer facilitators receive coping and listening skills training, learn case management, and are trained in basic counseling, community mobilization and sensitization techniques and referral and follow-up processes.
People across history have expressed diverse sexualities, gender identities and family compositions. Transgender, gender non-conforming and LGBQ people have been around since the beginning of time. With colonization and religious fundamentalism come legislation and decrees stating certain expressions of human sexuality, gender and family creation are unnatural, unacceptable and therefore outlawed.
There are harsh consequences for breaking the law or living outside of dominant cultural norms. Paul shared about the horrifying violence our clients have survived, noting that legislation is often, “…used to justify a range of rights violations including harassment by police, dismissal from employment, denial of housing, education, and medical care; extortion, and blackmail.” He went on to say that, “Most LGBTQI+ individuals in Kenya have experienced verbal violence, taunts or threats. Repeated rape and forced heterosexual marriage are considered ‘cures.’ Physical violence is common and includes mob violence, beatings, stone throwing, lynching, rape and torture. LGBTQI+ individuals have been stripped naked by rioting mobs and set on fire. Many are forced to engage in sex work because no one will patronize their businesses or employ them.”
Peer facilitators have been CVT clients. They are deeply resilient folks who are a little further ahead on their own healing journeys, and who therefore have the skills, compassion and lived experience to light the way for clients. They work closely with program leaders throughout each six-week cycle, gaining clinical experience, strong self-worth and self-respect from providing critically important healing work.
Jepkemoi Kibet, clinical advisor for physiotherapy, shared this quote from a peer facilitator: “I have gained so much knowledge from the trainings and I have learned to be social (interacting with people) and I have improved on my confidence…I have also learned a lot through what the clients share in sessions, because they are going through what I go through in the community.” Some surprising benefits for peer facilitators, Jepkemoi offered, include enjoying being a part of clients’ advocacy teams, feeling respected by their employers and colleagues and feeling appreciated by the people they serve.
Clients who participated in the aftercare program have experienced relief of mental, emotional and physical pain and trauma symptoms.”
Clients who participated in the aftercare program have experienced relief of mental, emotional and physical pain and trauma symptoms. Paul noted that, “Participants are usually very engaged, contributing and sharing their experiences with the group…Our intake and discharge assessments also show lots of improvements in [their] symptoms.” Jepkemoi added that clients’ experiences include improved social connection and better or improved coping skills. Clients’ feelings of shame and guilt for being LGBTQI reduce and instead they start to appreciate themselves for being who they are; as a result, some of these clients get jobs.
Pride month is a celebration. Progress has cost human lives and peace of mind. People who are LGBTQIA+ just want to live authentically. Through our work in Nairobi, CVT has become a steward of the LGBTQI+ community and borne witness to profound healing. Clients and peer facilitators have in turn become sources of light and hope for others, and have forged new communities together.
In the spirit of solidarity, we invite you to imagine joining others to spread the light of hope for LGBTQIA+ people worldwide:
Beneath the dome of the night sky, you have gathered with untold numbers of people. On every side are people with shared life experiences. Resting in the companionable quiet, each holds an unlit taper of wax.
Darkness presses downward from the sky. In the center of the gathering, a match is struck.
A small flame flares defiantly into the night air. Over the lit taper, two pairs of eyes meet. Carefully, darkness is exchanged for light. Each person turns and offers the flames of their taper to another person.
Soon more tapers are lit: igniting a nucleus of connection, hope, and healing. Warmth and light spread out like sun rays from the gathering’s center. Breathing becomes a wave ebbing and flowing across the collective. In pain and joy, grief and celebration, we all are connected.
*Note: LGBTQIA+ is an acronym standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and allied/other communities of gender and sexual minorities.