Saturday, June 5, 2010

Kenyan Coming Out Stories: "Creating Communities of Listeners"

A Research Project by Rev. Stephen R. Parelli and Jose Enrique Ortiz

"By presenting a gay self, an individual alters social reality by creating a community of listeners and thereby establishing the beginnings of a new gay-aware culture."

Research Question
From our sample of Kenyan coming out stories, to what degree is there the "creating [of] a community of listeners” (CCL) in Kenya in five different areas of society: civil government, church and seminary, boarding school, family, and friends?

The Importance of the Research Question
According to A. C. Liang, by creating a community of listeners (CCL) around the topic of one's gay self, the LGBT individual establishes the beginnings of a new gay-aware culture which alters social reality (ASR). See Figure 1.

Method, Participants, Setting and Related Activities
For four weeks in the summer of 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya, my partner Jose Ortiz and I, by invitation of a local HIV-AIDS education/prevention organization, conducted discussion groups with LGBT Kenyans. In our second story two-bedroom, suburban, gated community apartment, we recorded more than 30 coming out stories. Our apartment had become a virtual gay community center with people coming and going, at times, 14 hours a day. People signed up in advance for participation in discussion groups. In addition, mini-teaching sessions were conducted on the Bible and homosexuality, strategic organizational meetings were held, one for starting a Nairobi P-FLAG. Amazingly, one historic session with 18 LGBT people sharing their story with a leading religious leader from an influential and prominent main line denominational church in the city of Nairobi was miraculously orchestrated.

The private manicured grounds of the apartment complex included an outdoor pool with sauna and a grill and patio lounge area which was used to host a party for roughly 60 new-found friends at the end of our stay.

The 30 LGBT participants who agreed to be recorded were between the ages of 19 and 31. Most were college grads or attending college. All were gay except for three straight friends. All, for the most part, either at the time of the recording or formerly, could be characterized as religious or as deeply committed to their place of worship. Most had attended boarding school for primary and high school education.

After returning to our home in the Bronx, we transcribed the recordings into a manuscript of 74 pages. Our findings, as related to the research question, are presented here.

Data Collected
From the quotes that follow, we've tagged each excerpt as "creating a community of listeners" (potentially or in actuality) within one of five social areas: civil law, church and seminary, boarding school, friends, and family.

Some accounts are categorized as potentially creating a community of listeners (the gay self yet unpresented publically), while other accounts (the gay self actually presented publically) have, in reality, already created a community of listeners to some degree.

In some cases, individuals were forced to come out because they were found out. Others chose to come out. But whether by design or by default, the telling of one's story, feelings and thoughts establishes "the beginnings of a new gay-aware culture" which does, with time, "alter social reality."

To read the paper in full, click here.

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