A new report released on Wednesday indicates nearly all of the LGBTQ people who live in a Kenya refugee camp have experienced discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and Rainbow Railroad in May 2021 surveyed 58 LGBTQ asylum seekers who live at the Kakuma refugee camp and the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement that opened in 2016 to help alleviate overcrowding at Kakuma. The groups also interviewed 18 “key informants.”
More than 90 percent of the LGBTQ asylum seekers who spoke with ORAM and Rainbow Railroad said they have been “verbally assaulted.”
Eighty-three percent of them indicated they suffered “physical violence,” with 26 percent of them reporting sexual assault. All of the transgender respondents “reported having experienced physical assault,” with 67 percent of them “reporting sexual assault.”
Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they had been “denied police assistance due to their sexual identity.” Nearly half of the respondents told ORAM and Rainbow Railroad they had to be “relocated from their allocated shelters to alternative accommodation due to the constant abuses directed at them by neighbors.”
Kakuma, which is located in northwest Kenya near the country’s border with Uganda and South Sudan, is one of two refugee camps the U.N. Refugee Agency operates in the East African nation. The other, Dadaab, is located near Kenya’s border with Somalia.
The report notes upwards of 160,000 refugees from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda were living in Kakuma as of January.
Those who responded to the ORAM and Rainbow Railroad survey are from Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Yemen and Ethiopia and all of them have asked for asylum in Kenya. Ninety-four percent of them live in Kakuma, while the remaining six percent live in Kalobeyei.
The report also estimates there are 350 LGBTQ asylum seekers in Kakuma and Kalobeyei. UNHCR in 2020 created Block 13 in Kakuma that is specifically for LGBTQ refugees.
Gay man died after Block 13 attack
Two gay men suffered second-degree burns during an attack on Block 13 on March 15. One of the men died a few weeks later at a hospital in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
Forty-one of the Block 13 residents who participated in the ORAM and Rainbow Railroad survey said that “relocation to a safer place as a priority.” The report also notes some respondents who live outside Block 13 “said that the activism in Block 13 was affecting the overall relationship between LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and service providers in the camp.”
“They expressed concern with some activities conducted as part of their activism,” reads the report. “For example, they alleged that some activists were conducting staged attacks on individuals and false claims of violence to attract media attention as part of their advocacy.”
The report notes “allegations of activity from activists in Block 13 have not been confirmed.” Some of the “key informants” who ORAM and Rainbow Railroad interviewed for their report, however, “observed that LGBTQI+ activists from different countries have been supporting the advocacy in Block 13 without considering the local context and potential negative or unintended consequences.”
“They allege that the advocacy has been antagonizing LGBTQI+ members with other refugees in the camp and service providers,” reads the report. “For example, some of the LGBTQI+ asylum seekers were reported to have deserted their allocated shelters, moved to Block 13 and were persistently demanding new shelters.”
UNHCR in a statement after the March 15 attack noted Kenya “remains the only country in the region to provide asylum to those fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” even though consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The ORAM and Rainbow Railroad report acknowledges both points.
“Asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya are not immune to pervasive anti-LGBTQI+ attitudes in the community,” it reads. “As the number of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and refugees increases rapidly, it is important to understand their unique protection needs and plan for safe and dignified service delivery to meet those needs.”
The report notes more than 70 percent of respondents have gone to Kakuma’s main hospital the International Rescue Committee operates in order to receive HIV/AIDS-related services. More than 85 percent of respondents said they “preferred to seek all other health services beyond HIV and AIDS services at the main hospital, since the facility was friendly and provided a stigma-free environment for the LGBTQI+ community in the camp.”
“Respondents reported traveling long distances in order to visit the main hospital,” reads the report.
The report notes limited access to cardiologists and other specialists at the eight health facilities in the camp that UNHCR partner organizations operates. Roughly a third of respondents also said they have “been stigmatized in some of the health clinics.”
“This included being referred to as shoga (a derogatory Kiswahili term used to refer to homosexuality) either by staff members or other refugees in the waiting room while waiting to see a provider, or some providers just directing them to the main hospital with snide remarks about how they do not entertain LGBTQI+ persons in their facility,” reads the report.
The African Human Rights Coalition, the Refugee Coalition of East Africa and Upper Rift Minorities are among the other groups that work with the camp’s LGBTQ residents.
