Moonbase Alpha is Go!

Image by Romain Sublet from Pixabay

With thanks to David McKinlay, who co-wrote portions of this blog article.

“We are Mankind. We came from planet Earth, and we built this base, called Alpha, to learn more about space. But human error blasted this Moon out of the Earth’s orbit. And so, we have travelled the Universe searching for a place to live. Now, we can no longer live here, and we go to face an uncertain future on the planet that has nearly destroyed us. You, whoever you are, who find this empty vessel of Alpha, come and seek us out, if we still exist. Come and teach us all you know. Because, we have learned many things, but most of all, we have learned we still have much to learn.”
– Professor Victor Bergman (‘War Games‘)

Following the recent anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, another space anniversary takes place on 28 July – but this one is more subdued and less noteworthy in world history. It is actually a cultural anniversary rather than a scientific one.

The Age Green Guide 28 July 1975

On 28 July 1975, the TV series Space:1999 had its world debut on Channel HSV 7 in Melbourne, Australia. More episodes followed in the subsequent six months – with others following a year later, during the end-of-year non-ratings period – making this the first TV run of the show anywhere in the world.

If I recall correctly, Channel 7 began showing the series with a great publicity fanfare, which quickly declined into a muted, almost embarrassed, irregular, semi-weekly telecast, and I presume that this change was because of lower audience ratings than expected. Football or other (more popular?) programs often began to pre-empt weekly telecasts of Space:1999, which caused teenaged me to write a letter of outraged protest to ‘TV WEEK’ magazine complaining that: “In 55 weeks they [Channel 7] have shown 18 episodes”. (Oops, my inner nerd is showing!)

This disappointing response in Australia served as a refutation of the promise of the series, which boasted an extraordinarily exorbitant budget: “…the highest budget for an hour series [ITV] has ever committed in 20 years of production… the highest budget for a space science fiction series in the history of television.” (Heald, 1976, 22); while Anderson historian Chris Bentley estimates the budget for the first season at £3 million, or £125,000 per episode – part funded by RAI from Italy (Bentley, 2003, 125).

Possibly because of its high-quality production values, the series has enjoyed a small but loyal fan following over the last five decades. I even recall in the 1990s there was ‘Gaybase Alpha’, a LGBT+ fan club for the series over the Internet (although I find this puzzling because no character in the show was ever LGBT+). Space: 1999 conventions and fan clubs continue to operate in Europe – perhaps reflective of the series’ Anglo-Italian roots.

The Human Adventure

Series co-creator Gerry Anderson was a humanist with a long string of successful TV shows to his resume, including Thunderbirds, UFO and Captain Scarlet, all of which featured humans using their technological and inner resources to save others from dangers. Fellow humanists Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry helped to create and shaped popular TV science fiction (and accompanying attitudes) in the era of the space race. In exploring the human condition, Serling liked to challenge audiences with questions in the Twilight Zone; and Roddenberry liked to include characters in Star Trek or other adventures who were search of their creator (Nomad, Questor, Data, V’Ger, and others). In the post-Apollo world, Anderson liked to encourage philosophical reflection by role modelling humans batting against problems and striving to help their fellow human. His then-wife and production partner, Sylvia, worked with him to add many creative touches to enhance the programs and add depth to the humanity of many of their fictitious characters, particularly strong women.

Between them all, science fiction points the way to a future that is not necessarily a happy future, but a hopeful one.

Space: 1999 echoes the optimism of the 1960s and the artistic products of that time, especially in the visual arts, but it was full of visual effects to fill out hollow scripts. In one sense, it is a humanist series, but at the same time the technology dominates the product. The general thrust is about humanity, but this is sublimated to the production values. There is more humanity and drama in many episodes of U.F.O. (the previous Anderson series) than anything within Space: 1999 – episodes from UFO like A Question of Priorities or Confetti Check A-OK for example – where Straker has to make the agonising decisions about saving his son’s life or his marriage. By contrast, the characters in Space:1999 were so poorly written that critics often invoked the Anderson’s previous TV work with puppets by suggesting that the Space: 1999 characters “were so wooden, you could almost see the strings”.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

A Testament from Arkadia

“I have an incredible faith in the human spirit.” – John Koenig (‘War Games‘).

Bertolt Brecht is credited with observing that: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” The TV series Space:1999 echoed its era as a way of proposing a future borne of resilience and fortitude. The series was created in the afterglow of the Apollo Moon landings (hence the ubiquitous space craft in the series being named Eagles after the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar module, which landed Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon in 1969); and the show’s character Alan Carter and his team of astronauts used their fictitious Eagles to fight dangers, provide rescue, and transport others as deemed necessary or vital for survival. The 1970s were also an era of looking expectantly to the future in which it was envisaged that by the year 1999, there would be Hilton hotels in space, space colonies, and bases on the Moon and Mars.

The series was set in Moonbase Alpha, in the lunar crater Plato – and fittingly, the show explored philosophical as well as scientific ideas. The series boasted world-class quality in almost everything: actors, sets, costumes, music, stories, and special effects (including pre-CGI models).

