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AFTER THAT COURT RULING

In solidarity with Kenya's LGBTQ

Decriminalisation of marginalised populations a sure-footed path to health access, HIV prevention and care.

In Summary

• The surprising, archaic legal judgment is a setback for the nation’s declared commitment to universal health coverage and ending HIV by 2030.

• Kenya has a record of attacks, including mob violence perpetuated against sexual minorities.

We in the LGBTQ movement in the global North express solidarity with our Kenyan brothers, sisters and other queers whose hopes were dashed last month upon the High Court’s ruling to uphold an outdated ban on same-sex acts.

Harkening back to British colonial rule, the 1885 penal code not only criminalised gay sex, but its legacy is compounded, as much of public opinion continues to pathologise LGBTQ communities as unnatural, foreign and undeserving of basic rights to, say, housing or health.

This most homophobic colonial heritage can be seen in HIV rates—Africa’s highest HIV-burdened countries neatly overlay with those settled by the British (eg, Botswana, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe).

Twisting the knife, the three-judge panel further asserted the existing law does not discourage LGBTQ people from seeking health services such as HIV care. Accordingly, this would mean queer communities are free to get screened and treated for STIs and HIV in clinics where dignity and respect are afforded to all.

The court’s false claim is all the more maddening given that decriminalisation of marginalised populations is a sure-footed path to health access, HIV prevention and care.

This most homophobic colonial heritage can be seen in HIV rates—Africa’s highest HIV-burdened countries neatly overlay with those settled by the British (eg, Botswana, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe).

“We have heard of cases of violence and people being kicked out of home by landlords and neighbours,” said Peter Njane, director of ISHTAR, Kenya’s first gay health clinic, after the ruling.

“At our wellness centre there is low client flow and many are still in fear to come and access the services.” Njane’s recent observations prove the judges wrong. Not only has the homophobic legislation historically inhibited people’s access to HIV services, sustaining such laws further ratchets up their risk.

Kenya has a record of attacks, including mob violence perpetuated against sexual minorities. For example, in the eastern coastal counties, a flashpoint for gay assaults, numerous attacks on MSM clinics have been documented, including at an IAVI-run HIV prevention research site in 2010.

“Basically, what this new judgement tells us is that we need to get violated and discriminated even more in order for our safety to be taken seriously,” Njane said.

The surprising, archaic legal judgment—against a backdrop of Kenya’s progressive HIV programmes—is a setback for the nation’s declared commitment to universal health coverage and ending HIV by 2030. The ruling is also a blow to Kenya’s hard-earned status as a leading light in the HIV fight in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Hats off to the HIV advocates and researchers who worked with Kenya’s National Aids Council and Ministry of Health to develop the continent’s first HIV prevention roadmap. However, HIV will not be defeated until key populations, including LGBTQ, drug users and sex workers, are recognised and they are no longer persona non grata.

It’s only a matter of time before the older generation falls away, along with its moralising and scapegoating, destined to the dustbin of history along with the British occupation.

Those of us in the US feel your pain as discriminatory LGBTQ legislation and rights violations become commonplace here. On the very same day of Kenya’s court verdict, the Trump administration proposed to upend protections in the Health Care Rights Law for trans and gender-nonbinary folks.

This action follows a litany of others chipping away at sexual minority rights. Another example is the new rule that critics say could “protect” health providers who refuse to treat LGBTQ patients because of their own moral or religious objections. And, unlike Kenya, the US doesn’t even have a commitment to single payer healthcare (yet).

But we, like Kenya, have rising, resisting young people devoted to universal health coverage, who champion self-determination, sex positivity and veneration for LGBTQ communities.

It’s only a matter of time before the older generation falls away, along with its moralising and scapegoating, destined to the dustbin of history along with the British occupation.

In the meantime, queers and allies will appeal legislation, monitor events, build our movements and continue the struggle, both North and South, in solidarity.

LGBTQ and HIV advocate from the USA