DIGNITY ON THE LINE

Gays vexed but not cowed in fight for space

While politicians term homosexuality a non-issue, courts refuse to decriminalise it and churches condemn it, gays feel strongly that it is their right to love who they want without discrimination

In Summary

• A section of LGBTQI people have been sexually and physically abused, yet they cannot report to the authorities because homosexuality is still a crime in Kenya

• Sexual abuse may cause mental wounds that, if unattended to, may lead to psychosomatic problems, affecting both mind and body

Homosexuality is still a crime in Kenya, with the constitution only recognising heterosexual relationships
Homosexuality is still a crime in Kenya, with the constitution only recognising heterosexual relationships
Image: FAITH MUTEGI

In the wake of a landmark ruling by a High Court upholding laws that criminalise homosexuality, the LGBTI+ community is disillusioned, seeking safe spaces for relief.

Three gay men in this predicament are wading through the storms of abuse, threats and torture from their family, friends and strangers.

On a cold Monday afternoon, Peter* (not his real name), 28, who is proudly homosexual, sits at his favourite spot, enjoying his evening beer after a long day at work. He is oblivious to the heated political scene but up to date with major human rights decisions affecting him made in Africa.

“Politics in Kenya never mutates, it’s the same old script, just a different day. However, our rights as the gay community are commonly assumed or ignored,” Peter said.

He noted how in the past, politicians have termed homosexuality as a non-issue rather than a human rights issue. Peter, who works in the hospitality industry, recounts how he was molested by a male family friend and a house help as a minor, an ordeal he is still recovering from.

“I trusted the man. Even after the ordeal, we still stayed in touch. It was only after I was old enough that I realised what he did to me,” Peter says, highlighting the intimate nature of the abuse. He wishes to see this man and talk to him, but they have since lost touch.

 
I have always known that I was different and I have always known that difference is not accepted in this world, so I always fight. I fight for my space with joy and pride, something that people are not happy about
Peter*, gay man

MOLESTED INNOCENCE

As a gay man in a country where homosexuality is illegal, Peter has scaled through life unhurt ever since the abuse, attributing this to the capitalistic nature of the society.

“People are too busy minding their own business to care that their neighbour is gay,” Peter said, adding that capitalism is a double-edged sword, as it also harbours all the corrupt. However, on the other side of town, gay men like Letoya Johnstone have not been so lucky.

Letoya, who lives in Kibera informal settlement, subscribes to the Catholic faith. Letoya was molested as a young boy, and recounting the ordeal still pains him.

“I was molested after high school. Every time I state this, especially among members of the gay community, most of them brush it off because most of them have gone through the same,” Letoya said.

He was recently evicted from his house in Kibera and constantly receives threats from neighbours for being gay. One neighbour even plotted to kill him in vain. Despite all this, Letoya is confident that his struggles are worthwhile because God is in control of his life.

COMING OUT

A challenge faced by most homosexuals is revealing their sexuality. For Peter, a lifetime of identifying as such made it no easier.

“I have always known that I was different and I have always known that difference is not accepted in this world, so I always fight. I fight for my space with joy and pride, something that people are not happy about,” he said. 

Coming out to his mother as a teenager was not easy. He even dated girls to make sure his mother would never know. He came out to his mom out of stress, on the verge of losing everything.

“She was confused, she still has her moments, but she has made peace with it,” Peter says. His mother is even aware of his past and current relationships. He adds that he has slept with women after coming out, out of curiosity.

However, for Paul*, 25, a gay man from Mombasa, sex was the only way he could make a living after he was kicked out by his parents for being gay. At the age of 16, Paul was a commercial sex worker in the streets of Mombasa.

Paul has, however, moved away from getting his clients on the streets to social platforms. He has been abused by multiple men for attributing female characteristics.

Paul has dedicated his time to fighting for the LGBTQI rights, which has landed him in trouble on multiple occasions. “I have been evicted from many houses, which double up as rescue centres. One landlord claimed I was running a brothel,” Paul said. Men have also attacked him, claiming that he deserved it for being gay.

Many members of the LGBTQI community prefer to conceal their identities for their security and the security of their loved ones
Many members of the LGBTQI community prefer to conceal their identities for their security and the security of their loved ones
Image: FAITH MUTEGI

MISUNDERSTOOD?

For Peter, Letoya, Paul, and Ishmael, homosexuality is not an act of sex or violence, but a feeling of love and attraction, a phenomenon the church, most Kenyans and the law does not understand. 

'COPING MECHANISM'

Julia Kagunda, a mental health specialist based in Nairobi, says even though there is no clear link between sexual abuse and sexuality, there is a possible connection in the choices people make.

Sexual abuse may cause mental wounds that, if unattended to, may lead to psychosomatic problems, affecting both mind and body, unlike physical abuse that has physical wounds as evidence. Julia says some people make certain decisions after abuse as a coping mechanism.

Pema Kenya executive director Ishmael Bahati says being gay is natural. "Ninety-five per cent of gay people are born gay and have no choice about it," he said.

He adds, however, that a small percentage have a choice of being gay or not for multiple reasons. The father of two has also received threats and evictions more than six times.

For Peter, Letoya, Paul, and Ishmael, homosexuality is not an act of sex or violence, but a feeling of love and attraction, a phenomenon the church, most Kenyans and the law does not understand. The constitution states that every adult has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex, based on the free consent of the parties.

Churches have also upheld their stance, only recognising the biblical definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Peter, however, argues that married men, too, defy the constitution and the church, constantly seeking sexual favours from gay men, some just for the thrill of it.

“Some married people are always looking for gay guys to live out an idea with. Women are attracted to me, too. I am always bouncing someone off my inbox,” Peter said.

“Dating in Kenya is easy,” he added. “There is a gay guy in every corner. The only risk is liking people who are closeted, which I don’t like. I am not interested in this at all.”  

Today, Peter lives a happy and quiet life around Lavington with his partner, happy to be in a monogamous relationship in which they both play an equal part. He seeks no approval from people, but he is willing to shed some light for the sake of other gay people who are experiencing discrimination and hate as a result of misinformation.

Paul promises to always fight for the rights of gay people so that one day, they can have the ability to walk into a police station and report any form of violation, a privilege they all currently do not enjoy.

 

Peter, Letoya and Paul desire to have families of their own and raise children legally or biologically, insisting that one cannot choose who they love. Even though keeping same-sex relations is punishable by 14 years in jail, all of them cite the paramount nature of love and promise to fight for it, no matter what is at stake.

Edited by Tom Jalio