The show was effective and inspiring in portraying the grandeur of the universe. Its philosophical themes abounded: one episode presented a cosmological entity within a black hole; another gave a space age reboot to the legend of Saint George and the Dragon (an episode that appears to have not been shown during the initial Australian TV run of the series, presumably due to the content of that episode being judged as unsuitable for children). The final episode of season 1 even explored our cosmological or metaphysical origins as a species, harking back to the mythology of ancient Greece in The Testament of Arkadia. The problem with such themes was trying to plausibly marry the scientific with the superstitious. But it was a noble attempt. Space: 1999 fans document the sentiment from the episode Dragon’s Domain:

Dr. Helena Russell: John, if we ever do find a new place to live, and if we succeed, we’re going to need a whole new mythology.

Cmdr. John Koenig: Tony Cellini and the Monster?

Dr. Helena Russell: George and the Dragon sounds pretty flat until you know the story.

Cmdr. John Koenig: This story is part of our history now, Helen. I think Tony will be very happy to know he put new life into an old myth.

Meanwhile, in our real world, as humans plan their return to the Moon aboard Artemis, what new mythology or inspiration will we create? We might learn from the example of Moonbase Commander John Koening who faced seemingly insurmountable difficulties in the opening episode of Space: 1999, and remarked that: “the giant leap for mankind is beginning to look like a stumble in the dark” – but then he and his astronauts spent the rest of the series working hard to disprove that utterance of human cynicism. We can’t get better role models than that.

Another Time, Another Place

Wrapper on Sunicrust bread advertising Space:1999 swap cards, Australia, 1975. Personal collection.

Space:1999 was undeniably a product of its time. Its sets and atmosphere were clearly influenced by the 1968 movie, 2001:A Space Odyssey, a cultural mentorship that might also have helped to inspire the name of the series. The 1970s pastel costumes and electric guitar theme tune; the female roles in need of discovering women’s liberation; Commander John Koenig’s tendency to alternate between seeking wise advice from a sage (Professor Bergman) and descending into fits of toxic masculine outrage as a form of leadership; all these reflect the times within which the series was made. The two lead actors (Martin Landau and Barbara Bain) were fresh from the US TV series Mission Impossible, and the opening credits of each episode of Space:1999 mirrored that other series in providing tantalising glimpses of what was coming up in “this episode”.

A major influence from the era was the original Star Trek TV series, telecast the decade before Space:1999 but achieving increasing fame during this time as a fan favourite in reruns. Apparently William Shatner (Captain Kirk in Star Trek) was at some point considered for the role of Commander Koenig in 1999, and the role untimately went to Martin Landau, who had once been considered for the role of Spock in Star Trek. The lead characters of Koenig, Bergman and Russell might be seen to be a parallel to the Star Trek triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Later, a resident alien (Maya) was introduced into Space:1999 season 2 to replace Bergman and to more fully flesh out the concept of a science officer (Spock template) being played by an alien character. But the most challenging connection between the two shows was the appointment of Fred Freiberger as Space: 1999 producer for Season 2, which was loudly trumpeted as a win for the series given that he had produced season 3 of the original Star Trek. Fans judged differently: Freiberger had produced the final season of the Trek, which they also judged to be the worst. I recall one Trek fan suggesting – perhaps somewhat unfairly – that Freiberger had killed Star Trek, and maybe he would do the same for Space: 1999. In any event, Freiberger’s season 2 of 1999 was so execrable that it did kill the series. I consider the two seasons of Space:1999 to comprise the British version (season 1) and the US version (season 2), and my comments about the show are confined to season 1 only. Others may disagree with my assessment of season 2, but either way, this dichotomy echoes the life and times of its creators.

In some aspects, Space 1999 has more in common with Doctor Who than with Star Trek. The latter was an expression of the American’s self-justification of colonisation, the ‘manifest destiny’ philosophy where they were justified in spreading their society behind current borders, like the Romans bringing civilisation to other lands. This is also the underlying tenet of the Western genre, which is understood to be Roddenberry’s motivation for having a western adventure set in space – or a ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’. Space: 1999 might be seen to have its origin in the H.G. Wells school of thought, most typically the traveler in The Time Machine finding excitement in exploration. Wells was a humanist liberal too and this was copied for the character of the Doctor. It might arguably also be seen in the character of Professor Victor Bergman within Space:1999, who was described in the Space: 1999 Writers’ Guide as ‘a 19th Century scientist-philosopher-humanist’ (Wood, 2014, ‘Personnel’). Actor Barry Morse (who played Bergman), a self-described ‘born-again agnostic’, credited series contributors such as Johnny Byrne, Chris Penfold, and George Bellak, with contributing to the humanist philosophy within the series (Wood, 2014, ‘Afterword’).

Age Green Guide 24 July 1975 (page 1)


Perhaps the biggest indicator of its era was its actual treatment of science fiction as a genre. The so-called ‘golden era’ of science fiction is often recalled as being the ‘pulp’ era, when some of its greatest writers rose to prominence on the back of variously penny-dreadful (or outstandingly good) pulp magazines. This led to the ingrained media attitude that sci fi was a B-grade, cheap pulp kiddie genre, perhaps as demonstrated by Lost In Space, a TV sensation in the 1960s that featured world-class actors, costumes and sets – but often woeful scripts. A decade later, Space:1999 followed suit, with its lavish production values in everything except the scripts themselves, not doing full justice to the characters or the scope of its stories. This is evidenced by the very first words to appear as an opening subtitle in the very first scene of the very first episode, which referred to the far side of the Moon as the ‘dark side’; this episode also set the scene for the entire series by featuring an implausible nuclear explosion that threw the Moon out of Earth orbit and forever beyond the Solar System, also virtually ignoring the realities of gravity and rocket engineering, orbital mechanics and planetary geology; along with the extremes of distance and cold that would impact the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha on their interstellar travels. Feedback from fans and critics alike panned the show for this problem from the start: “Many of the letters mention the same problem: the show lacks scientific accuracy” (Heald, 1976, 193).

One might even see an influence from 1974’s ‘Echo of Battle‘, an episode of the TV series Warship that was concurrent with the development of Space:1999; featuring a former German submariner coming to terms with his WW2 past – also reflected in the character of Ernst Queller, a German scientist in Space:1999 with an equally troublesome past (one might even ponder the perspective through which both German characters are assigned guilt, whereas nobody from Britain or anywhere else might have similar skeletons in their closet).

It is in fact when we move beyond such stereotypical notions that we find the truest potential of Space: 1999 and all sci fi. German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun – later the head rocket engineer who built NASA’s Saturn V rockets which landed men on the Moon in the 1960s – wrote as the President of the National Space Institute in praise of Space: 1999 during the series’ production:

“Presented on the mass medium of television, Space:1999 will stimulate the public interest in the potentials of space technology in such fields as energy, environment, natural resources, and food production.” (Heald, 1976, 199).

This explains the ongoing attraction of the series to legions of fans, both during its initial run and now, some decades later. I recall one school friend in the 1970s making jokes about computer scientist David Kano of Moonbase Alpha falling in love with his computer – but then that friend grew up to become an IT engineer himself. Inspiration can find many forms, even if the original source of inspiration is itself flawed.

The Moon from Mansfield (c) 2020 Kirsten Trecento (Used by permission).

Matter of Life and Death

It’s easy today, with the benefit of hindsight and fifty years of societal development, to be critical of a TV series that exhibited a white, heterosexual, British, male gaze – and to celebrate that we have hopefully evolved since those days. But the resilience of the embattled characters in Space:1999, along with their awe, puzzlement and determination to overcome every strange, unknown, cosmic vista and challenge that came their way, serves as an example to us all. Science and technology can help us fight our struggles, but humanity and inner wisdom are an integral part of what makes us human and gives us hope for the future. Space may be the frontier, but it is the human endeavour that brings meaning to our journey.

“We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” – Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders

Space: 1999 is dismissed somewhat in the English speaking world, possibly because it bears more than a little resemblance to European cinema which includes long moments of silence and thought rather than a moving narrative and action (the latter is an absolute requirement of American television, and explains the recalibration brought to the series by Freiberger for season 2). Though Space: 1999 has moments of action and visual excitement – usually on show in the title sequences – it’s a quieter series than you’d find in an American production, or even most UK-made TV series of the time.

Ultimately, this flawed product – like Gerry Anderson and Gene Roddenberry themselves – shines with the potential of humanist optimism and just a touch of naiveté. It reflects a reverence for arts and culture as a way to entertain, inspire and motivate us all towards an enlightened future. The words of Humanist Juneline Velonta seem pointedly pertinent: “Science and Technology may be the gateways to the moon and to the stars, but it is art that makes the journey worth it.”

Edited on 5 August 2023 to add references from Robert E Wood regarding humanism in the series, particlarly in relation to Victor Bergman and Barry Morse.


Chris Bentley, 2003. The Complete Gerry Anderson: the Authorised Episode Guide, London: Reynolds & Hearne (2nd edition).

Tim Heald, 1976. The Making of Space 1999, New York: Ballantine.

Juneline Velonta, 2021. The Role of Art in a Humanistic Society, Humanist Voices, 17 August.

Robert E. Wood, 2014. Destination: Moonbase Alpha, Prestatyn: Telos Publishing (ebook).

©2023 Geoff Allshorn & David McKinlay

From Fan Fiction to Future

Apollo 11 Saturn V on launch pad 39A, 1 July 1969. NASA Photo.

Was Neil Armstrong a Trekkie? Did ‘Wagon Train’ fan fiction help inspire us to go to the Moon? And might Luke Skywalker create a better future for humanity than Jesus?

Thirty years ago, I was privileged to interview someone who had just been selected for astronaut training by NASA. He spoke to me of how Star Trek and other sci fi from his childhood had inspired him to pursue a career in the stars.

A dozen years later, another astronaut – Neil Armstrong, no less – attended a Star Trek convention and spoke in praise of its inspirational impact:

“So, I’m hoping for my next command, to be given a Federation starship…

“…I am an engineer. And if I get that command, I want a chief engineering officer like Montgomery Scott. Because I know Scotty will get the job done and do it right. Even if I often hear him say, ‘But Captain, I dinna have enough time!’

“So from one old engineer to another, thanks, Scotty.”

21st July (Australia time) marks the anniversary of Armstrong (and Aldrin)’s landing on the Moon aboard the Apollo 11 lunar module, the Eagle – one of the most significant historical events in living memory. The 1969 flight of Apollo 11 (and the overall space program) was the culmination of dreams that began the first time we looked up into the skies. Perhaps Lucy – our distant ancestor who left her footprints in an African gully in prehistoric times – stumbled and fell to her death as she gazed distractedly upward at the Moon, where Armstrong would leave his own footprints some uncountable millennia later. Or so we can ponder – as perhaps Lucy pondered. Such is the stuff of which dreams and imaginings are made.

Such dreams fuel our passions – or reflect them. The aforementioned Star Trek TV series was marketed as a rebooted Wagon Train TV series set in space – pioneers and explorers travelling to the stars. And as Wagon Train fan fiction was being written over subsequent years, men were landing and walking on the Moon. Did such aspirational dreams fuel reality – or did they reflect it? In this vein, it is interesting to be mindful of the similarities (and differences) between the lunar travellers in the classic sci fi novel by Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon and the actual Apollo Moon program a century later.

“Ever since I saw the moon landing as a young teenager, I was determined I would go into space one day.” – Richard Branson

Artemis 1 Prelaunch, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

As humanity prepares to return to the Moon – a generation after Apollo – aboard the Artemis program, we can speculate about the cultural shift from naming a moonshot program after a mythical male God (Apollo) in the 1960s, to his mythical female counterpart (Artemis) in the 2020s. Like the space program itself, our astronaut selection and cultural norms have become more inclusive of diversity and much more. Artemis was not only a Moon goddess, but also deity connected to nature and the environment – suggesting that we are more open to understanding our place in the cosmos within a perspective of respecting our planet and its biosphere. As a species, we are changing, evolving… perhaps the communication technology spawned by Apollo has brought us closer together as a human family and as a participant in an active biosphere of organic, sentient life.

But the tendency to link the space program to mythology is itself changing in our culture. Our literature that most closely resembles and portrays space – science fiction – is a modern, interesting, and exciting form of secular story-telling. Its birth as a modern-day art form coincided with the height of the Apollo program, with the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey; and subsequent hard-science speculations (Contact, Interstellar, Gravity), which help us to glimpse the numinous in our cosmos.

Herein lies a warning and a challenge: we must be careful to remain creators of our dreams and not just consumers. Luke Skywalker and Doctor Who must not be only our imaginary heroes: they must be our role models in real life. We must follow their example to confront hardship and make the world a better place.

“For change to happen it does not only need to change opinions, there needs to be a way for the changed opinion to be turned into action.”
– Timothy Underwood, When Can Fiction Change the World?

Does sci fi inspire science, or does science inspire sci fi? We all need arts, music, writings and culture to inspire us and to fully optimise our human experience and potential. I would suggest that sci fi is a form of fan fiction, interacting with science and scientists to offer contributions (culturally and scientifically) to upcoming scientific, cultural and technological revolutions.

Meanwhile, ponder the Internet and IT or mobile phone technology that allows you to read this blog. You can thank Neil Armstrong and the army of Apollo engineers and scientists who led the scientific revolution that shaped your world today. Now, imagine how Artemis and its technology will change our culture, our technology, our dreams, and the next generation.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Report from Kenya

Image by James Wahome from Pixabay

Amidst street riots and police violence in Kenya, I have received these thoughts from an LGBT+ refugee friend in Nairobi, who must stay anonymous in order to protect his safety. Meanwhile, the rest of the world looks away. #BlackLivesMatter?

I have struggled to sleep the whole night. My mind has been an absorbing marketplace through the dark cold hours. Insomnia is a rare visitor to my comfortable bed. As blurry thoughts ate at me, I finally achieved some clarity at the hour of 6am and I rose to write.

I am certain a good chunk of us haven’t slept peacefully for a long time. Our brains buzz with gargantuan anxieties that we don’t tell nobody about. We manage to chuckle them out in memes and mates intrusive gossip and bullying each other in cyberspace; but in the dead of the night, when our thoughts come back home, we can barely withstand the heaviness we carry in these wretched bodies.

Last Wednesday we witnessed nationwide protests. An occurrence I haven’t experienced as a refugee in Kenya for 5 years of this nation probably since 2002 when Moi and KANU were ousted out of government. I was 14 and lived in Uganda.

