Joji Baro (real name George Barasa) is a 25 year old singer and poet who lives in Nairobi. Joji was the subject of much controversy when he was unfortunately outed by Kenyan newspapers in 2011 after having a relationship with a priest. He is an activist who currently works at a LGBT+ homeless shelter in and is a Kenyan correspondent for Kuchu Times.
I had the opportunity to talk to Joji via Skype (he has a wonderful smile and an infectious laugh) we covered various topics, including life in Kenya and self care.
CDM – How would you describe yourself?
JB – I am a young, charming, emotional, social and down to earth gay man. [laughs]
Why is activism important to you?
First and foremost, I’m fighting for my rights and those of others like me. I could not have found my calling to serve my community without my personal experiences.
I would describe myself as a social media activist, currently my target audience all have access to the internet. Using social media as a tool of advocacy, enables me to reach a higher number of people that I would have otherwise not been able to connect with. I need social media to keep up with other people around the world.
Do you think Kenyan attitudes towards LGBT people have changed since you came out ten years ago?
I think that people’s opinions are mixed but unfortunately they are mostly negative. But not all negative is a negative. Sometimes that’s how people express their support without having to out themselves or to be seen to be associated with the LGBT+ community. When Binyavanga Wainaina came out he was applauded while I was shunned, so its relative.
What was it like growing up?
Growing up as a gay boy in Kenya is tough especially as Kenya is so conservative, gay men have no one to support them.
A gay child can be expelled from school, abandoned by family, be homeless, and grow up to be an adult without any qualifications to help him compete for opportunities. Nobody cares about gay men. You can easily end up with a juvenile record. I almost got arrested and taken to a juvenile detention centre called Bosco for simply being gay. My mother threatened me with that all the time until my relatives intervened.
A parent is seen as a failure for raising a gay child. In some cases there will be an intervention from the church and an exorcism will be performed. These experiences can take a toll on your physical and mental health.
I suffer with mental health problems but I cannot afford to see a doctor so, my Facebook page is like a diary. I write anything that happens in my life on there and it helps to ease the burden.
What advice would you give someone who is suffering with mental health issues?
Anyone who is LGBT+ and struggling with their mental health should always talk about it but if you feel isolated and have nobody to talk to, a good alternative is writing your thoughts down. Writing is a great medicine. I am currently writing my memoir, I am documenting absolutely everything that is happening. There are so many things that people don’t know about me that I would like to share.
What do you do as part of your self care routine?
I care about myself so much. Apart from writing I also sing. I write a song about an experience and then I sing about it, it gives me a great sense of freedom. I also go on short breaks away from the city and I use that time to be at peace with nature and meet new people. I always try to avoid places I feel insecure and where I’m likely to face being attacked.
What is your main focus? Music or Writing?
Music and poetry go hand in hand. I still work on music but recently I took a break from recording music and have shifted my focus to being a performing artist. I am also involved in production and music videos, I recently worked on Art Attack’s Same Love. Most of the content I am working on at the moment is more visual, I realised that my target audience are more receptive to videos and pictures. I have changed my approach from audio to video to create more of an impact.
What do you love about being Kenyan?
I have an opportunity to experience change, Kenya is developing quite quickly. I am proud that I was born right here and am experiencing the changes first hand, right before my eyes.
Kenya is a country with a rich history national heritages, museums, safaris and wonderful people. You cannot forget the wonderful cuisine! I love ”Nyama Choma”, it’s roasted beef served with maize flour, collard greens and kachumbari.
I think it is a good destination for gay couples, most of hotels are run by foreigners.
Why is it a good destination for gay couples?
Tourism does not know labels. To them it is business, for you its fun. People from diverse backgrounds visit Kenya and most of them come from places where being LGBT+ is legal. So if being gay does not hurt business then they are all for it, they can’t risk chasing LGBT+ people away.
We are more than half way through 2016, have you got any exciting plans for the rest of the year?
I plan on relocating somewhere so that I can start planning my future. I am currently single so I would also like to find someone special and settle down.
Do you prefer day or night?
Day, because, there is nothing that can happen that the light will fail to show.
Keep up to date with Joji via social media: