NAIROBI, March 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kenya’s first gay music video - swiftly banned by the country’s film board - shows a well-toned young man, naked apart from his underpants, leaning over his tattooed male lover in bed.
Two pretty young women exchange kisses on a park bench, one putting a ring on the other’s wedding finger, as the vocalist sings: “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to.”
The song “Same Love” was originally recorded by American hip hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis during the 2012 campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Washington State.
A remix by Kenyan rap artist Art Attack set out to provoke similar debate in the conservative East African nation, where homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
“We expected that this will create controversy, we expected that a lot of people will talk about it but we didn’t expect the amount of publicity it has received,” Art Attack told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
“The erotic scenes were meant to show that these people also fall in love.”
Interest in the video has been fuelled by the Kenya Film Classification Board’s (KFCB) Feb. 23 decision to ban it and ask Google Kenya to take it down.
“The video currently circulating on YouTube consists of lyrics that strongly advocate for gay rights in Kenya, complete with graphic sexual scenes between people of the same gender, as well as depiction of nudity and pornography,” the board’s chief executive, Ezekiel Mutua, told a news conference.
The video remains online and has been watched on YouTube more than 120,000 times in three weeks.
The hashtag #KenyanGayVideo has been trending on Twitter, some people saying homosexuals should be beaten to death while others called for tolerance.
While the internet has raised the visibility of lesbians and gays and made it easier for them to connect, Art Attack is one of the first Kenyans to use it to campaign for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights.
His lyrics call for “a sex rights movement”, while the video intersperses romantic scenes with newspaper headlines such as “Homos are filthy”.
Homosexuality is taboo across Africa - only South Africa permits gay or lesbian marriage - and the persecution of gay people is rife, with religious leaders often inciting mob violence against them.
Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto said in 2015 there was “no room” for gays in Kenya.
The video also includes photos of writer Binyavanga Wainaina, one of the few openly gay Kenyans, Ugandan lesbian activist Kasha Nabagesera and South Africa’s late bisexual singer Brenda Fassie.
“Somebody has to stand and speak against what is going on,” said George Barasa, a gay rights activist who features in the video.
An actor re-enacts Barasa’s teenage suicide attempt in the video, collapsing on the floor beside a note saying: “Wish I wasn’t born this way”.
The use of art is an innovative form of advocacy that should be encouraged, said Anthony Oluoch, executive director of Gay Kenya Trust.
“KFCB is stifling our people’s creativity by refusing to let people see films and music videos that have a message,” he said.
“We are not advocating for war; we are just advocating for love and acceptance and allowing people to live their lives.”
Kenya’s film board is well known for its conservatism.
It also banned the award-winning 2014 film ‘Stories of Our Lives’, which dramatises the lives of gays and lesbians in Kenya, and the erotic 2015 film ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.
The board threatened to ban the streaming service Netflix in January, saying it threatened Kenya’s moral values and national security.
"This was my first song advocating for LGBT but it won't be my last," said Art Attack, who says he is straight. (Reporting by Anthony Langat, writing by Katy Migiro, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)