OPINION: Stop discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ community
By Alvin Mwangi
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) persons in Kenya face high rates of sexual and gender based violence.
They also face obstacles when accessing justice and rehabilitative mental health services.
We have seen the LGBTQ+ community experience online abuse and violence and are often called discriminatory names amongst other injustices.
They suffer stigma, discrimination, physical and verbal abuse, assault, harassment, eviction from their homes, job loss, suspension or expulsion from school etc. It remains unclear if and how they can safely report violations to the police.
Though it is often said that one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression (sogie) is a non-issue, the violence meted upon said person is undeniably a big issue as it affects their quality of health and life.
Violence is further perpetrated against LGBTQ+ persons given the existence of laws that criminalize sex between two consenting same sex adults.
These laws create a misguided perception in society that lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer individuals are criminal; a perception that subsets of the state and religious institutions advance to further perpetuate human rights violation and acts of violence.
It is worrying that LGBTQ+ persons in Kenya go through a lot of violence and discrimination just because of who they are. LGBTQ+ persons should be protected just like any other Kenyan citizen against all forms of violence and discrimination.
According to Lorna Dias, executive coordinator of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya: “Being a lesbian or a gay man is a non issue. Being harmed because of who we are is a huge issue.”
LGBTQ+ persons have a right to equality and freedom from discrimination of all forms. They require equal protection against any form of violence. The right to equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and fundamental freedoms.
The LGBTQ+ community does not want special rights: basic human rights are not special rights. The right to get and keep a job based on merit is not a special right; the right to be served food in a restaurant is not a special right; the right to have housing is not a special right; the right to walk down a street and not be attacked because of who you are and whom you love is not a special right.
A Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHCR) report published in 2011 indicated that 18 percent of LGBTQ+ Kenyans had revealed their sexual orientation to their families; of these, 89 percent were subsequently disowned.
Additionally, criminalization, discrimination, and violence inhibit access to HIV prevention and treatment.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) are many times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population in Kenya and have been identified by health agencies as a key population in addressing the HIV epidemic.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya has witnessed an increase in cases around physical and gender based violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Some have lost their lives.
There has been a significant increase in cases of online bullying and trolling on members of the LGBTQ+ community on social media platforms like Twitter and Tiktok towards during the pandemic.
This as everyone tried to develop coming mechanisms to reduce the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on their mental health. Access to shelter for the LGBTQ+ community remains a challenge as many of these facilities are run by NGOs whose funding is unreliable.
Adequate wholistic support system is still a challenge as is access to safe spaces, justice and psychosocial support.
Everyone was created equal and we all have the right to live with dignity and respect. As we mark and celebrate ‘Zero Discrimination Day’ on March 1, 2021, Kenya should commit to end all forms of violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community by publicly condemning homophobic and transphobic violence and ensuring that acts of violence are prosecuted.
Alvin Mwangi is an advocate for sexual reproductive health and rights in Nairobi, Kenya. Twitter: @alvinmwangi254