News / Africa

After Uganda, Kenya Gears Up for Gay Rights Debate

Kenyan gays, lesbians and others wear masks to preserve their anonymity as they stage a rare protest against Uganda's increasingly tough stance against homosexuality and in solidarity with their counterparts there, outside the Uganda High Commission in Nairobi, Feb. 10, 2014.
Kenyan gays, lesbians and others wear masks to preserve their anonymity as they stage a rare protest against Uganda's increasingly tough stance against homosexuality and in solidarity with their counterparts there, outside the Uganda High Commission in Nairobi, Feb. 10, 2014.
Gabe Joselow
Kenya could become the next battleground for gay rights as lawmakers plan to introduce a motion in parliament to compel authorities to more strongly enforce the country's anti-homosexual laws.  Gay rights activists say the pressure has already increased since neighboring Uganda passed a strict anti-gay law last month.

First-term member of parliament Irungu Kang'ata is leading a newly-formed caucus set to combat homosexuality in Kenya.

In an opening move, the lawmaker is requesting the ruling party to explain what measures the government is taking to uphold the current laws.

“The whole idea is, Kenya we do have anti-gay laws, they are there in our books, in our statutes.  The issue is about enforcement,” he said.

The existing laws in Kenya make consensual homosexual acts punishable by up to 14 years in prison.  No one yet has been convicted in the country, but activists say there are at least eight pending court cases.

The Kenyan caucus was formed during the debate about the anti-gay bill in Uganda that President Yoweri Museveni signed into law in February in defiance of Western pressure.  Now, being homosexual in Uganda can land you a life sentence.

Kang'ata said he would consider introducing new legislation to impose harsher penalties in Kenya if parliament determines the current laws were insufficient.  His advice to the gay community to avoid trouble?  Just keep quiet.

“Even me, you never know my sexual orientation do you?  But I do not go shouting how heterosexual or gay I am.  Keep it to yourself.  Keep it to yourself.  Once you come out, it is no longer a private issue, it is a public issue,” he said.

While Kang'ata enjoyed making philosophical arguments about the legal right to regulate sexual conduct, the pitch of his voice rising with his excitement, he also revealed he had a personal interest inspired by an unfaithful, bisexual ex-girlfriend.

“You see, research has shown that if you are gay, you are more times likely to cheat.  So the point is, I do know she is a cheater, that is a reality, and by the way, she is anti this legislation, this and my endeavors,” he said.

Whether broken hearts can compel parliament to act is yet to be seen.

But for National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in Kenya Director Eric Gitari, the crackdown is a harmful distraction from the country's political problems and a major violation of privacy.

“If we are going to look into the bedrooms of people and supervise what they are doing, what is going to stop the government from looking at our emails, hacking into them, from listening to our phone conversations, from looking at our bank accounts and checking our transactions," said Gitari. "Where is it going to stop?”

A renowned human rights lawyer, Gitari rejected the idea that the gay community should stay silent, insisting it was the politicians who have driven this issue into the open.  As a gay man, he said he often felt second-class.

“I feel that I am not getting my full citizenship.  There are things I want to do as a full citizen that I cannot do.  For example, I want to know that my expression of love does not have to be judged or limited by certain rules,” he said.

Independent activist Kenne Mwikya, who identifies as "queer," said the anti-gay sentiment in Kenya has been rising since the debate in Uganda came to a head last month, providing an opening for lawmakers take action.

“The mood of the country is just right for the likes of Irungu Kang'ata to decide that they should implement anti-gay policies or even enforce the current ones,” said Mwikya

Mwikya said the police have respected gay activists, providing space for public protests for instance, but he worried about threats of attacks from citizen groups against gay and lesbian organizations, citing specific warnings that offices could be raided.  There are also reports of gay people being evicted from their homes in Kenya, and others beaten up by mobs of motorcycle drivers in recent weeks.

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Comments
     
by: brian mwenda from: isiolo, kenya
March 16, 2014 3:32 PM
The communique by Gitari is a mere propaganda. Why debate on an issue that is wrong holistically and aganist nature? The government would never spy on you unless the state of the nation requires so. Am suprised he feels a second-class citizen being whatever he is. How i wish he felt more inferior. If you want any human rights applicable where you are concerned act humane! If i were to propose a right for these people, a rehabilitation center that doubles up as a maximum security prison would be the best offer...

by: sergei from: Russia
March 14, 2014 7:07 AM
British High Commission - vigilance! No woman - No Crime! New Colonial Act 2014

by: Wenceslaus Owuor from: Ndhiwa , south Nyanza
March 13, 2014 11:49 AM
I luv what the president of the republic of Uganda did.it shows the strength of a leader. May our president whom we elected as the best not mislead pple of God. Let Mr Kenyatta not change what had been there. Homosexuality should not be supported in The Holy Kenya

by: Wenceslaus Owuor from: Ndhiwa , south Nyanza
March 13, 2014 11:27 AM
Personally I strongly request the government to freely allow the supporters of anti- christian actions like the practising of gay to move to countries which allow such practices. Let's remain pple of God I beg.
In Response

by: Freddie H from: Amsterdam
March 22, 2014 10:11 PM
What? People of God? Ha, ha, ha, don't make me laugh. Your country, as well as that hell-hole Uganda is chockful of corruption, injustice toward women (notably massive rape), a health care situation as primitive as one can possibly imagine, (see e.g. this site: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/kenyas-doctors-protest-poor-state-health-care), murderous and uncontrollable gangs constantly disrupting public safety, etc, etc, etc. Just begin to take care of all these fundamentally important issues, before even contemplating any idiotic measures against gays. Africa itself is a big 'social wound' dripping with loads of pus. To tell you the truth I'm fully ashamed of my own African heritage and thank heavens to be able to live in Europe.

by: Anonymous
March 06, 2014 7:29 AM
Kenya, for your neibours stand by "FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY" am very sure that your not under 18years to make and decide for your countries fate.
We `Uganda' have chosen to give God all we have not to the loser `Devil'.
My advice "acept to stand on nidles and coal fire you won't burn"
Be blessed as you strengthen your laws.
In Response

by: Sambo Samwise from: Russia
March 06, 2014 11:40 PM
Totally agree. GO KENYA! We're cracking down on them in Russia, and its going well. Meanwhile, the west is weak!

by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
March 06, 2014 1:50 AM
Is gay bashing becoming the ultimate goal of achievement for rookie parliamentarians?
Look, Kenyan authority should be dealing urgently with ICC, poverty, health, jobs, terrorism and refugees.
Lawmakers have got no right to govern the actions of consenting adults behind closed doors.

by: Anthony Kalume from: Lewes,UK
March 05, 2014 11:51 PM
You do not have to be an animal to fight for animal rights!
Some people are Gay get over it.

by: Murad Kutay from: United Kingdom
March 05, 2014 10:35 PM
I would expect a country that has experienced discrimination on a national scale to know better, and I struggle to understand how people in positions of power can introduce polices that fuel hate crimes.

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