Life slowly gets easier for gay people in Kenya

Luzau Basambombo spent six months in a Kinshasa prison, being abused over and over again.

The Congolese human-rights activist suspects that he was put behind bars because he openly admitted being homosexual. ”If you are gay in Congo, you become an outlaw,” Basambombo says.

After being released from prison, he left the Democratic Republic of Congo for Uganda, where he was granted asylum. ”When the authorities found out that I was gay, I was asked to leave the country,” he says.

Today, the 38-year-old Basambombo lives in Nairobi and feels comfortable there. ”Things are changing here in Kenya — in favour of us,” he says.

Gay and lesbian people are prosecuted in most African countries. In some Nigerian federal states, where the Muslim sharia law is in force, homosexuals are stoned to death. Changes to the law are planned, after which even people who only talk about homosexuality can be sent to prison.

In Zimbabwe, head of state Robert Mugabe has compared gays to pigs and dogs. Namibian police are instructed to arrest homosexuals and expel them from the country.

South Africa is the only country on the continent that has legalised same-sex marriages.

In Kenya, homosexuality between men is legally prohibited as well. Homosexual relationships between women are not mentioned. Statutes dating from the colonial period provide for prison sentences of up to 14 years.

”Despite that, nobody gets imprisoned in Kenya just because he is homosexual,” says Angus Parkinson of Liverpool VCT, a support centre in Nairobi. ”Kenya is heading in a different direction from its neighbours.”

The second public gay party is going to take place in Nairobi in May, the first one being celebrated in January during the World Social Forum, with Kenyan gay groups going public for the first time.

”Five years ago, under the rule of president Daniel arap Moi, this would have been unthinkable,” says Jeremy Mirie of the gay, lesbian, bi- and transsexual lobby Galebitra.

At present, there are eight organisations that are campaigning for the legalisation of homosexuality and which give advice to gays and lesbians, for instance informing them about Aids and HIV.

The state HIV/Aids campaign has explicitly addressed homosexuals since last year.

United States TV series with openly gay main characters such as Will & Grace are now shown on television. ”The more people talk about us, the more normal it gets,” Mirie hopes.

However, there can be no talk of a visible gay community in Kenya. There are neither bars nor clubs hoisting the rainbow flag.

Charles Mwangi almost whispers when talking about his coming-out in a Nairobi bar as the publican is said to have banned homosexuals.

”Two weeks ago, I had four beers before telling my parents I was gay,” Mwangi says. ”My father sent me flying out of the house straight away.”

Mwangi comes from Muranga, a small town about 60km north of Nairobi. ”It will take 100 years until a father there accepts that his son is gay,” he says.

Even gay activists do not talk to their families about their sexuality. Peter Njoroge works as an HIV/Aids counsellor and with others, he is organising the first gay demonstration in Kenya. Nevertheless, he could never tell his mother that he is gay.

”Kenyan families are not ready for that, yet,” he says. ”Who knows, I might even get married and have children one day. After all, I am the only son and expected to do so.” — Sapa-dpa

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