News / Africa

Youth Quietly Fight Stereotypes of Gay Kenyans

Seventh in a series on Rising African Stars

Kenya gay and lesbian activists conceal their identity at a demonstration at Uganda High Commission in Nairobi on February 10 to protest a wave of laws against homosexuality in African countries.
Kenya gay and lesbian activists conceal their identity at a demonstration at Uganda High Commission in Nairobi on February 10 to protest a wave of laws against homosexuality in African countries.
As Kenyan lawmakers consider a law further outlawing homosexual behavior and gay activism, Jane Wothaya, a long-time advocate for the rights of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) in Nairobi, is continuing her fight from Washington, D.C.

Even as African governments outlaw homosexuality in Uganda, Nigeria and elsewhere, Wothaya has joined "not very out and open" activists who work for human rights in her homeland.

Wothaya was frustrated by the negative publicity and stigma that surrounds the LGBT minority in the Kenyan media. So she joined the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya to correct what she characterizes as wrong perceptions about Kenyans who fit that description.

Wothaya is a lesbian who advocates for LGBT rights. She was named an Atlas Corps fellow and now works with the Human Rights Campaign on gay community issues in Washington, D.C.

Lesbian Jane Wothaya tries to change public perceptions of gay people. (Courtesy Jane Wothaya)Lesbian Jane Wothaya tries to change public perceptions of gay people. (Courtesy Jane Wothaya)
x
Lesbian Jane Wothaya tries to change public perceptions of gay people. (Courtesy Jane Wothaya)
Lesbian Jane Wothaya tries to change public perceptions of gay people. (Courtesy Jane Wothaya)
Raising public awareness about gender issues is different in Kenya, she told VOA News.

“I work with a group that is relatively not very out and open in Kenya,” said Wothaya, “because while Kenya is not exactly a very conservative country, it’s a very religious country.”

Clergy contribute to the prejudice against Kenyan LGBT community

Kenya’s understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity is minimal, Wothaya said.

There is a lot of prejudice based on the views of many of Kenya’s clergy and “there have been inciting statements made by politicians and a lot of misinformation and ignorance about issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said.

But it was social media and the mainstream press, radio and television that frustrated her the most.

“For example, we had radio stations that did call-in sessions where people would call and talk about the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya as though it is the devil or something," she said.

“And this was the kind of information that they were passing to their teenagers who were struggling to just get to know who they were and getting to discover what they were.”
 
Custom and tradition have perpetuated the problems for the gay community of Kenya. Wothaya described “the issue of living in a patriarchal society where gender role and gender norms are passed on for years and years, and so the prejudices and ignorance continue.”

Award-winning Kenya author Binyavanga Wainaina publicly declared his homosexuality in January in response to anti-gay movements in Uganda and NigeriaAward-winning Kenya author Binyavanga Wainaina publicly declared his homosexuality in January in response to anti-gay movements in Uganda and Nigeria
x
Award-winning Kenya author Binyavanga Wainaina publicly declared his homosexuality in January in response to anti-gay movements in Uganda and Nigeria
Award-winning Kenya author Binyavanga Wainaina publicly declared his homosexuality in January in response to anti-gay movements in Uganda and Nigeria
Wothaya and her coalition colleagues engage the Kenyan community in public discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation. They raise sensitivity and awareness to help the general  public to better understand and accept gay people.

The educational process is designed to get people to understand “that people don’t walk around with labels on their foreheads for you to see what their sexual orientation is. These people are your brothers, your sisters, your cousins, your employers and your employees.” 

Wothaya discusses human rights violations with authorities

The Kenya coalition also documents and addresses violations that result from “Draconian laws" that target the LGBT community. They take their concerns to police, policy makers and others.

Wothaya said harsh treatment by the police – and others – is partially rooted in a punitive law inherited from British colonialists that calls for anyone “indulging in unnatural acts” or “acts against the order of nature" to be prosecuted.

Punishment for these acts is seven to 14 years in jail, but Kenyan lawmakers are mulling tougher penalties. 

While the current Kenyan law is not as severe as the life sentence written into new legislation that President Yoweri Museveni of neighboring Uganda has signed, the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya is working to completely remove the lingering legacy of colonialism from Kenya’s legal system.

Hear Jane Wothaya discuss gay advocacy in Kenya
Hear Jane Wothaya discuss gay advocacy in Kenyai
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

Alaskans experiencing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more frequent and extensive wildfires, deteriorating glaciers, and swift shoreline erosion More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs