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

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Nigerians Await New President With High Hopes

When pomp and circumstance of inauguration end in Abuja, Buhari will sit down to the hard task of governing Nigeria More

India's Restrictions on Several NGOs Raise Concerns

Political analysts link recent clampdown on advocacy groups to report last year that said foreign-funded NGO’s negatively impact economic development 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs