Steven Monjenza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga united their love and lives last December in a traditional Malawian engagement ceremony. Now, less than six months later, the two men are facing a possible 14-year sentence in prison doing hard labor. Gay marriage is illegal in Malawi and the two men have been charged under Malawi colonial-era sodomy laws. Their fate will be decided on Tuesday, May 18, 2010.
The L Word star Mia Kirshner was in Malawi when it all went down and took note firsthand at how inhumanely the situation played out in the media across the globe. Of that fateful day and the events following, she says. "I was in Malawi when they were married. Pretty wild, huh? So I was witness. We were getting tested for Malaria or something crazy like that and I could see the front pages of the nation's and other newspapers - sort of reporting what had happened. It was almost like reading a comic book account of these two men being arrested because they were having a commitment ceremony according to Malawian custom. Two days later, they were arrested. "
Mia's organization, I Live Here, was formed in 2005 to provide urgent care to communities that have fallen through the cracks. Partnering with communities from around the world, I Live Here focuses on permaculture, art and education to build a sustainable future for its residents, according to the site's mission statement. Recently, Mia's L Word costar Jennifer Beals donated proceeds of her photographic memoir to different charities and I Live Here was among the recipients. The book, titled The L Word Book chronicled life behind-the-scenes on the set of The L Word.
I Live Here was put into jeopardy when Mia decided to publicly speak out against the atrocity in Malawi. "I knew that if I said something, especially being in Malawi, perhaps they'd shut down I Live Here and I wondered what I should do at that time," she says. "Someone once told me that when you live in Malawi, you are either the whistleblower or the person who just keeps quiet and does your work. It really got to the point where I just couldn't keep silent about this anymore. It was really gnawing at me and felt really uncharacteristic to me."
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Mia eventually decided to make her voice heard. She worked tirelessly with her I Live Here team to contact media outlets in the hopes of getting the story some airtime and press opportunities she says. "We basically called every news outlet that we could think of and just said, 'Hey, the ruling's on Tuesday. Can you guys run this story? Not my story, but the story?' I just want people to know what's happening there." Mia also wrote about her experiences and thoughts about this issue for The Huffington Post.
Feeling a social responsibility to draw attention to the cause that has ousted the two twenty-something men into a tailspin of legal jargon, Mia says, "Ultimately, I feel like I'm not doing anything wrong. Malawi is a democratic country and I am allowed to state my opinions. I am going to keep on talking because I love that country very much and I feel like the law can do much better than it is doing right now."
On whether or not she Mia considers the men's case a gay issue or a human rights issue she says, "Watching what happened with Proposition 8, I think when you call this issue a gay issue you polarize the community. To me, it's a human issue and it affects all of us. I think it's very important to keep this open to all communities because it is something that affects all of us. It's so maddening."