Almost everyone we interviewed in Kenya have had their physical safety threatened at one time or another, and yet they all choose to continue their work. Supergay David Kuria, Kenya’s first openly gay candidate running for Senate, shows me a hate poster created by a religious group with the words “NOT WANTED” in big bold letters printed above David’s photo. Reverend Kimundu (pictured left), a retired military chaplain who advocates for the inclusion of LGBT people in the church, has received threatening phone calls and text messages. A Kenyan transgender woman tells us about a close call with neighbors who wanted to strip her and “find out who [she] truly was.”
Yet when we talked to several leaders in the community to ask, “What is Gay and Lesbian Life in Kenya?,” they tell us that while queer people still face persecution (after all, homosexual acts are still criminal in Kenya), things are getting a bit better. The number of LGBT organizations grow every year, and the younger generation in Kenya are much more open to discussing sexual orientation than their elders.
VIDEO: See what it’s like to travel to Kenya as a lesbian couple and meet the SuperQueers and Superallies bravely leading movement there…
One Friday night, Jenni and I meet up with David at a bar called Tacos, the one gay-friendly bar in town. When we enter the bar, we recognize the signs of our community: Lady Gaga, cheap cocktails, and lots of well-dressed men checking each other out.
But just as soon as we start feeling relaxed, our new friends warn us with a litany of don’ts: Don’t put your drink down or someone may drug you and steal your stuff. Don’t walk to the balcony area or a photographer may exploit you on film. And DON’T kiss because the bar staff will try to break you up.
It’s hard to feel at ease traveling through Kenya as a lesbian couple. We try to be inconspicuous in public, and we are careful to keep our voices low on public buses and restaurants when talking about gay issues.
Nearly every day of our stay, we see some gay-related article in local newspapers and magazines. Certainly much of the news is negative, such as a report of a suspected gathering of gay people being broken up by a mob of angry muslim leaders, or an op ed article criticizing the West for pushing African countries too hard on gay rights. But there is also positive news too, such as a spread on an African leader supporting gay equality, and a magazine article discussing the possibility of an openly gay presidential candidate.
From our photographs of Kenya, you’ll see that Jenni and I enjoy the country and found several places that we loved. While there is still a long road ahead for the LGBT movement in Kenya, we feel hopeful that things are moving in a positive direction.