What is it Like to be Gay in Kenya Today?
Living in a progressive culture is something that a lot of people take for granted. Whilst there is still a long way to go in the fight for equality in the West, we are still much further ahead than some of our brothers and sisters worldwide. So we took to social media and gay dating apps to discover what it is like for members of the LGBT+ community living in countries with repressive legislation/strong socio-cultural conservatisms.
We were amazed by the response we got from people wanting to share their stories with us and what they had to say is a potent reminder to all that there is still so much work to be done before every human being around the world can live and love without fear of being persecuted or, prosecuted for their natural choices.
Many members of the LGBT+ community have had to make the decision to keep their sexuality hidden from those around them because ‘non-traditional sexual relationships’ could cost them their friends, family, jobs and could lead to imprisonment or even, death. Others choose to speak up and risk everything in the fight for equality.
This month sees Pride celebrations happening around the world and with this in mind, we want to give a platform to those who are still prohibited from living freely as their true selves.
Here is *Abdu’s story.
‘My name is Abdu. I am 33 years old, born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. I am an only child. My father died at a very young age and after his death my mother remarried and moved away to live with her new husband – leaving my grandmother to raise me single-handedly.
Growing up, I lived in a nice area and attended school. I had a good relationship with my grandmother and although I had realised I was gay, I decided to keep it a secret.
All my problems started when my grandmother died in 2006. That’s when I came to know how the rest of my family really felt about me. My uncles and aunties revealed that they had always been suspicious of my sexuality since I was ‘effeminate’ and had ‘never had a girlfriend’. When I admitted the truth, they rejected me and told me I ‘didn’t belong to the family’. They kicked me out, and so with no support network I had to find a job and a cheap house on an estate to rent.
I started adult life the hard way; alone and fearful.
It was not only my family that judged me. People I didn’t even know called me names and abused me on the street, as did my neighbours. I moved around a lot because I was so worried for my safety but ultimately, there was nothing I could do about it. I just had to live with it.
Things got worse last year. The people in the neighbourhood where I lived found out I had a boyfriend. Scared of what they might do, I decided it was time to move again, but before I had a chance to leave I was brutally attacked by a group of homophobic thugs who left me in such a bad way, I had to seek medical attention for my injuries. Although I reported the attack to the police, I received no help due to the corruption here.
I was advised by my gay friends and different organisations to flee the area and find a safe place to stay. One of my friends working with an NGO working with transgendered people accommodated me in his home for some months. He advised me to leave Kenya and get a job outside of the country so I could start afresh. I eventually managed to find work in Qatar as a security guard – a job I could never have imagined myself doing but at least it got me out of Kenya. Little did I know, I was getting myself into hot soup! I only managed to stay there for three weeks…
One day I was called into the office and my supervisor told me that he had been advised by my colleagues that I was displaying ‘strange behaviour’ and acting ‘like a gay man.’ He told me that I could not continue working for the company and that I would be deported. To be honest, this killed me. It was the most painful moment in my life. I just couldn’t understand what I did wrong and I had no choice but to abide and get back to Kenya.
Coming back here, my kind friend once again accommodated me. This is when I contacted an organisation helping people flee countries where they were being persecuted for their sexuality. I wanted to apply for asylum just outside of Kenya. I was in good communication with the organisation but unfortunately they could not do anything to help me.
I was using a gay online dating app when I got talking to a man called *Mark based in Germany and after telling him my story he decided to help me leave Kenya. He invited me to Germany and agreed to pay for everything. I applied and luckily I got the visa! So in December last year I travelled to Dusseldorf where he lives. While in Germany I had to try and seek asylum because I was only there with a visiting visa which expired after two months. Again, I tried contacting organisations while I was there but sadly, nobody was able to help me.
Mark and I talked about my desperate situation and we agreed that marriage might be the only solution. However, I was told by the embassy that I would need to exit the country and learn the native language before applying for a marriage visa and returning to Germany.
I came back to Nairobi and I’m still living here with my friend. I am currently studying the German language and my exams are booked for next month. I am very afraid that if I don’t pass I won’t be able to apply for a visa. Secondly, I am supposed to have a certificate of no impediment to marriage, which is not issued to gay people here wishing to marry outside of Kenya. This is required by the German Embassy here in Nairobi.
I guess all I can do is work hard and cross my fingers.
Yes, that’s my life now. I am still fighting and I hope for the best. I have gone through a lot in life but I won’t give up. Sometimes I cry and ask ‘why me?’ but I still thank God at the end of every day.’
*Names have been changed to protect identity
If you would like to share your story with Ditch the Label, please get in touch.