Homosexuality is taboo in Kenya and persecution of sexual minorities is rife
By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, May 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From a gay high school student to a transgender woman, LGBT+ Kenyans are sharing their experiences of discrimination and persecution on a new website, days before the east African nation's high court is due to rule on decriminalising gay sex.
"Voices of Kenya" features the audio testimonies of 10 people - the youngest aged 15 - in their own voices, as a powerful reminder of how the anti-gay law affects Kenya's sexual minorities.
"The aim is to show that the question of legalisation is not a technical, purely legal, matter. Real people are getting hurt and suffer from these laws," said Mathias Wasik, director of programs at All Out, the LGBT+ rights group behind the website.
"We are sharing their stories with the world to help make them heard across the globe before the court ruling."
The website - launched on Friday to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia - tells stories of broken dreams, fear and the feeling of being invisible, said Wasik, but also of strength and perseverance.
Homosexuality is taboo in Kenya and persecution of sexual minorities is rife. Under sections of Kenya's penal code, gay sex - or "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" - is punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
Human rights campaigners say the law is used daily to discriminate against sexual minorities seeking work, housing and medical care in the largely conservative Christian country, where LGBT+ hate crimes like blackmail and assault are common.
Kenyan activists have been fighting to repeal this British colonial-era law for years - and the high court is expected to give its ruling on May 24.
A positive judgment would not only give dignity to sexual minorities in Kenya, say campaigners, but would also inject impetus into battles being waged by LGBT+ people across Africa.
"The physical injuries and mental anguish we all face in our schools due to our sexual orientation is no secret," said one of the Voice of Kenya contributors, come from across the country, from the capital Nairobi to Busia county near Uganda.
"Most of our stories don't even see the light of day. But every day, one of us is spotted, insulted, beaten, suspended, expelled, and in some cases, we take our own lives. But because we are underage, we have no voices."
Others speak of their hopes for legal reform.
"I cannot wait for the courts to rule in our favour. If they do this, it would mean the freedom to love and to be loved," said 23-year-old Maryeve from Nairobi, another contributor.
"Protection against homophobia. Protection against hate. Protection against those who wish to harm us for being who we are. I would feel validated."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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