It was disturbing to see what transpired in Mlolongo; a place in our vicinities Kitengela, a Nairobi suburb and hometown to many refugees including those with LGBTQIA profile .To appreciate the context, these were places that barely had any commotion during Post Election Violence in 2007. When things were too bad.

Nanyuki, Nyeri, Sondu, Kisumu, Mombasa and countless other places; people came out to express their rage at the high cost of living. Matatu operators disengaged their gears. Taxi drivers joined in to voice frustrations of low pay from their parent employers. The police were teargassed in their own lorries by their own canisters thrown back at them by angry youth. I mean, how bad can it get?

But what did President Ruto say in reaction? This is what’s been riling up my head lately. The son of Sugoi in all his intelligence made Raila the scapegoat. He still thinks we’re in the era of nusu mkate politics. He retaliated in classic white imperialist fashion just like his predecessors going back to Jomo Kenyatta; with a hard heart and threats.

Ruto is like that father who is loved by everybody else in the neighbourhood but is a monster at home. You have to admire the man’s choice of words when he speaks at international fora. His sleekness. His precision. His supposed wisdom. You almost fall in love with him. You want to proudly claim him as your President. But when he staggers back home, he throws up on his children with his drunkenness. He’s basically telling us we’re worth nothing.

Don’t think he is unaware of the nation’s current pressing concerns. That’s what narcissistic people do. They know what you’re complaining about but they’ll buy time by deflecting from the central issues and pretend not to know what’s hurting you.

And he knows religion has us on a chokehold. He’ll go to church and donate some wicked amount in a kikapu, spew a few bible verses, victimise himself and go back to drink top tier Kenyan tea at State House with his equally religiously excited wife. They’ve been in this business longer than we think, not just selling chicken. This is a game to them and the rest of the ruling class. For you and me our lives are stake, but those pigs are simply playing cards.

Back in 2005 after the Memorandum of Understanding between Raila and Kibaki went south, the latter began spearheading for a new constitution that Kenyan voters overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum. This is what led to the formation of ODM as we know it. The “Orange” in ODM was the symbol of “Voting NO” for the proposed new constitution that Kibaki’s government had put forward. The “YES Vote” was symbolised by “Banana”.

Kibaki panicked. He quickly reshuffled his cabinet to protect his political power leading to a further fall out with Raila who was gathering a strong opposition to face the government of the day in the next General Election that eventually led to the clashes.

Kofi Annan had to jet in to speak to two adults to get their act together. Two adults who you’d imagine had the heart for their burning country. As we hacked each other mercilessly on the roads and in our homes, these two lunatics were having high tea in enclosed boring leather infested rooms discussing how they’ll divide power. None of them willed to relent for the sake of the people in pain outside.

And even after all that bedlam, reports by the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission set up to look into PEV fell on deaf ears. Why? Because the people implicated were still in power, and they knew they could block justice from happening. The same precedence Ruto and Uhuru followed vying for the top office while still on ICC trial.

They shit on our faces all the time. But we’re so deeply traumatised and on complex levels to realise that we can no longer continue living in this house with this dispensation of governance. This vehement abuse has been rubbing our buttocks since the British decided to hand over the country to some guy they had coached to be Prime Minister in 1963, while our people celebrated all night that we had finally achieved independence.

These are the same people who claim to protect family values by rejecting LGBTQ+ rights without addressing the callous violence and indignity children undergo in the hands of people who ought to protect them. The same people purporting Kenya is a country of peace but issue conniving threats to citizen’s expression of their oppression; who turn State House, a public entity, into a cathedral for their religious masturbation, because their God is so important than everybody else’s. Afterall, that Man God helped them win the election.

I hate to use this example especially in this time; but the French Revolution that went on for a decade from 1789 aimed to create a sense of collective identity amongst the French people. Its main causes being social inequality, tax burdens, the rise of Bourgeoisie, the rise in cost of bread, inadequate leadership of Louis XV and Louis XVI, parliaments’ opposition to reforms, the extravagant lifestyle of the French Monarchy, growing economic and political crisis, among others.

I don’t know how our revolution will look like. Dr. Wandia Njoya screams to us everyday about the killing of our imagination and innovation by our education system. And must I add, our religious systems too.

As Adrienne Maree Brown wrote in her book Pleasure Activism: “Our radical imagination is a tool for decolonization, for reclaiming our right to shape our lived reality.”

I want to add these profound words by activist Julius Kamau that: “The only way out of the current Kenyan crises of poverty and hunger, is a revolution. A revolution of the mind, a revolution of ideas, a revolution of values.”

This is what me and other LGBTQ advocates, allies and friends the many abused, forsaken Kenyan children have been trying to communicate.

A revolution of the mind, a revolution of ideas, a revolution of values. You and I must deeply confront ourselves; to ponder how that looks like personally and communally. What old ideas must we let go of? What harmful cultures must we do away with? What systems of governance must we abandon? What violent ways of relating must we separate from? We must go to the roots. And I also know we are accustomed to violence to astronomical levels from birth to the point of lacking the cognitive tools to acknowledge it when it’s happening.

But then again I understand how difficult this is to do on an empty stomach and a robbed mind.

All rights returned to the contributor. This blog ©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Kakuma Pride 2023

The distance from the Stonewall Riots of Saturday 28 June 1969 to Kakuma Pride in Kenya on Monday 26 June 2023, some 54 years later, seems like a world apart across time and space – but sadly, they are not far enough apart in ways that really matter. Both involve the oppression of LGBT+ people who have been marginalised because of nationality, sexual identity and race. This says a lot about the world – and about all of us.

With thanks to the many people who offered testimony, photos or videos of the events depicted herein. Due to safety considerations, I cannot mention their names or show visual representations of the faces of participants.

For people in western nations, attendance in a Pride event can be a fun and safe way to participate within, or support, local LGBT+ communities. I have attended many such events, and my involvement in the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras some years ago – with its startling and invigorating involvement of people from many nations – showed that such events can provide supportive and safe spaces for LGBT+ people who live in cultures that are not so free as our own.

The Stonewall Inn today. Photo by Karly Jones on Unsplash

Much of the modern LGBT+ equality and Pride, came from queer civil rights activists a generation ago, who protested and ‘came out’and stood against the police brutality and societal/family violence, the political and religious hate speech, and the oppressively homophobic and heteronormative culture of their times. Most famously, the Stonewall Riots that began on 28 June 1969 helped to shape the modern push for LGBT+ rights. The cohorts who led those riots – drag queens and trans folk – are currently the target of hate, discrimination, and lies by phobic people across the western world. But the fight continues.

Meanwhile, when pondering the glam and the glitter, the fun and fabulosity, and the steamy sexuality and supportive solidarity of such events, it is perhaps no wonder that young LGBT+ people in oppressive cultures might also want to hold their own Pride, as a way of feeling self confidence and personal pride within societies that still reject, criminalise, imprison, or oppress them on a daily basis. Yet, for them, the battle continues on a much deeper level as they aspire for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In 2018, Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya was the site of what is believed to be the world’s first LGBT+ Pride Parade to take place in a refugee camp. Five years later, the Kakuma Pride 2023 organising committee issued a passionate and worthy statement that was ignored by the #UNHCR, by #KenyaPolice, the #CommonwealthSecretariat, the #EuropeanParliament, the #InternationalCriminalCourt, #BlackLivesMatter, and by the #BBC and #NBC and #AlJazeerah. Not even the #HumanRightsCampaign or #HumanRightsWatch – although Amnesty International has recently acknowledged that Kakuma is unsafe for LGBT+ refugees.

For historical and activist purposes, I am proud to document this declaration of queer independence on behalf of my friends involved in Kakuma Pride 2023:

As we celebrate our pride today, we stand before you as LGBTIQ asylum seekers who have experienced immense persecution and injustice. Our journey has been one of resilience and courage, but also one filled with pain and discrimination. Today, we want to shed light on the dire situation faced by many individuals like us, particularly in the context of signing of the Anti-Gay bill in Uganda.
The signing of this bill in Uganda marks a dark chapter in the history of human rights and equality. It not only perpetuates hate and discrimination but also exacerbates the struggles of individuals seeking refuge and protection. For years, the LGBTIQ community has faced persecution, violence, and marginalization, both within their home countries and in the refugee camps they escape to in search of safety.
As LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp, we have experienced firsthand the daily challenges and injustices we face. Despite the fundamental principle of refugee protection, many of us have not been recognized as refugees. This lack of recognition denies us access to work, education, scorlaships, free movement, marriage, legal protections among others. We are left vulnerable, exposed to further discrimination and abuse, our lives are totally miserable.
It is disheartening to witness the international community turning a blind eye to our plight. Our dreams of finding safety and acceptance are shattered when faced with the reality of being denied recognition as refugees. We are left in a state of perpetual limbo, our lives hanging in the balance with no certainty of a better future.

The Anti-Gay bill in Uganda further exacerbates the challenges faced by LGBTIQ individuals. It institutionalizes discrimination, promotes hatred, and perpetuates violence. It is a direct attack on our inherent rights as human beings, rights that should be universally protected and cherished. It is a step backward in the fight for equality and social justice.
We must not forget that human rights are not conditional. They are not privileges bestowed upon a select few; they are inherent to every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our struggles are not isolated; they are interconnected with the broader fight for human rights, equality, and freedom.
We implore all of you today, both within kenya and international to take a stand against the injustices faced by LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in kakuma refugee camp. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that no one is left behind, that no one is forced to endure persecution simply because of who they are or whom they love.
We must collectively urge governments and international organizations to recognize and protect the rights of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees. We must advocate for inclusive and comprehensive policies that foster an environment of acceptance and understanding. By doing so, we can create a world where every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can live without fear, prejudice, or discrimination.
Together, we have the power to bring about change. Let us join forces to dismantle the barriers that perpetuate hate and discrimination. Let us create a world where love triumphs over hatred, where acceptance replaces intolerance, and where justice prevails over injustice.
*Happy Pride to you all*

Thank you.

