African Lesbian Makes US History Part One

The same-sex lesbian couple are among a group of gay, lesbian, transgender, queer folk in New York making U. S. history by breaking social taboo, vowing to cement their lifelong commitment to each other through marriage, illegal in New York State before then.

Both Renee and Kelebohile, a native of the mountainous southern African country Lesotho, sustained a committed relationship for over 20 years which, Kelebohile admits, had its ups and downs, just like any other relationship. Getting married wasn’t a testament to mutual commitment in the face of uncertainty; it offered their relationship legal opportunities that honor their journey as a couple with a shared history based on twenty-plus years of rock solid, tried and tested love.

A few months following their intimate ceremony, this citizen journalist (Nick Mwaluko) spoke with both newlyweds during a candid interview discussing their decision to marry, its impact on their relationship as a lesbian couple of African extraction, and what marriage might mean to Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora:

Nick Mwaluko: What does marriage mean to you?

Kelebohile: It’s for people who love and are committed to one another. For people who honor one another. People who are ready to share their life together as long as they can. You shouldn’t be with someone if you’re not 100% happy. All the emotional stuff, personal and within the relationship, should pretty much be in place before you decide to marry.

Nick Mwaluko: What does marriage mean to you as an African lesbian?

Kelebohile: It’s one aspect of who I am. It doesn’t mean I will follow the traditional African ways like automatically change my last name or have a child, all of which wouldn’t make sense. We are two women so whose name should I take? Who is the father? What I appreciate about being a lesbian, an African lesbian who is married is that I don’t have

to do what my culture and tradition taught me to do just because I’m an African woman, why? Because I am an African lesbian and so the same rules don’t apply in the exact same way because it’s not the equivalent of what my culture or tradition defines as “marriage”. For one, I am married to a woman so who is the African man in this relationship? Eh, where’s Mr. African Romeo? In my marriage drama it’s Juliet plus Juliet! Number two, my wife Renee is of African descent as an African-American so which African tradition should I honor—mine, hers, or a combination? Third, my lesbian marriage is outlawed in most parts of Africa so which African tradition would work if our marriage is illegal? Even though my grandmother raised me to do certain things once I marry, I don’t have to do them as an African lesbian who is married. I must leave out some things because they don’t serve me or my understanding of what marriage is, of what a relationship is between me and my wife Renee.

Nick Mwaluko: Did marriage solidify your love?

Kelebohile: Solidify in the sense that I can make important, meaningful, legal decisions in a hospital, at funeral arrangements as her wife—finally. Before, I wasn’t allowed in the room, leave alone participate even though we shared a meaningful life together as lovers, life partners. Now, I am her woman, her wife, hers and she is mine. So, in that sense it solidified dgfev online casino something, otherwise I still loved her even before we got married.

Nick Mwaluko: You had two ceremonies. Can you describe them in detail and say why two rather than one wedding.

Kelebohile: Well, we didn’t plan on getting married on July 24, 2011. Bad timing. It was summer and we both love the fall, right Baby? Look how cute she is, Renee smiling at me.

Anyway, so we entered the lottery for fun, to try our luck.

Nick Mwaluko: What lottery?

Kelebohile: Look it up, how? Google.

According to online government sources, New York State issued a lottery for same-sex couples wanting to marry on July 24, 2011 to make U.S. history, but the lottery option, which included picking from 764 available slots, was expanded to include everyone, all 823 couples who applied to marry on that historic day.

Renee: We won—like everyone else. We were excited. We were making history and her/story. It’s as if our whole lives had come full-circle. We both went to Albany to advocate for Marriage Equality in 2009 and 2011, so our wedding day was proof Mene linkeistamme , niin saat 200€ talletus­bonuksen, 5 € ilmaista pelirahaa ja 10 ilmaiskierrosta. that when you fight hard for what you believe in, stay committed to the cause, one day you’ll win.

Kelebohile: We were there with other same-sex couples, trans folks, queers, on a long line inside Brooklyn’s Municipal Building getting married. Even if your friends couldn’t show up for your big day, you had your gay brothers, lesbian sisters, trans siblings—they were and are your queer family making the exact same statement about equality. Staff and public officials were supportive. The judge smiled. When we left the building, marriage license in hand plus a sign that read “Just Married”, it was a breakthrough historic moment for us.

Nick Mwaluko: What about the church ceremony?

Kelebohile: It was the highlight of my African spirituality because I grew up in a church and my love for God is pure no matter what people think of my sexual orientation. As a spiritual African woman of deep faith, I regularly attend Middle Collegiate Church where our Pastor, a fierce advocate for Marriage Equality, invited us to share our commitment along with two other gay male couples a week later, on July 31, 2011. Our families came to that ceremony where, in front of an affirming church community, three homosexual couples renewed their spiritual commitment through marriage. I praise God that my family and church family were able to witness my special love for my wife because God wants everyone to feel special in a house of worship.

Nick Mwaluko: “Special” to a point, right? Describe your family’s reaction.

