Same-sex activists in Africa vexed but not cowed in fight for space

04 Aug, 2019
In the wake of a landmark ruling by a High Court upholding laws that criminalize homosexuality, the LGBTI+ community is disillusioned, seeking safe spaces for relief.


Two homosexual men in this predicament are wading through the storms of abuse, threats and torture from their family, friends and strangers.


On a cold Monday afternoon, Peter* (not his real name), 28, who is proudly homosexual, sits at his favorite spot, enjoying his evening beer after a long day at work. He is oblivious to the heated political scene but up to date with major human rights decisions affecting him made in Africa.


“Politics in Kenya never mutates, it’s the same old script, just a different day. However, our rights as the gay community are commonly assumed or ignored,” Peter said.


He noted how in the past, politicians have termed homosexuality as a non-issue rather than a human rights issue. Peter, who works in the hospitality industry, recounts how he was molested by a male family friend and a house help as a minor, an ordeal he is still recovering from.


“I trusted the man. Even after the ordeal, we still stayed in touch. It was only after I was old enough that I realized what he did to me,” Peter says, highlighting the intimate nature of the abuse. He wishes to see this man and talk to him, but they have since lost touch.


MOLESTED INNOCENCE

As a gay man in a country where homosexuality is illegal, Peter has scaled through life unhurt ever since the abuse, attributing this to the capitalistic nature of the society.


“People are too busy minding their own business to care that their neighbour is gay,” Peter said, adding that capitalism is a double-edged sword, as it also harbours all the corrupt. However, on the other side of town, gay men like Letoya Johnstone have not been so lucky.


Letoya, who lives in Kibera informal settlement, subscribes to the Catholic faith. Letoya was molested as a young boy, and recounting the ordeal still pains him.
“I was molested after high school. Every time I state this, especially among members of the gay community, most of them brush it off because most of them have gone through the same,” Letoya said.


He was recently evicted from his house in Kibera and constantly receives threats from neighbours for being gay. One neighbour even plotted to kill him in vain.


Despite all this, Letoya is confident that his struggles are worthwhile because God is in control of his life.


COMING OUT

A challenge faced by most homosexuals is revealing their sexuality. For Peter, a lifetime of identifying as such made it no easier.


“I have always known that I was different and I have always known that difference is not accepted in this world, so I always fight. I fight for my space with joy and pride, something that people are not happy about,” he said.


Coming out to his mother as a teenager was not easy. He even dated girls to make sure his mother would never know. He came out to his mom out of stress, on the verge of losing everything.


“She was confused, she still has her moments, but she has made peace with it,” Peter says. His mother is even aware of his past and current relationships. He adds that he has slept with women after coming out, out of curiosity.