LGBTQ+ Kenyans say they are living in fear after a pro-gay court ruling triggered an outpouring of abuse and death threats, while an anti-gay bill in neighbouring Uganda has stoked a rise in hate incidents, according to East African activists.
Kenyan rights campaigners said some religious and political leaders are whipping up a homophobic backlash to the court ruling, which has led to calls for tougher laws against gay sex and a surge of abuse against sexual minorities.
“I’ve stopped going out, especially at night. It’s better not to attract attention these days,” Martin, a 33-year-old gay Kenyan web developer, told Openly by phone from his flat in the outskirts of Nairobi.
“If you go online, read the newspapers or even watch the TV shows, there are many people insulting the LGBTQ community and calling us ‘demons’ and ‘paedophiles’. Lots of us are scared and are just keeping a low profile.”
Abuse has increased since Kenya’s top court ruled that the government must allow the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to register as a non-governmental organisation, said Irũngũ Houghton, head of Amnesty International Kenya.
The Feb. 24 ruling in the decade-long case was seen as a major victory for LGBTQ+ people in the East African nation, where gay sex is punishable with up to 14 years in jail.
But Houghton said some politicians and religious leaders were fuelling a backlash.
“Amnesty is deeply concerned by the growing confidence among politicians, religious leaders and extremist individuals that calling for LGBTIQ+ individuals to be assaulted or put to death,” Houghton said.
“Public abuse against the community and doxxing of individuals has increased dramatically.”
Houghton said details of charities who support sexual minorities living with HIV/AIDS were shared on private anti-gay social media groups, and preachers were turning up outside these charities’ offices to perform exorcisms.
As a result, some charities along Kenya’s coastline areas of Kilifi, Mombasa and Malindi have been forced to close, he added.
Conservatives fear increased rights for sexual minorities will lead to the legalisation of same-sex marriages.
“Homosexuality, lesbianism and same-sex unions are unnatural, they are wrong, they are evil and intrinsically immoral,” said Reverend Martin Musonde, Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement.
President William Ruto, who describes himself as a “God-fearing man” also criticised the court ruling and said Kenya’s values and religions do not allow same-sex relationships.
Opposition lawmaker Peter Kaluma said on Twitter last month that he planned to introduce a bill to increase the penalty to life imprisonment for engaging in or promoting “homosexual activity and other unnatural sex acts”.
Lawmaker Farah Maalim Mohamed said in a parliamentary debate earlier this month that gay people should face the death penalty.
RISING ATTACKS IN UGANDA
In Uganda, LGBTQ+ groups also say they are facing a tide of attacks after a draft law was tabled in parliament on Thursday that could jail anyone who says they are LGBTQ+ for 10 years. Landlords who rent to gay people could also face prison under the bill.
“We feel hunted,” said Real Raymond, head of LGBTQ+ rights charity Mbarara Rise Foundation.
“The bill is whipping up so much hate and violence against LGBTQ people. It’s basically telling everyone that it’s open season on gays.”
Gay sex is already punishable with life in jail in Uganda.
Politicians have voiced support for the draft Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would also imprison anyone who “funds or sponsors homosexuality” or “offers premises … for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality”.
“Homosexuality is a human wrong that offends the laws of Uganda and threatens the sanctity of the family, the safety of our children and the continuation of humanity,” tweeted opposition MP Basalirwa Asuman, who is sponsoring the bill.
Raymond said the Mbarara Rise Foundation had received 65 anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime reports so far in 2023, compared to an average of 10 cases monthly the previous year, as the bill stokes homophobic rhetoric and debate.
“Gay members of the community have even been refused their HIV/AIDS medication from government hospitals, as staff feel they will be accused of supporting them and face punishment.”
Uganda’s health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A similar law was struck down as unconstitutional by a court in 2014 based on a technicality, where the speaker of parliament allowed a vote on the law despite objections that not enough legislators were in attendance.
“People have been attacked by mobs as they are walking home from work or at the market, they are being evicted from their homes, added Raymond.
“Some have left their jobs and moved to other places for fear of being discovered and targeted.”
Reporting by Nita Bhalla.
GAY TIMES and Openly/Thomson Reuters Foundation are working together to deliver leading LGBTQ+ news to a global audience.