In the vibrant heart of Nairobi’s creative scene, serendipity brought me face-to-face with a remarkable individual who was set to make history. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon at a local basketball game when I, intrigued by the buzz circulating within my mutual friend circle, was introduced to a vivacious force of nature–Emily Atieno.
As the first issue of Kenya’s groundbreaking queer magazine hit the stands, curiosity got the best of me. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to dive headfirst into the pages of an online publication that dared to challenge societal norms, advocate for inclusivity, and celebrate the kaleidoscope of voices within the LGBTQ+ community–DIVER-SITY MAGAZINE.
With the excitement of that first meeting at the basketball game still fresh in my memory, I embarked on a journey to explore the vision behind the magazine. The result? An engaging web story that unveils the heart, soul, and boundless creativity behind Kenya’s first queer magazine.
What inspired you to create a queer magazine in Kenya, and how did the idea for “Where We Are All Valid” come about? (Considering the anti-gay climate in Africa right now)?
The need to have a comprehensive LGBTQI representation in the mainstream media, documenting valid stories that relate to the queer community and informing them about developing news on matters that are affecting them directly and indirectly.
Many times the other media channels only talk a little about LGBTQI negative issues, but with DIVER-SITY, these issues shall be our main points of focus. The LGBTQ community individuals and the other sexual minorities usually feel ostracized, isolated, segregated and discriminated in representation, but here, they are all valid, hence the statement; ‘where we are all valid!’.
Why the name ‘DIVER-SITY’?
The world is diverse, meaning it comprises many variations and differences, in religion, culture, cuisines, fashion, basically everything, but most importantly, in sexuality and identities. At first, I wanted it to be called queer-ious, but I changed it to diversity so as to encourage people who would be afraid for obvious reasons to share the other name since it was quite bold to embrace it. The name therefore speaks for itself, we are not limited to specifics. The hyphen, makes one pause a little bit when pronouncing it, to let the word sink in!
Nice! If your magazine had a mascot, what would it be, and why?
Butterflies. They are a symbol of transformation, change, hope, faith and life. The metamorphosis cycle from the egg to the adult fly which has many different patterns that are unique, beautiful, and harmonious, also symbolizes rebirth, which relates to us LGBTQ+ individuals. From birth to growth, to realizing oneself, to coming out in any of the sexual identities, and to thriving and shining in our own different ways. In my perspective, the egg symbolizes someone before birth, the larvae represent the young stages of life and growth, and the pupa represents one’s closeted life, internal struggles and denials that many people don’t grossly see. The adult butterflies, which emerge in a diverse range of colours and patterns, represent the different sexual orientations and identities we have in the world. Isn’t it wonderful that one could either be a pink butterfly that could mean bisexuality, or the green and yellow butterfly that could mean pansexuality, or the striped black and white butterfly that could mean asexuality, for example? The different shades are all marvellous, attractive, significant, and, a wonder, because each is unique in their own way.
That’s deep….Share a sneak peek! What’s one exciting feature or story readers can look forward to in the upcoming issues that celebrate the diversity of the Kenyan LGBTQ+ community?
Individual queer stories, both locally and internationally. People who are going through challenges, people who have made remarkable achievements, people who inspire the queer community, and people who basically have a story to tell. Most people are forced to believe, especially in regions counties, or countries that purport to be religious, that one can’t make it in life when they identify as LGBTQI+. That they are cursed, and forever cast out. We are here to encourage and assure everyone that no matter what your orientation is, your dreams are valid and will come true if you work hard and smart towards them irrespective of what people say out there. Besides stories, there will be talent work in different categories, and fashion. For example in talent, I’m looking for a comic writer to create something with a story that relates to queer individuals, something we all can be looking out for in every issue.
In the spirit of inclusivity, if you could invite any LGBTQ+ icon, living or historical, for a coffee and a chat, who would it be and what’s the first question you’d ask them?
Ellen DeGeneres and Binyavanga Wainaina
I’d ask them to give us advice on how one can live their true self despite the challenges that we face as queer individuals.
What’s your vision for the magazine’s impact on the queer community in Kenya in the next five years?
I have a number, and they have been outlined in the concept of the magazine that is available on the website under ‘ABOUT’. To highlight them;
We aim to improve the representation and visibility of the LGBTQ+ community
Increase awareness and understanding of LGBTQ issues
Enhance access to comprehensive sexuality education amongst queers
Strengthened sense of community and empowerment
Facilitate dialogue and a positive attitude in society towards the LGBTQ community
If you could describe the essence of your magazine using a song, what would it be, and why did you choose it?
Lucky Dube’s (may his soul continue resting in eternal peace) song ‘SLEEPING DOGS’. He says;
“I am ready, to be happy, I have been down too long, it’s time to rise above it all. I put a big smile across my face as I walk down Joy Street, yeah. Follow me if you can, but leave all the burdens behind…
….I see two men in the streets, holding hands and kissing, the other one looks, the other one smiles, the other one blushes, and when the other one smiles, the other one blushes. I didn’t wanna know what’s going on, as long as they are happy….”
Lucky Dube has been one of my favourite artists ever since, long before I realized that particular lyric in his song, and even before knowing my sexuality. The intro of the song speaks to me considering the birth of the magazine, how I decided to go for it, rise above all and openly talk about matters queer considering the country we are in. It also speaks to everyone, especially the homophobic people, that love is love, and everyone deserves to be happy no matter who they are in love with. Just mind your business and stop caring about someone’s love choices!
Share a memorable or amusing behind-the-scenes moment from the magazine’s creation journey that you’d like to let your readers in on.
The story that Alpha narrated how they realized their sexuality at a young age, their first kiss with this girl they used to crush on so badly. It was humorous. Hearing someone open up about that to you is a privilege because it speaks nothing but trust and confidence towards you. It also shows how love illuminates and uplifts someone irrespective of who they choose to love.
Also when I was done interviewing TrishaGrey, we were sharing light moments about how I used to be homophobic sometimes back before I accepted my sexuality. They were like “okaaay, okay, look at you now” while softly laughing. It made me laugh a lot looking back at those times. But one thing I’ll carry with me always is what Trisha said is that “everyone has their own time”.
Imagine your magazine as a travel destination. What would be the top three attractions readers could explore within its pages?
Advocacy and news, individual stories and educational content.
Which activist or an ally that I would like to meet, locally and internationally?
Boniface Mwangi. I have met him before but in a different context. I would be honoured to meet him again as editor-in-chief of Diver-sity magazine and interview him on activism in Kenya. He is a true icon, one of the people I strongly celebrate and admire.
Viola Davis, everything about her speaks compassion and persistence in advocacy and activism on mental health issues, racism, black lives challenges and LGBTQ+ matters.
What’s your favourite part of being a magazine founder in the vibrant LGBTQ+ community of Kenya?
Reading widely so as to capture the information as true and as authentic as they are. Meeting and interacting with fellow queers and allies, working with various parties towards sensitization of the community and everyone about LGBTQ+ issues, important life issues and special topics that will be captured in the magazine.
Is there any kind of support you would like towards the full realization of the magazine’s objectives?
Yes. I would love the magazine to be free so as to achieve its full potential by being accessible to everyone. This is possible with funding so as to cover costs such as paying writers, photographers, logistics, website management etc. Currently, I’m funding everything by myself. I was lucky to have gotten some help from volunteers like you Muthoni Ngei, Sylvia Otieno, Fab Odhiambo and Ruth Ray for the first issue. My very brilliant brother Washington who is still doing his IT course solely worked on developing the website, uploading the articles and the magazine.
I would like to invite volunteers in any capacity; mentors, article writers, comic writers, photographers, publishers etc. to come on board.
Anyone who would like to donate office space, office furniture, utilities or anything else that would be beneficial to reach out to us. I would like to have an office with desks and people working on different issues, conducting interviews and doing all these magazine-related production activities, it’s for a better course.
I would like to have hard copies distributed to LGBTQ organizations and other relevant offices for guests to read while waiting in the reception area, and for the community individuals who would want to have such. So if you can print for us the magazines, we are eagerly waiting for you.
We encourage queers and allies to advertise their businesses with us so as to help in realizing this as well.
If there is some plight someone would want highlighted or a story someone would like to share, of their experiences, milestones and challenges, then they can contact us. All these can be documented anonymously on request.
Let’s not forget that this will create employment, especially for the LGBTQ+ community and allies.
I believe where there is a will, there is a way.
If you had to sum up the magazine’s mission in just three words, what would they be?
Advocate, Educate, Entertain.
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