Kelebohile: You know what a big, big, big deal African weddings are, especially celebrations the night before the big day, they’re enormous. My wedding wasn’t celebrated at all and I can’t help but think if I were marrying a man my family’s reaction would’ve been very different. My mother, my sister, they didn’t invite anyone, not even one friend. No food was made. No big fuss or big event was made of one of the biggest days in my life. Nobody volunteered to do anything. When my sister married her husband, it was a big, over-the-top wedding event for every family member plus African friends for what seemed like an eternity. Why not for me? The lesson is this: Don’t expect anything from family the moment you become LGBT. Family has expectations that I haven’t met as a lesbian, especially being an immigrant. They are so worried what others within the African immigrant community would think of them because of me that they forget I’m their daughter, sister who would do almost anything for family so why cater to a judgmental outsiders who know nothing of my personal life?

Nick Mwaluko: You said your marriage is illegal in most African countries yet champion its benefits. Is marriage the answer for Queer Africa?

Kelebohile: No. It’s an individual choice. But if you think by NOT getting married you’re going to make decisions for your partner—medical, AIDS—really, seriously think what might happen to you and yours in crisis.

Nick Mwaluko was born in Tanzania but raised mostly in neighboring Kenya, among other east African countries. Nick’s feature stories have been published in the Washington Times, Reuters News Agency, and most recently in the Huffington Post. Nick hates pronouns.


Skip to comment form

    • Zvandagona Muchitenda on 18 September, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Congratulations Kele & Renee, I am very proud of you for always striving to make a difference and your bravery as well as your outspokenness. You have clearly defined these cultural aspects and opinions of what marriage means to you, and what’s assumed to mean in the African culture. You freed yourself from the bondage of such inferiority which is supposed to make us LGBT Community ashamed and set us apart to those connotations. Continue shining courageous through your light and boldness by Standing Up and Speaking Out as an advocate and activist for such injustices that continue to paralyze with fear and making us feel as if we are “Unworthy of Love, Commitment, Privileges and many more”. They cite and abuse the African Culture stance to silence us when it s our turn to get what’s rightfully ours as human beings. “—is unAfrican, –our African culture doesn’t allow that ……you can’t do that because it’s not part of our African culture and so on! How long should we continue to be silent and abused like that? As African LGBT Community and Citizens of the World, we shall continue to support each other and diffuse these cultural boundaries that have been and continue to manipulate us because we are very Worthy of Everything. We refuse to be broken down, and defined by these myths! Well done Nick for such a powerful article that mirrors us as African LGBT Community and Cultural expectations!

      • Nick on 19 September, 2011 at 12:35 pm

      Dear Zvandagona Muchitenda:

      Thank you so much for taking time to read and post your comments. Everything you’ve written is true and worthy of the community. Thank God your warrior spirit and passionate cry against all that aims to destroy us was voiced. Thank you so much, my friend.

      • Nick on 19 September, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      My dear friend Zvandagona Muchitenda:

      Thank you so much for taking time to read and post your comments. Everything you’ve written is true and worthy of the community. Thank God your warrior spirit and passionate cry against all that aims to destroy us was voiced. Thank you so much, my friend.
      With much warmth,

      • Nick on 19 September, 2011 at 12:41 pm

      My dear friend Zvandagona Muchitenda:

      Thank you so much for taking time to read and post your comments. Everything you’ve written is true and worthy of the community. Thank God your warrior spirit and passionate cry against all that aims to destroy us was voiced. Thank you so much, my friend.

    • Nick on 14 September, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    thanks so much for taking time to read the article. What an amazing couple they are for sharing their lives, world, commitment with us–Kele and Renee. The lens they offer make us re/examine all the things we take for granted–equality, significance, the law.
    Do you ever think their marriage will be legal in Africa? Having lived there for a very long time, what do you think would be needed for Queer Africa to come into being here and on the continent?

    • Amy Swiatek on 14 September, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Nick, thank you for the article/interview. The chronicling of the marriage of these two women as African and African-American was very insightful on a number of levels and captured their joy and pain. I wish them all the blessings in their journey…and marriage. Look forward to more articles from you – Asante sana. -Amy

      • kelebohile nkhereanye on 16 September, 2011 at 8:51 am

      Thank you! We are doing our part and asking the divine for guidance to do what is right for us, as well as our communities. We need your positive energy to continue working and doing what is just.

      Peace and blessings, kele

    • kelebohile nkhereanye on 14 September, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Thank for the work you are doing.

      • Nick on 14 September, 2011 at 3:09 pm

      Thank you for sharing your life with us, Kele. It is very, very brave and generous of you and yours.


    • Tampose on 13 September, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Oh my God! this is amazing, good luck to you sister we still love you

      • Nick on 14 September, 2011 at 6:46 am

      Dear Tampose:
      Thank you for extending your best wishes to Kele and Renee as they journey towards a deeper and deeper commitment in their marriage. Let’s hope the next step is the most obvious step: that their marriage is recognized, accepted (rather than tolerated) in their homeland, on the African continent.

      Thank you so much for taking time to read the article, Tampose.


    • D on 13 September, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Great piece, NIck. Write more so that I can read more of your queer centric work!

      • Nick on 14 September, 2011 at 6:42 am

      Dear D,
      Thanks so much for taking time to read the very genuine journey Kele and Renee have faced and continue to face in a world that challenges the very solid foundation of their love commitment. Their struggle, while embodied in the everyday language of “marriage”, is so much deeper and for this couple to extend their world to us, now that is the beauty. Thank you so much for doing likewise. Their steps towards legalized marriage is no way near complete, but their verbal forceps are primed for the battle. Thank you again, D

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