Kizza Charity, a transgender woman and LGBTQ refugee advocate in Kakuma, tells me:

“The day started like any other colourful normal days since all along we have been anxiously waiting for this to happen, it’s our day and happens once in a year. Folks came in bigger numbers well dressed in rainbow  colors, miming , modeling ,and for others were in kitchen busy preparing the best meals of the day. The theme of the of the day was, ‘Say No to Homophobia, Out and Proud’.”

She also confided why rainbow coloured umbrellas were so common among those who attended or participated: they had awaited the day like Christmas, and they knew that police might attack any rainbow flags; so they wore rainbow colours and carried rainbow umbrellas, which were equally out and proud. She states: “We didn’t like any trouble with police, that’s why we did it smart”.

Social media was filled with photos and videos of the Pride Kakuma event: happy, laughing young people, dignified and snappily-dressed trans women and drag queens, couples laughing and dancing and gyrating together joyfully, families and children watching the show and cheering and applauding. Stage decorations and rainbow flags and bunting and balloons, and the promise of a communal lunch for people who can be ordinarily denied food by an inadequate UNHCR rationing system that bullies and excludes LGBT+ refugees from collecting food. It did my heart good to see scenes of young LGBT+ people – so often denied dignity and respect and even life in Kenya – enjoying a sense of pride and community for just one encouraging day. Sadly, in order to protect the safety of those involved, I cannot share most of these joyous photos and videos with the world.

Due to the intervention of Kenya Police, it started to all go wrong. The event was stormed by truckloads of armed police, the decorated stage was destroyed, the flags were ripped down, and starving people had their food stolen. Arrests were made, and joyous crowds were intimidated and dispersed. Once again, this time in order to protect the safety of the victims, I am unable to share widely the photographic and video evidence of this stormtrooper brutality.

One lesbian connected to the Kakuma Pride 2023 organising committee sent me a report on what happened:


On June 26, 2023, a significant incident unfolded during a Pride ceremony organized by LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in Kakuma refugee camp. This report aims to provide an account of the events that transpired, focusing on the police intervention that resulted in the removal of decorations adorned with rainbow colors.

We organized a pride ceremony as a community of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees to celebrate our identities and advocate for our rights. The event was planned as a peaceful gathering to foster unity, raise awareness about the challenges we face as a vulnerable group, and to promote inclusivity and acceptance. Our theme was “Say no to homophobia”.

Kakuma Refugee Camp is formed of several blocks that add up to an estimate of twenty five blocks plus Kalobeye settlement which is made up of villages that contain LGBTIQ folks (asylum seekers and refugees), this pushed us to have several meetings spire headed by the current LGBTIQ elected committee to decide on where to have our event from, majority voted for Block 13 compound  hence our ceremony took place at Block 13 compound where we decorated the area with vibrant rainbow-colored flags, banners, and other symbolic elements representing the diverse LGBTIQ community. Participants, including asylum seekers, refugees, activists, and allies, gathered to share personal stories, speeches, engage in performances, and demonstrate solidarity.

During the pride ceremony, a contingent of police officers arrived at the scene in lorries and other police vehicles, the squad  moved towards was lead by the OCS Kakuma main police station, they were then approached by human rights defenders and amnesty International focal person in Kakuma however no genuine reason was for their coming was presented, they then proceeded to put down our simple stage  and other decorations adorned with rainbow colors, citing unspecified reasons for their actions. The sudden intervention by the police caused confusion, frustration, and distress among us, our rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly were violated and as normal human beings, everyone condemned the action even in their presence.

As LGBTIQ asylum seekers/refugees we expressed deep disappointment over the police intervention. Many viewed the removal of the rainbow decorations as an act of discrimination against the LGBTIQ community, undermining our right to celebrate and express our identities openly. The incident caused a significant disruption to the pride ceremony and left us feeling marginalized.


The events that transpired on June 26, 2023, during the LGBTIQ pride ceremony for asylum seekers and refugees in Kakuma resulted in the removal of decorations adorned with rainbow colors by the police. This incident sparked widespread controversy and drew attention to the ongoing struggles we face as LGBTIQ individuals seeking asylum and refugee in Kenya. It underscored the importance of promoting inclusivity, understanding, and respect for the rights of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. further more, investigations and dialogues are necessary to address the concerns we have raised as LGBTIQ community and ensure that similar incidents do not occur in the future. It is crucial to create an environment where all individuals can celebrate their identities and advocate for their rights without fear of discrimination or persecution.

