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Kenyan artist organizes Africa Gay Rights Event in New York

A prominent US-based Kenyan artist staged a well-attended fund raiser in New York on Friday in support of gay rights in East Africa.

Painter Wangechi Mutu, the subject of a recent one-woman show at a major New York museum, was joined at the event by Kenyan writer Binyavinga Wainaina and US singer Solange, sister of global pop star Beyonce Knowles.

Several hundred people paid $100 (Sh 9,660) or more to attend the gathering at a Manhattan art gallery, which also featured an auction of donated art works.

Binyavanga-Wainaina
Kenyan writer Binyavinga Wainaina outside the New York art gallery where the Africa gay rights fund raiser took place on. PHOTO | KEVIN J KELLEY

The event specifically benefited Africa’s Out, a gay rights advocacy group founded by Ms Mutu, and the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (Uhai Eashri).

The Nairobi-based initiative promotes the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Kenyans, Ugandans, Tanzanians, Rwandans and Burundians.

Uhai Eashri is led by “people who speak truth to power and say, ‘You will not make me invisible,'” the group’s director, Wanja Muguongo, told attendees on Friday.

Identifying as gay “may not be a big deal in New York,” Ms Mutu said at the event, “but it’s a huge deal in many parts of the world.”

EXTREMELY DANGEROUS

“It can be extremely dangerous. You need people to protect you, to hold you — and that’s why we’re here.”

Ms Mutu said she had worried about the safety of her friend, Mr Wainaina, after he publicly declared himself gay last year. She pointed to anti-homosexual laws enacted in Uganda and other African countries.

“Did the bomb go off?” she asked in regard to Mr Wainaina’s coming out. “No, it’s fine — we’re OK. But now the work needs to continue.”

On his part, the Kenyan author and winner of the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing, spoke only briefly to the audience.

“I work for African and black people’s empowerment in this world,” Mr Wainaina said. “That’s why I came out.”

Ms Mutu said her New York-based Africa’s Out organisation “makes this issue visible, makes it beautiful, makes it interesting, makes it relevant for American minds and American people and also brings together the African community that includes the diaspora.”