A night of celebration of Kenyan Queer Community: 5th Annual Upinde Awards
The grind is so real. When one says the words activism you conjure up images of protesting, fighting the system, being broke and being woke, and not necessarily in that order. It is not always the most dazzling of existences and couple that with doing it in the context of fighting for sexuality based rights on the continent which is a minefield of potential arbitrary arrests, government sanctioned homophobia and dodging all manner of legal and socio-political woes, as your context constantly pushes
Kenya is no different.
Although not on the international radar like its Ugandan cousin, Kenyans within the LGBTIQ space experience widespread discrimination and homophobia. This can be witnessed in instances such as the banning of a speed dating event geared at queer women which Ezekiel Mutua, CEO of the Kenya Film Classification Board termed a ‘girls only’ event a lesbian orgy or even the Kenyan courts ruling that forced anal exams as a mean of determining sexual orientation are legal there is a lot
This is why nights such as the 5th Annual Upinde Awards, held at the very snazzy Tribe Hotel in Nairobi, by NGHLRC add some much needed glamour and shine to the fight for LGBTIQ rights whilst honoring and recognizing the work done by those within the sector. The awards were attended by a whole host of colourful characters and people from bloggers, to artivists, from donors and human rights commissions. Among those present were Dr. Njoki Ngumi & Jim Chuchu of The Nest (who are doing phenomenal work in curating spaces and stories of queer folks), Aida Mbowa from None on Record, Brenda Wambui of Brainstorm Kenya, Rose Njenga of Suitable Designs (who makes queer friendly dope ass clothes-check out their IG of the same name), Barry Junker of the US Embassy, David Jourdan of the Norwegian Embassy, Andy Barnard :First Counsellor and the EU Delegation to Kenya.
The Upinde Awards Gala (formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Awards), is an annual event organized by NGLHRC which look to acknowledge the contribution of NGOs, LGBTIQ-GNC organizations, development partners, institutions, private sector and individuals in Kenya that have demonstrated outstanding efforts in creating an egalitarian, open and democratic Kenya through their core programs. So that no one is felt left out the also honour politicians, journalists, employers, business leaders, journalists and other allies who are committed to empowering and protecting LGBTIQ persons as well as advancing equality and social acceptance for all sexual and gender nonconforming persons in Kenya.
These awards are held by the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) is an independent human rights institution that was created to realize legal and policy reforms towards equality and full inclusion of sexual and gender minorities in Kenya. NGLHRC describes themselves as ‘a dedicated team of lawyers and justice defenders whose mission is to promote and protect the equality and inclusion of LGBTIQ persons and communities in Kenya, and advance their meaningful participation in society.’
Winners and categories
The theme of the awards was Innovative Activism and the honours given came in various categories.
Shujaa (Warrior) Award: The award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated immense acts of courage in their protection of the human rights of LGBTIQ persons.
Winner: Joyce Muthoni- They have been the core of community building and security response of LBQ womxn in Nairobi living in low income areas for the past 4 years. They have continuously elaborated their raw passion in activism and advocacy for LBQ womxn in areas of health, security and community building.
Chanzo Award (Young Human Rights Defender): Award recognising and appreciating the human rights work of young and upcoming human rights defenders and initiatives.
Winner: Team No Sleep Foundation – an organisation that exists to empower and boost the lives of LGBTI refugees in Kenya who are jobless. The group is made of LGBTIQ refugees and asylum seekers from Uganda.
Nguzo Award (Pillar of Support): Recognising funding partners, government agencies/departments, allies, family members, media, LGBTIQ individuals and institutions whose financial, technical and in-kind support has helped make significant contributions to the health, rights and wellbeing of LGBTIQ individuals in Kenya.
Winner: Josephine Anudo – is the mother of a queer human rights activist (Gigi Louisa) she has supported her daughters work extensively in national spaces by training religious leaders in collaboration with church world service, has participated in the Out and About documentary (that features parents who support their queer children in Kenya, Russia and Indonesia).
Ubunifu Award (Healing through Creativity): was presented to a person, organization, or platform that uses creativity as a site of activism whether through visual arts, storytelling, podcasting, blogging or other forms of media arts or communication.
Winner: Muthoni Ngige – an experienced counselor, she worked for the Solace Project which is a wellness and psychosocial support system for the LBQ Woxmn persons. Her healing work focuses on female and genderqueer bodies within the LGBTIQ spectrum.
Utumishi/Ushirikiano Award (Service and Partnership): This award honors innovative partnerships in service delivery and engagement within the LGBTIQ rights movement; recognising intersectional activism that positions Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression (SOGIE) within other social identities; builds bridges between LGBTIQ persons and other marginalized groups.
Winner: Rainbow Women of Kenya – The group is based in Mombasa Kenya, they work for the mainstreaming of LBQ Womxn into the larger frameworks in government. They are nominated for their extraordinary initiative “Pads for Girls”, which saw that schools were provided with sanitary pads for the girl child.
A night like this is important not only for visibility of the LGBTIQ community in the country but also to acknowledge the incredible, tiring and sometimes difficult work that activists within the country do. It is sometimes a long, arduous and treacherous journey and sometimes, once in awhile, those taking it need a pit stop in order to recharge and celebrate the journey so far.
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