Kizza/Charity also reported the arrival of a contingent of police trucks filled with officers who surrounded the event, disrupting celebrations and preventing the scheduled Pride March. She exposes the heartbreak of what began as a day of joy:

At exactly 1:00pm the Kenyan police stormed our Pride party before we even had lunch which our team had taken long hours preparing. Six police patrol vehicles arrived, and one big truck full of men in police uniform with batons, guns and tear gas tins. They didn’t ask anything from us. They just started demolishing our stage and our decorations in Block 13, and they even took our flags. When we tried to ask them questions.they never answered us. I guess their mission was to stop and demolish the party. That was the end of the party: tears and grief wrapped up our day.

A gay man in the camp tells me:

As the Pride celebrations went on, we saw police vehicles pass by in abnormal numbers. As we went on during the lunch hour we fell into an ambush of police trucks which had police officers with whips guns and tear gas. They stormed and dismantled the our celebration and flags torn down threatening to arrest us all if we didn’t vacate and call off any celebrations.

Another trans woman reveals that the violence spread beyond the police:

“I was going back home from the Pride event in the evening and I met a Sudanese gang. I didn’t manage to know how many were they in number, but they were many. They immediately started beating me, but I managed to run quickly as soon as they started beating me. But reaching home I found myself having a lot of pain on my face and the neck.”

Modern-day human rights abuse against LGBT+ Africans has a clear and distinct history. A colonial import, Christian and Islamic homophobia sought to ethnically cleanse long cultural traditions and history of LGBT+ communities across the continent. Ostensibly a protector of traditional family values, such religious practice actually destroys African families by alienating parents from children. By contrast, history shows that it was homophobia – not homosexuality – that was imported into Africa by Puritan Colonial Regimes – and the remnants of colonialism continue these African pogroms today against adults and babies.

Meanwhile, oppressed LGBT+ communities across Africa remain vibrant, largely underground and subversive, informed and self-educated – if somewhat in the closet. I have been introduced to their writings, poetry and music, and have been privileged to publish some of it on my blog. The remnants of colonialism continue to rob Africa of seeing and acknowledging some of its sensitive, creative, and diverse intellectuals and artists. But they will endure.

This is perhaps the most challenging legacy from Stonewall: that LGBT+ rights were triggered by a rebellion led by trans and drag folks – many of them non-white – who inspired privileged white queers to demand their civil rights. Today, those same racial and sexual minorities call upon those with privilege to ally themselves with fighting injustice. Do we heed their call?

Among the diverse queer communities in Kenya, another voice summarised the Pride events in Kenya with a sound of informed optimism:


Dear Folks,

As the clock ticks endlessly towards the end of the month of June, time has passed, and here we are ending the Pride Month of June 2023, the International Pride Month in the Rainbow Community. This is the month that marks the refusal by the patrons of the Stonewall gay bar in New York to bow to the brutality of the NYPD in 1969, thus triggering world-wide resistance to homophobia. But as we here know so well, and perhaps more than many, the battle is far from won, and may never be, as people around the world listen to the hatred spewed out of the mouths of homophobes, encouraged by politicians out for a quick vote, and bigoted religious leaders out to control the hearts and minds of those who follow them.

We have to believe that we will be free to love whom we wish, and that there is nothing shameful or perverted in being LGBTQ. We are not the children of Satan, as so many would have you believe, thus breaking up families, and turning parents on their children, children who should be seen as the most precious elements in their lives. Let us stand together, whatever our differences in the LGBTQIA+ community, for, united we stand, Divide We fall.

Africa has so much to offer the world: culture in the form of music, dance, the visual arts, and the intelligence of technology. It is a vibrant continent, but can only be truly so once it embraces the wonders of sexual diversity, and puts aside old perceived and unquestioned ideas concerning whom or what one may love and identify with.


I commend such wisdom from those whose fight continues on a daily basis.

Postcript: Information from Pride Kakuma was delayed following sad news, received the next day, of the death of an LGBT+ refugee in Nairobi. The whole LGBT community in Kenya – refugees and others – mourned the loss of their friend and comrade. I am aware that Edgar is not the only loss since Pride. RIP also to Jeremiah who was lost in Kakuma this week. This is the reality against which Pride Kakuma is working, and it behoves the rest of the world to confront this violence and homophobia.

To all the heroes of Kakuma, I say: Please be ‘out’ and proud of yourself – but only in ways that are safe. Be wise. Be careful. Be vigilant. Protect yourself and your rainbow family. We want you all to stay alive so you can change your world.

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There are many legitimate local fundraising efforts to assist LGBT+ refugees with food, medicine and shelter – such as this and this and this. You are invited to contribute, or to investigate further.

My own work includes being a volunteer Board member of Humanity in Need – Rainbow Refugees – please donate here to maybe save a life or alleviate genuine suffering, and I also invite you to investigate further and maybe join our efforts.

NOTE: This report may be subject to change as further information becomes available. I defer to the writings and wishes of those whose perspectives I seek to give a voice.

Updated 21 December 2023 to include a name at request of the individual concerned.

All rights returned to individual contributors. This blog ©2023 Geoff Allshorn