'Sexual minorities' for the first time came out in the open to celebrate their distinctness.
More than 100 ‘sexual minorities’ lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals and human rights activists for the first time converged in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, vowing to fight for the rights in the East African region.
They celebrated the annual event in style; dinning and winning freely and dancing and singing to the melodies belted out by musicians, in front of the media, a move viewed by many as an attempt to ward off stigma and victimization of their sexual orientation.
However, top government officials who had been invited to grace the occasion skipped the function, probably fearing public backlash.
The group complained that homophobia and transphobia was still rife in the region, and criticised the governments for failing help change the attitude.
Homophobia refers to a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality and people identified or perceived as being homosexual.
Transphobia, on the other hand, denotes discrimination against transsexuality and transsexual or transgender people, based on the expression of their internal gender identity
However, the group received major support from human rights organizations, namely the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights who promised to fight for their rights.
“Ten years ago there was no public place that could have hosted such a function,” Kenya Human Rights Commission director Muthoni Wanyeki whose organization organized the event at the National Museums of Kenya, said.
Ms Wanyeki however said despite the government allowing the gay community to meet, the battle against harassment of and violence against sexual minorities in the region was still long.
Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Commissioner, Lawrence Mute, condemned prejudice on persons on grounds of their sexual orientation.
“Let us ensure nobody is discriminated either in school, at work or even in the society especially because of who they are,” Mute said.
The meeting came as a surprise to many, due to the general dislike of homosexuals in the predominantly religious country.
Recently, in Mombasa, members of the public stopped a gay wedding, beating up the bride and the bridegroom, before frog-marching them to the nearby police station.
The irate members of the public, who quoted extensively from the Bible and the Quran, accused homosexuals of promoting moral decadence in the country.
In the neighbouring Uganda, an antihomosexuality bill proposing harsher penalties, including death, caused a major controversy, attracting criticism from Western countries.
Unlike the Western countries, the bill which also proposed that foreigners found practicing homosexuality be extradited and that people report anybody known to have committed a homosexual act within 24 hours, got major backing from a section of the religious community.
There temporary respite for homosexuals, when a committee formed by President Museveni, to look into the issue, recommended that it be withdrawn from Parliament.
Dr Ben Sihanya, the dean of the School of Law at the University of Nairobi emphasized on the need to focus on issues of sexual minorities in the country.
“We are quick at criminalising issues that we do not understand,” he challenged homophobes.
Activists Kate Kamunde who sung at the function, however, urged the gay community to not to call an early celebration but continue to unite and battle hate crime and homophobia.
Kamunde said the community was still experiencing violence and rejection even at home, adding that some parents had stopped paying fees for their children after discovering they were gay.
“People have to understand gay people are normal like anybody else only that they love differently. People think it is un-African or is a sickness. Spaces are however opening up to accommodate us which was not possible two years ago,” Kamunde, who is also an administrator at Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (Galck), said.
Dennis Nzioka, a religious relationship assistant at Galck, said experts put population of homosexuals in world at 6 percent and urged religious leaders in Kenya and the region to tolerate them.
“We are born this way. We are created this way. We want to feel comfortable when we come to church. They should stop preaching discrimination against gay people. Just as I am proud to be African I am being proud of being gay. There’s nothing wrong with what we are doing,” the 24 year old said.
Nzioka, who said one of his grand fathers was also gay, added that he was happy that homosexuals could now be allowed to meet in open and hoped the same would happen in the region.
“If we had a family meeting, I usually went with my boyfriend but I am currently not dating,” he said, adding that there were already many gay marriages in Kenya.
Galck official David Kuria termed both religious homophobia and transphobia as ‘senseless violence,’ and called a society that was more tolerant to the welfare and needs of all persons in the country.
The event, according to organizers, was meant instigate public dialogue among Kenyans on gender identity and sexual orientation.
It also targeted to highlight the negative linkage between homophobia and the spread of HIV and the need for better access to health services gays.
In East Africa, Uganda, Burundi and Zanzibar are cited as the most homophobic states in Eastern Africa.
Additional reporting by jeff otieno