Kenya must recognise LGBT+ rights affect every citizen

by Njeri Gateru | National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
Monday, 5 November 2018 14:29 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Members of the anti-gay caucus chant slogans against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community as they march along the streets in Kenya's capital Nairobi

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Stigmatising homosexuality weakens the foundation of our democracy

Njeri Gateru is executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

In my time at the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, I’ve come across men fired from their jobs and kicked out of their houses, simply because of who they love. I’ve known women with HIV in same-sex relationships who are too scared to access health services that could save their lives.

I’ve comforted teenagers mentally broken by the daily verbal and violent homophobic attacks they face for just walking down the street. I’ve seen people forcibly thrown into jails to be harassed and raped for daring to live their lives openly as gay men.

And yes, I’ve known people who could take the pain no longer and took the only way out they saw possible. All because of an old colonial law that continues to stain our new and proud democracy.

All of these people are just like you. We want to love. We yearn for freedom. And we suffer when we’re denied the chance to live with dignity.

But amongst the ongoing darkness currently faced by the LGBT+ community in Kenya, a small glimmer of light has grown slightly brighter in recent weeks. In late October, Kenya’s High Court announced that next February it will deliver its ruling on whether the government can continue to deny fundamental human rights to millions of its citizens.

A positive ruling by the High Court – decriminalising consensual same-sex acts between adults – would at a stroke help alleviate the misery and suffering LGBT+ people face every day. But the benefits would be felt by ordinary Kenyans too. Because people often fail to realise that all Kenyans suffer from this law.

It hits us in our wallets. Studies showing that the economic cost of homophobia in Sub-Saharan Africa amounts to $5 billion. Think of all the businesses and tourists that are put off coming here. And the intellectual talent we lose each year. How many of the next big tech entrepreneurs, thought leaders, scientists or inventors emigrate because they feel persecuted in Kenya?

It also needlessly hurts the hospitals and health centres we all use. The mental and physical harm caused by state persecution stretches already thin resources. And importantly, stigmatising homosexuality means LGBT+ people often and understandably avoid treatment, often for serious conditions. 

Less tangibly, but no less important, it weakens the foundation of our democracy.

We are all rightly proud of our new constitution. But anyone who values the freedom it provides and the strong civil society that it helps protect should be concerned. Because if the president can declare that the human rights of LGBT+ Kenyans are a non-issue, what’s to stop him from doing the same to yours?

Just look at the government’s ongoing attempt to block the registration of the human rights NGO I work for. Or other ongoing attempts to defy the courts when it comes to the treatment of suspects. We’ll soon know whether the government’s appeal against our registration is successful or not.

Anything less than a positive result will chill the right to Freedom of Association in Kenya – make no mistake, the promise of a vibrant civil society is at risk if this happens.

The LGBT+ community is asking for nothing more than the chance to live without fear and to have the same opportunities, like everyone else.

We want to love and be loved. We want to be free from violence. Free from state persecution. And free from the abuse we face every day.

We want nothing less than equality for all Kenyans.

The president might think that the rights of LGBT+ people are of no importance to the people of Kenya, but ultimately, strengthening human rights strengthens them for everybody. And the president might find that very much is important to the people of Kenya.

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