Jill, a 25-year-old pansexual woman in Kenya, has “gone through life like a reservoir of guilt” after being constantly shamed in school for her “stud” appearance. That is: she does not look or carry herself like conservative stereotypes of femininity dictate.
Back in school, she and a group of other girls sneaked into the computer lab to use the internet. When they got caught, the teachers accused them of having gone into the lab to have group sex. Jill is a basketball player. A disciplinary committee labelled her a lesbian because she was wearing a sports jersey. She was suspended from school soon after.
School culture in Kenya remains largely modelled on the white, Christian missionaries who brought western education to the country. The Catholic church alone owns more than 32% of all secondary schools.
Even leaders of the secular state still make education policy as if Christian tenets were in fact law. In December, the cabinet secretary for education, George Magoha, suggested that gay and lesbian students should be barred from boarding schools.
But LGBTQI+ young people whose education has been disrupted by such prejudices are no longer willing to remain silent. Last month, some of these young people took to the streets of Nairobi, organised by a group called the Queer Republic, to protest Magoha’s remarks.
Unsurprisingly, the secretary’s remarks have incited homophobic attacks online and in schools.
“Two students came to the march and they’ve been driven away from school for being lesbian and the only thing they’re holding onto is the fact that they have their final O-level exams in March,” said Marylize Biubwa, a member of the Queer Republic.
Such ostracisation affects LGBTQI+ young people well beyond their school years. “I had to fight all the trauma that was attached to what they thought I was, before I could get to accepting who I am,” said Jill.
This article first appeared in The Continent, the award-winning pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.