Members of Kenya’s LGBT community are looking forward to a High Court ruling that might decriminalize gay sex. The impending ruling is raising hopes among LGBT persons across the region.
South of Nairobi, in a remote town, models are in training in a safe house tucked in a quiet neighborhood. These are not just any models. These are LGBT refugees from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Most fled persecution from their home countries because of their sexual orientation.
Lubega Musa, 27, fled to Kenya in 2015. He, together with other LGBT refugees, started an economic empowerment program called Lunco Haute Cotoure, whose activities focus on fashion, design and music.
“There are things we would love to do as Lunco Houte Cotoure for the gay community openly, but we cannot do them because of the law,” Musa said. “So, if there is change in the law, if same-sex becomes legal in Kenya, we as artists, we work with the gay community. The situation will be much better for us to exhibit our talent, and you know the LGBT community is one that is most talented in the arts.”
High Court ruling
Kenya’s High Court will rule this month on whether to repeal Section 162 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes gay sex.
In Kenya, one can be sentenced to up to 14 years for violating the law.
Activists say the case is a milestone in the fight for LGBT rights in the region.
“This is an opportunity for LGBTI people to claim their spaces,” said Brian Macharia, a gay rights activist. “Whether we win this case or not, there is visibility that is coming by the fact that we managed to get this far at the courts, that we got a lot of Kenyans thinking and talking about this.”
Homophobic attacks are common in Kenya, as a majority of the population objects to homosexuality.
Too soon, some say
Charles Kanjama, the lead lawyer representing the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum in the case, says Kenya is not ready to accept homosexuality.
“We think that it is in the interest of our country, as do most other Africans in this continent in which we live, to outlaw homosexuality. That is gay sex in particular, and any manifestations as promotion or propagandizing in favor of gay sex, so that we can try as much as possible to encourage and promote healthy sexual behavior,” he said.
Activists in Africa and elsewhere are campaigning against penal codes that criminalize gay sex, most of which date from the colonial period.
The laws in many countries are being overturned. India scrapped them last year. Angola in January.
Kenya might do it in a matter of weeks.
However the High Court rules, both sides are likely to appeal to the Supreme Court if they lose.