News / Africa

Kenyan Gays Battle Prejudice

Gays in Kenya struggle to overcome discrimination

Darren Taylor

Part 2 of a 5 part series: Gays in Africa
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

 

Greasy cheese, pasta and minced meat splatter onto a table in a shabby restaurant in Nairobi’s city center.  Charles Ichuliza is coughing and spluttering into his meal after being asked to give his views on homosexuals.

Abandoning a steaming plate of spaghetti and sauce, the young businessman seethes and says, “Gays! I hate them, I hate them; I hate them!  I really hate them.  Because Why?  God said a woman should marry a man, not a man to marry a man.  They will be punished for what they are doing.”

The city of Nairobi, home to some of East Africa’s most prominent gay rights organizations
The city of Nairobi, home to some of East Africa’s most prominent gay rights organizations


A few miles away, David Wathira drives his taxi through Nairobi’s Westlands suburb.  Music pounds from an old radio and a plastic figurine of a beatific, blonde, blue-eyed Jesus swings from a rear-view mirror.  Wathira’s adamant that homosexuality – which he constantly refers to as a “habit” – is “not the normal African way.”  

He says, “Kenyans, like all Africans, believe in relationships with people of the opposite sex.  Gays here are just outcasts.”  

Like Ichuliza, Wathira points to the Bible for justification for his views.

“You remember when it was this Sodom and Gomorrah?  Gays were finished by fire because God was angry with them,” he says, adding, “According to any culture, (homosexuality) is immoral.…  It shows that somebody is lacking something.”

Kenyan gay rights activist, Denis Nzioka, in his office in Nairobi. He says “homophobia” is spreading across Kenya
Kenyan gay rights activist, Denis Nzioka, in his office in Nairobi. He says “homophobia” is spreading across Kenya

Nancy Githui, a hairdresser in Kenya’s capital, says gay people have same-sex relationships “because they want to taste something different, to taste something funny.  What angers me is that they want others to follow in their footsteps.  That is why they call their sexual behavior natural, when it is actually totally unnatural.”

Discrimination in Kenya

Denis Nzioka lives in Nairobi and is one of East Africa’s most prominent gay rights activists.  He works for a variety of NGOs, including the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya and the Gay Activists Alliance of Africa.

Nzioka says opinions like those of Ichuliza, Wathira and Githui have always been popular in Kenya.  But – fueled by some politicians, religious leaders and “cultural bigots” – he says homophobia’s becoming “much more” common in the country.

Two women enjoy themselves in a gay-friendly nightclub in Nairobi … But activists say homosexuals in Kenya are under increasing threat
Two women enjoy themselves in a gay-friendly nightclub in Nairobi … But activists say homosexuals in Kenya are under increasing threat


“We have had (recent) cases of police beating up gay people.  We have had gay parties being raided by police, or any effeminate guy – maybe in a club – being thrown out by bouncers or the police being called to arrest this person,” Nzioka says.  “We also have cases of gay people being blackmailed.  I know of one well-known Kenyan who has paid blackmailers 200,000 Shillings (about US$ 2,500) to prevent him being exposed as a homosexual.”

According to Nzioka, some Kenyan health institutions are also homophobic.  “We’ve had cases of homosexuals being infected with anal and oral gonorrhea and going to the hospital where doctors refused to treat them,” he says.

He says homophobia is very prevalent in Kenya’s schools.  “We often hear of cases of gay students being discriminated against by fellow pupils and even teachers,” he says.  

And in Kenya’s streets, the insults persist.  “Homophobes shout at you, ‘You fag! Homo!   You prostitute!  You are evil; you are immoral.  You are worse than pigs; you are just dogs,” says Nzioka.

Nzioka says Kenya’s gays and lesbians are a tight community, finding “solidarity” with one another while many are ostracized by their families
Nzioka says Kenya’s gays and lesbians are a tight community, finding “solidarity” with one another while many are ostracized by their families


He says Kenyan street gangs often target gays.  “Some of these youths maybe throw stones at you (and) write (discriminatory) things on your (home’s) wall.  If you’re staying with your parents and you come out gay, your parents also suffer, your family suffers.”

But Nzioka also says families are the “main [source of] discrimination” against Kenya’s homosexuals.  “Many Kenyans are exposed as gays and then their families, on who they mostly depend for their material needs, reject them, leaving them destitute,” he says, adding that because of “isolation and loneliness,” many gay Kenyans abuse drugs and commit suicide.  

14-year jail sentence

Nzioka’s convinced Kenya’s law is one of the causes of widespread homophobia in the country.  “The law criminalizes anal sex.  If you’re found to have had it, you can be sent to jail for 14 years.…”

Many Kenyans say being gay is not part of their culture, and are convinced that their country’s homosexuals are influenced by mzungus, or white Europeans and Americans
Many Kenyans say being gay is not part of their culture, and are convinced that their country’s homosexuals are influenced by mzungus, or white Europeans and Americans

Kenyans found guilty of sodomy, he explains, are usually fined and not imprisoned.  But, adds Nzioka, “When you have a repressive law like that on the statute books, it fans the flames of hatred.  It makes people think it is fine to discriminate against homosexuals and even to kill and beat them.”

