G-SPOT

The struggle continues for Kenya’s LGBT+ community

If we won the case yesterday, go out and celebrate. If we lost, celebrate getting here and prepare for more work.

In Summary

• Challenging decriminalisation in court has long been considered by the Galck.

Activists wave the gay pride flag in a past protest in Nairobi
Activists wave the gay pride flag in a past protest in Nairobi
Image: FILE

Unless there was another postponement of the decision, LGBT+ Kenyans should all know by now whether they are completely equal in the eyes of the law to their compatriots, or not.

My journey as an activist for gay rights began back in 1996, when South Africa became the first country in the world to offer constitutional protection to LGBT people.

At the time, I don’t think any of the gay or lesbian people I knew socially in Nairobi was thinking seriously about the issue for Kenya.

You have to understand that back then, we had recently gone back to being a multi-party democracy (1991-92) after 26 years of being a single party state, where any dissent was crushed.

Nevertheless, I think the South African situation gave our community something to think about, and I recall it was about that time that I asked some of the gay people I used to hang out with in Nairobi’s Gipsy Bar whether they would support any sort of formal organising to demand recognition of gay rights.

Most of my friends thought I was crazy, and the general consensus was to say and do nothing that would attract undue attention to the community.

Until that point, the authorities and society in Kenya had generally turned a blind eye to homosexuality — a state of affairs that suited many right down to the ground.

Being closeted was a way of life, and even when people in the gay community were victims of blackmail, they preferred to deal with matters quietly without fuss.

By the end of the 1990s, there was talk of reviewing the Kenyan constitution to bring the country in line with being a modern democracy. I believe it was at this time that those of us who had been thinking of organising some sort of activism for gay rights had our various light bulb moments.

We all thought there would never be a better time to decriminalise gay sex than during the constitutional review, which eventually got going in the year 2000.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until around the time of the 13th International Conference on Aids and STDs in Africa (ICASA), held in Nairobi in 2003, that the different LGBT groups decided to come together under the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (Galck) umbrella to lobby for gay rights to be included in the new constitution.

In the end, we failed to get our issue in the final constitution of 2010. However, in the years from 2003 to 2010, the LGBT movement had gained visibility as a result of our campaign, and now people were openly discussing gay people in the media and elsewhere. There were still no “high profile” out gays and lesbians, but we were on the way.

Challenging decriminalisation in court had always been one of the options we had discussed as Galck from the very beginning. I think if Kenya decriminalises, other African countries might eventually follow, especially since the Kenya process has been an organic indigenous experience and cannot be linked to any foreign (read European or North American) agenda.

If we won the case yesterday, go out and celebrate. If we lost, celebrate getting here and prepare for more work.