What is in an ‘Unsent’ Letter?

Nelly Murugi Njeru, Safe Space Program Assistant | June 7, 2018

Has your therapist ever requested you to “Write a letter, vent your uncensored thoughts and don’t send it?”

This common exercise of the “unsent letter,” which we regularly use in our Safe Space Program in Kenya, is one of the most impactful therapeutic tools in advocating for more inclusive spaces for LGBTI persons. The magic of the unsent letter is in the “not sending it,” which empowers people to express their true feelings, to write anything that comes to their minds even if it is ridiculously over-the-top.

Premised on the fact that most homophobic tendencies start at home, we recently employed the letter writing concept during a sensitization forum for parents and guardians of LGBTI children.

It was very difficult to convince Joseph (pseudonym), whose son is gay, to attend the sensitization forum. When asked to state his expectations from the forum as part of the introductions, he appeared to be full of anger and frustration:

I still don’t understand why we are wasting time sitting here to talk about these impious children, mine has really violated my orders”

The introduction session was followed by a quiet and reflective session, a time to imagine a conversation with their family members who are LGBTI. The session was individualized, bringing out each participant’s thoughts and showing where they were at in relation to their loved one.

This is the letter that Joseph wrote to his son.

To my Son

Receive my greetings, hoping that you are doing fine wherever you are.

Son I realize what I have been telling you have not been pleasing to you. But let me tell you as your father, there is nothing you are going to inherit from me.

All my property distribution will go to my children who are not gays or lesbians

To hell with you

Sensitizations for parents and guardians for LGBTI children involve sharing information on sexual and gender non conformity, the diversity of humanity, the meaning of sexual orientations, the meaning of sex, gender diversity, and sharing testimonies in form of videos from a number of persons including a gay man, lesbian, intersex and trans person. The testimonies help the parents relate with the experiences they have had with their children.

The parents were also invited to share the challenges LGBTI persons face, and the challenges they face as families with their LGBTI children. They were asked to come up with a list of probable ways they can assist their children. The sessions also involved explaining the legal protection provisions for LGBTI persons available through the Kenya legal system, in Africa and other international treaties. At the end of the training, the participants were encouraged to form support groups.

When the session concluded, Joseph had this to say:

“I was really pained while writing the letter, but thanks to your outreach, I have learnt a lot and I have decided to have a conversation with my son”.  

Joseph is not alone, majority of the parents, guardians and family members at large have homophobic tendencies because they do not have sufficient information. The unsent letter is just one way that we continue to educate and engage the communities we serve, so that they can become more aware and appreciative of the diversity of humanity.