As in some other African countries, lesbianism is legal in Kenya.  Nzioka says this is because same-sex relationships between women don’t threaten the “alpha male culture in Kenya.  This country is so patriarchal.  Women, even if they are lesbians, are simply ignored.”

But in the recent past Kenyan police have arrested some lesbians for “public indecency” or “gross misconduct” – a strategy, says Nzioka, for the police to collect bribes.  “The cop will say, ‘You know what, there is no need of taking this to the court.  Just give me 5,000 or 10,000 (Kenya Shillings) and we’ll sort this out.’”

He says most of these women, “fearing public shame,” pay the bribes.  “So lesbianism in Kenya is covered up,” says Nzioka.  “That is one of the reasons why it has been so hard to collect statistics on women who have sex with women in Kenya and the HIV prevalence among this group.”

High-profile religious criticism

But it’s religion that Nzioka describes as the “number one” reason for anti-gay feeling in Kenya.  He explains that Christianity and Islam play “very big roles” in most Kenyan’s lives, with churches and religious leaders having “great power.”

Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who last year called for men and women having gay sex in the country to be arrested
Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who last year called for men and women having gay sex in the country to be arrested


“All the…religions condemn homosexuality in any form.…  So you have these preachers, these bishops, these televangelists, gaining massive followings by violently attacking homosexuals in their sermons,” Nzioka says.  

He tells how some Kenyan religious leaders have blamed the country’s gays for natural disasters, saying events like drought are God’s punishment for Kenyans having same-sex relationships.  Some Kenyan religious leaders have also organized public protests against gays.  

“Here we have actually had religious leaders visiting gay people’s homes and shouting to the public, ‘This is an evil homosexual house!’”, Nzioka exclaims.  “And it’s a bishop, it’s an imam, it’s a sheikh, and they’re the ones leading the people (against gays).  So religion is fueling homophobia, is instigating violence, is instigating discrimination.”

Sometimes, he says, Kenyan religious “zealots” are even more overt in their actions against the gay community.  Last year, police arrested an evangelical preacher with some grenades in his possession.  The suspect told police he intended to bomb the Gay and Lesbian Coalition’s office in Nairobi.

“He actually said that he was going to kill homosexuals.  And he was asked, for what reason?  (He replied) ‘Oh, God said; God said that homosexuals should be killed’.…  It’s very shocking, and it’s actually a bomb!  It’s not like it’s a knife or a stone.…” says Nzioka, continuing, “So now there’s constant paranoia here.  We are never sure when a parcel arrives that it is not a bomb.  When we leave the office, we are aware that we may be attacked at any time by some homophobic maniac.  It’s very, very scary.”

Religious movements and African religious leaders deny they’re inciting hate crimes against homosexuals.  They say they encourage an attitude of “love the sinner but hate the sin.”

‘It is against African tradition’

Nzioka says Kenyan politicians are also “whipping up emotions” against homosexuals.  Former president Daniel arap Moi has declared, “(Homosexuality) is against African tradition and biblical teachings.  I will not shy from warning Kenyans against this scourge.”

And late last year Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for the arrest of gays and lesbians found to be engaging in same-sex relations.

Nzioka says, “These statements by powerful politicians who are very respected in Kenya have the same effect as the statements made by religious leaders – they sanction attacks on gay people.”  

A Kenyan reads gay literature in a Nairobi suburb
A Kenyan reads gay literature in a Nairobi suburb

Many Kenyans, he explains, also regard homosexuality as an “erosion” of their culture as they see it as “western influence” and see local gays as “pawns” of gay rights groups in America and England.

“Most Kenyans insist that homosexuality never happened in their culture.  They’ll say things like, ‘I am a Kamba; Kambas never have that.’  Or, ‘I am Luo; I am Kikuyu; that is not in our culture,’” says Nzioka.  “And…you’re like – ‘Duh!  I am gay; you cannot say (homosexuality) is un-African and yet here I am – Kamba, I am African, and I am gay!’”

Death threats


Nzioka himself has received death threats as a result of his advocacy for gay rights.  But he refuses to quit his work.  “Even if they kill me, me I’m not worried.  I’m ready to die as a martyr,” he states.  Then he adds, laughing, “I just wish they’ll make it swift – maybe (by means of) a gun.  Not stones – a gun.  A gunshot to the heart - that’ll be good …”

He maintains he’ll continue to try to socialize with “even the most violent of homophobes, trying to convince them – through talking to them and laughing with them – that gay people are human beings, just like them.”  

Nzioka insists he won’t deviate from his principles - even if it means he one day pays the ultimate price.  “So be it,” he whispers.  “It’s in God’s hands,” he smiles.    

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid