“Ken” is an activist for the embattled and highly stigmatized gay and lesbian community in his native Kenya.
When he appears as a speaker at the erev Shabbat service on Friday, June 27, at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, he will be identified, for safety reasons, only by his alias.
Ken’s visit, timed to coincide with Gay Pride Month observances in June, was arranged by Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz, who will visit Kenya on an American Jewish World Service fellowship for eight days in August.
“Our goal is helping people around the world — not just Jewish people — in addressing lesbian, gay, and transgender equality; violence against women; and ending child marriage,” said Dantowitz, who has been volunteering for several years with the New York-based AJWS.
According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, homosexuality is “largely considered to be taboo and repugnant” to Kenya’s “cultural values and morality.” According to AJWS, “LGBT people’s rights are still frequently violated in towns and rural areas across Kenya.”
Ken is a founding member and currently the coordinator of an LGBT organization AJWS works with in Kenya.
According to his biography, he was raised in a rural, mountainous area of Kenya with “a very conservative value system.”
Despite his family’s poverty, he managed to graduate from high school and college, and worked as a high school teacher before becoming a full-time LGBT activist. He is coordinating his local campaign with AJWS representatives in Kenya.
Dantowitz said she has been a strong advocate of gay rights and same-sex marriage in New Jersey.
“There is still much more progress to be made in countries throughout the world and to bring equal rights for all people,” she said. “In some countries in Africa people can be killed for being homosexuals.
“There are things we can do here in America,” she added. “I think our work is going to be advocacy — connecting with our politicians and raising awareness. We have to make sure we are not complacent about things that are happening around the world. We can’t solve everything, but we can’t close our eyes. We need to stand up for justice and help other people. This is one place where we can help them.”