Ten months have passed since Kenya’s Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling, allowing the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) to register as a non-governmental organization. This decision, while celebrated by LGBTQ+ campaigners, ignited a backlash that continues to this day. However, despite facing protests and a legislative proposal to strengthen penalties for gay sex, LGBTQ+ Kenyans feel more emboldened than ever to fight for their rights and report hate crimes.
Legal Recognition and Rising Threats
The Supreme Court’s ruling in February marked a significant milestone, reaffirming the right to freedom of association, which includes the right to form, join, or participate in the activities of any association. Annette Atieno, the communication officer at NGLHRC, expressed optimism about the outcome of the recent appeal by MP Peter Kaluma, stating, “We have renewed strength to advocate for the rights and dignity of LGBTQ+ individuals in Kenya.”
Kenya is viewed as a relatively welcoming place for LGBTQ+ individuals in a region where same-sex relations are often illegal. However, homophobic attitudes remain prevalent. The court’s ruling in February led to an alarming increase in threats against the LGBTQ+ community, with reported incidents of abuse, assaults, threats, and discrimination on the rise.
Legislative Challenges and Ongoing Resistance
MP Peter Kaluma’s bill, introduced in May, aims to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Kenya, restricting their freedom of assembly, expression, and demonstration. It also seeks to establish a new offense punishable by death for “aggravated homosexuality,” including gay sex with a minor or disabled person. Similar legislation exists in neighboring countries like Uganda and Ghana.
Despite these challenges, LGBTQ+ advocates maintain that the court’s decision to allow NGLHRC to register signifies an inclusive approach to human rights. It grants the LGBTQ+ community broad legal recognition, ensuring their right to hold events and openly commemorate Pride, among other activities.
A Long Road Ahead
While the Supreme Court’s declaration in September sparked protests and hateful rhetoric from some quarters, many LGBTQ+ Kenyans feel vindicated by the court’s position. They see the ruling as a legal justification for their existence in society. Neville Akwara, a gay man from Nakuru County, expressed that the victory has given him the confidence to report incidents of homophobic abuse to NGLHRC. However, he stressed that true change would only come with the legalization of same-sex relations, as abuse and violence against the LGBTQ+ community persist.
In the face of ongoing challenges, Kenya’s LGBTQ+ community remains resilient, determined to secure their rights and overcome the hurdles that lie ahead.