Why Gay Rights in Kenya are No Longer a Non-Issue

By George Gĩthĩnji Last updated on
Why Gay Rights in Kenya are No Longer a Non-Issue

A BBC podcast entitled “Modern Love” says that Kenya has 150,000 Grindr users. Grindr is a social network application where gay and bisexual persons interact and hook up. Kenya is among the countries in Africa leading with an active number of Grindr users.

150,000 people are not a small group that we can wish away just like that. It sheds a light on an issue that often draws controversy in Kenya. We have a group of people among us that is not heterosexual. This group of people faces a lot of discrimination and stigma, which makes it difficult for them to thrive, especially socially.

Gay and other queer groups face social stigma

This group of people is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer persons (LGBTQs). The LGBTQ is an umbrella of a diverse group of people who are not heterosexual or cisgender.

Kenya is largely a homophobic and transphobic society. Sexually queer persons face untold stigma and suffering from the society.

We hear horrific stories of corrective rape, which often target lesbian women. Corrective rape happens in the misguided notion that it will turn the victim into a heterosexual person. It results from prevailing gender stereotypes in the country.

Those who endorse corrective rape falsely think that it will ‘cure the sexuality’ of the victim. In some cases, corrective rape happens with the consent of the family.

LGBTQs also constantly face harassment and physical violence that results in actual bodily harm. In extreme cases, some LGBTQs have faced brutal murders because of their sexual orientation.

LGBTQs face eviction from their rented houses, work discrimination, and even discrimination by the law. Police officers routinely target gays, bisexual and closeted married men for extortion. They treat LQBTQ persons with brutality in police cells.

The police extortion often involves money. They use the law to promote the blackmail, hostility, and violence against LGBTQs. Some vigilante groups are also infamous with the murder of LGBTQs.

Some government agencies work with gay persons

Are gay rights really a non-issue for Kenyan government?

The Ministry of Health through former CS James Macharia acknowledges working with men who have sex with men (MSM). The Ministry provides them with healthcare services (preventive healthcare) such as condoms and Anti-Retroviral Drugs.

The ministry says that the existing punitive laws against MSM make access to health services difficult. The persons fear arrest and prosecution due to increased fear, stigma, discrimination and potential acts of violence. These negative repercussions result from the unfavourable Kenyan cultural environment for MSM.

As a result, the ministry called for wider sober debates among stakeholders on the whole issue of homosexuality. Men who have sex with men are more at risk of contracting HIV than any other population.

The Kenya National AIDS Strategic Plan commits to provide some services exclusive to the LGBT community. The National AIDS and STI Control Programme and the National Aids Control Council allow for LGBT advocates to inform the national HIV response.

How the Law discriminates against gay persons

Sections 162 to 165 of the Penal criminalize what they refer to as “unnatural offences” and “indecent practices between males”. Unnatural offences tie to sodomy while indecent practices between males tie to sex between males.

The penalty for unnatural offences is 14 years or 7 years in case of an attempt to engage in them. The indecent practices between males carry a punishment of five years.

In essence, that means that men who have sex with men risk a jail term. The BBC podcast “Modern Love” says the police investigated 600 cases of homosexuality between 2010 and 2014 alone.

Therefore, homosexual activity in Kenya is illegal. The Constitution also does not recognize gay marriage and defines marriage as between persons of the opposite sex (Article 45). Kenya would need a national referendum just to legalize gay marriage.

Criminalization of sodomy in essence means that anal sex, oral sex, and bestiality are illegal in Kenya.

Gay rights are no longer a non-issue

Dating and hook ups have become easier with the increased popularity of technology. The LGBTQ persons often find freedom online in social media and dating websites and apps. The popularity of dating apps in Kenya has made LGBT relationships, especially those for gays and lesbians, to thrive.

The experiences of LGBTQs are not entirely similar but they both face the same struggle towards recognition and equality. The gay and lesbian community, which happens to be the majority, often stands out above the other queer groups. Despite that, LGBTQs qualify as minority groups despite their lack of inclusion in the Kenyan constitution.

The government should step up and protect the rights of gay persons and other queer groups. They are Kenyan citizens in their own right. A citizen is the most important asset to the state. In the end, people also judge the government by the way it treats its minority groups.

When a government starts treating people differently, that habit starts to spread. ~Barack Obama

By refusing to support the rights of gay persons and other queer groups, the government promotes intolerance over freedom.

The High Court already allowed a gay lobby group’s registration. It shows that Kenya is not very far away from putting more weight on the gay issue. This extends to other queer groups. The first step towards doing this is decriminalizing homosexual activity and treating all queer groups with the dignity and respect they deserve.

South Africa has already set a precedent that Kenya can learn from.

George Gĩthĩnji is a political and social commentator. Twitter @EpikKenyan
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