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June 26, 2012

US Embassy in Nairobi Hosts Gay Pride Event

by Roopa Gogineni

NAIROBI - On Tuesday, the U.S. embassy in Kenya's capital hosted a gay pride event, believed to be the first of its kind in the country.  The event is as part of the Obama administration’s policy to fight prejudice against lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

On Tuesday morning the embassy presented what is thought to be the first LGBT Pride celebration in Kenya, where homosexual acts are punishable by law.  Similar events are being held at U.S. embassies around the world.  The push to promote global LGBT rights follows several victories for gay rights advocates in the U.S. over the past year.

These include President Barack Obama’s decision to repeal "don’t ask, don’t tell" that kept gays from serving openly in the U.S. military, and his public endorsement of same-sex marriage earlier this month.

John Haynes, a public affairs officer at the U.S. embassy, introduced the event. "The U.S. government for its part has made it clear that the advancement of human rights for LGBT people is central to our human rights policies around the world and to the realization of our foreign policy goals," he said.

Last December in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the United Nations in honor of International Human Rights Day.  She called for a global consensus recognizing the human rights of LGBT citizens. 

"Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct, but in fact they are one and the same.  Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious tribal or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human and that is why gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights," said Clinton.
 
“Pride” events are celebrated this month to commemorate the Stonewall riots in New York City in late June of 1969, widely regarded as the beginning of the gay rights movement.

In the U.S., marches and public events promoting gay rights pack the month of June. In Nairobi the embassy opted for a small invite-only forum to introduce "Gay Pride" in Kenya. Concern surrounded public reaction to the event, as Kenyan culture frowns upon homosexuality.

In a 2011 human rights report, the U.S. State Department found that LGBT persons in Kenya are discriminated against, citing cases of police detention, evictions and anti-gay messaging.

Kate Kamunde, a Kenyan LGBT activist, described her experience. "I identify as a queer woman who is an activist.  If I had an option not to live a life that is free of being evicted from homes, facing all of these kinds of violations, if I had an option out of the situation that I live with as a lesbian, first and foremost as a woman, I would have already opted out.  There is no way I would choose to live a life that is totally discriminatory for me, one as a human being, as a woman and as a lesbian identifying individual.  If I had an option out I would definitely take it, but I don't have that option, this is who I am.  Think about that," she said. 

MaqC Gitau, general manager of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, believes Tuesday’s event, however quiet, is a milestone. "What makes this day stand out for us here in Kenya however is that more than anything else, it is about visibility," said Gitau.

The activists, allies, and diplomats present at the U.S. embassy Tuesday morning are part of a coalition fighting for LGBT rights in Kenya.