She’s an ordained minister, she is vegan, she is a teetotaller and she is gay. With the International Day against Homophobia being celebrated this week, Weekly speaks to Kim Andersen, corporate governance adviser, about the attitude towards homosexuals in Mauritius and whether it has changed since she first arrived in the country 12 years ago.
This week we will be celebrating International Day against Homophobia. What kind of feelings does this date evoke?
It is a reminder of my feelings when I came out to myself because that was probably the most difficult thing of all. At the time, I was 26 and married, with two small children, deeply religious as my career started as an ordained minister in the Methodist church. I had to see a psychologist to come to terms with myself. Those are the kind of feelings that it evokes and being told on a daily basis that I am going to hell by all sorts of people from all sorts of religions or that I must have some kind of mental illness. These are the sorts of misconceptions that I think about today (Thursday – Ed.).
So how do you deal with that?
With love, understanding and a lot of patience. I don’t take anything personally.
What was your first experience as gay when you first came to Mauritius 12 years ago?
One of my first experiences was that the first day that I landed, the first lady I encountered asked me to never tell a living soul that I was gay or I would never work in this country again. She was the HR person of the company I came to work for.
How did that come about?
It was during a normal conversation. She asked me about what my husband did and I told her I did not have a husband. So she tendered the advice.
Which you obviously listened to!
(Laughs) No! In fact, I told everybody.
How did people react?
Twelve years ago, it was a very different Mauritius. I have never been one for public displays of affection but, on occasions, when I have held hands, I have been shouted at on the street. But for the most part, people have been very curious. People here who are gay, have asked me for advice. I have also counselled parents whose children are gay. One as young as 11. It’s easier to deal with if we keep in mind that there are many, many people in this country who are gay. One in four people are gay.
Where do you get these statistics from?
That’s the figure globally, so it should stand here too. And it’s difficult for many people here because they know that if they come out, they will be rejected by their family and that’s an impossible situation to be in in Mauritius. You know, how important family is, how small the community is, how we define ourselves culturally and you can see what a death sentence that can be economically, emotionally etc.
Is there a lot of discrimination against gays here from your experience?
Yes, I lost a contract once from a very, very big company because the CEO found out I was gay and he was a religious man. So I have lost money because of it. But that being said, it’s a lot better than it was 12 years ago. Back then, if a woman said she was divorced, that was a big taboo, so you can imagine what being gay was. But when I brought my wife and children here, people saw that we were not from Mars, that we were a very normal family that did very normal things and I think it really helped a lot of people to see that this was our choice to live a married life. I did not choose to be gay, but I chose to live a very normal, decent, ethical and moral life.
Is it more complicated with a partner who is transgender?
Jasper was born Lorraine, in a female body, but has never identified as female, so she felt that she was displaced in a female body and identified as a straight male. In our family, we call him Jasper, or He as a pronoun. It’s difficult for me as a gay woman to be in a relationship with a person who sees herself as a straight male. So it’s been very difficult for Jasper. We have been in places where we have not felt safe, and we get scared a lot. In the beginning, that made Jasper afraid to leave the house. But I said we could not live like that, so now we just laugh about it. Others are not malicious but simply curious. For example, a little girl walked up to Jasper and asked ‘what are you?’ and Jasper said ‘I am a boy’ and the girl said ‘OK’. You can’t really blame people because if you look at Jasper, it is confusing. I refer to him as a ‘he’ but he is a ‘she’ in the university where it is official. At your book signing event on Saturday, the journalist asked for his name and, without hesitation, he replied that his name was Jasper Andersen. It has taken about six months for that fear to go. There is also this law that somehow it’s illegal – a law criminalising something you are and that is not going to change. Legislation like this is based on fear and people’s ignorance. I feel like telling people, “I am not trying to make you or your children gay, I don’t gamble, drink or smoke, we go to church, we are just boring, normal people going about our lives”.
How do you reconcile being gay with going to church?
Actually the Bible says only one thing about homosexuality, and that is that God gave his only son for it and whosoever believes in him will get eternal life. For God did not come to judge, but to save the world. I am the ‘whosoever believes in him’. For me, that ends the argument. Even the Quran speaks so much about love and community. Hinduism speaks about Karma. Should we not be focused on these instead?
It’s one thing to interpret these religious texts as you do but quite another to be accepted by those who decide who gets the love of God.
For me, being a Methodist, our church was the first to embrace inclusiveness. I am who I am and I feel loved by God. You live the life the way you want.
Do you understand why so many gays in this country don’t come out?
Yes I do. Religious expectation. Their expectations are man-made, not God-made. And then there is the cultural bias against gays as not being normal. For a ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’ marriage, you have to meet the right person from the right caste, family or educational background. When you break the norm, you become a pariah. However, it’s only when disrupting things that new things are born.
You talk about yourself as a practising Methodist, could you have practised as a minister in your church?
Yes, it’s accepted in our church; that’s why I am in the Methodist church, it’s not our right to judge.
Do people judge a lot in Mauritius?
Yes, but a lot of judging is done silently. I would rather people came up to my face and talked to me frankly. I prefer that to what I call the ‘paintbrush look’. (She quickly looked me up and down as an explanation.)
How is Jasper handling all this?
Jasper used to come and go. We had a long distance relationship for four years. Last time, I decided to surprise him and took him to Le Morne, and had to stop to get some drinks from a little tabagie and a man there started getting closer to us and staring with such malice. To this day, Jasper won’t even go to that area.
What is your advice to families who have gay children?
My advice to parents or family members of gay children. Do not think you or your loved one has done anything wrong to deserve this. Do not make this about you. Be understanding and loving. One cannot choose one’s orientation but you can choose your lifestyle. Raise your children with kindness and respect and they will not disappoint you.
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