The report notes only a third of respondents “were actively engaged in economic activity at the time of the study, a majority depended on the food rations distributed in the camp.” It also contains 10 recommendations, which are below, to improve conditions for LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma.
1) The Refugee Affairs Secretariat of Kenya must fast-track refugee status determination of LGBTQ asylum seekers with further support from UNHCR and civil society organizations.
2) The Refugee Affairs Secretariat of Kenya and UNHCR must create more responsive and sensitive protection services for LGBTQ refugees in Kenya.
3) Civil society organizations and their supporters should provide livelihood support and other support to meet the immediate needs of LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma.
4) Governments of resettlement countries must resume and fast track resettlement of LGBTQ refugees from Kenya.
5) UNHCR and civil society organizations must continue to build skills development programs for employability.
6) LGBTQ civil society organizations should work more closely with refugee-led organizations and collectives to build self-protection services.
7) Donor communities should participate in more long-term development programming for LGBTQI+ refugees in Kenya.
8) LGBTQ civil society organizations providing support to refugees in Kenya must coordinate more closely.
9) LGBTQ civil society organizations and refugee-led organizations should continue to advocate for more inclusive human rights in Kenya.
10) Civil society must continue the push for LGBTQ human rights globally, including decriminalization of same sex intimacy.
“This much-needed report underscores the challenges, dangers and complexities of life that LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers face in Kakuma refugee camp,” said ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth in a press release that announced the report’s release. “The refugees themselves have spoken and they want to be heard. UNHCR, governments and civil society organizations must work together to ensure the immediate safety and well-being of this community while also addressing the longer term, durable solutions we recommend in the report.”
Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell added refugee camps cannot “become permanent solutions to crises of forced displacement.”
“The findings of this report confirm a key goal of Rainbow Railroad—to fast track resettlement of LGBTQI+ refugees,” he said. “Rainbow Railroad and civil society partners are ready to provide support to LGBTQI+ persons at risk and assist in further resettlement. Ultimately, we need the UNHCR, the government of Kenya and governments of countries that are destinations for refugees to step up an ensure that LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in the camp are resettled in safer countries.”
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Kenyan lawmaker’s bill would further crackdown on LGBTQ rights
Provisions include 50-year prison sentence for gays and lesbians convicted of non-consensual sex
A fresh bid to prevent the recognition of and equal rights for LGBTQ people in Kenya through a constitutional amendment has been introduced in Parliament.
The move is in response to this month’s ruling from Kenya’s highest court affirming its February decision that allowed the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to register as a non-governmental organization.
Opposition MP Peter Kaluma, an outspoken critic of homosexuality, is the sponsor of the new initiative that is part of tightening the noose on LGBTQ people after the Kenyan Supreme Court dismissed his petition that challenged its February ruling.
Kaluma wanted the ruling reversed since the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission advocates for homosexuality, which is against the law, and sought the court’s clarification on the term “sex” to exclude LGBTQ persons.
Kaluma has already written to National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, notifying him of his proposal to have the term “sex” redefined in the constitution by repealing Article 259 (4) which judges perceive to also include consensual same-sex sexual relations.
“This will seal the constitutional gaps the courts are exploiting to introduce homosexuality into the country under the guise of ‘judicial interpretation’ and secure the legislative mandate retained in Parliament and constitutional-making power remains with the people,” Kaluma said.
He faults the judges for interpreting the term “sex” under Article 27 (4) of the constitution to also refer to sexual orientation of any gender, whether heterosexual, lesbian, gay, intersex, or otherwise, not to be discriminated from sexual identity.
The controversial court’s verdicts have sparked an uproar in the country since Article 45 of the constitution only recognizes consensual opposite-sex sexual relations and Section 162 of the penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.
In redefining “sex” in law, Kaluma wants the term to be limited to the biological state of being male or female as assigned at birth and not “foreign sexual orientation and gender identity ideology” which he argues the judges based on wrongly. The MPs proposal to redefine sex, however, would not impact intersex people in Kenya since their recognition and sex identity are protected under a landmark law that took effect in July 2022.
Kaluma notes that the court’s ruling renders sex/gender fluidity away from the biological state of being male or female “to over 150 current gender categories abbreviated as LGBTQ+” which has serious consequences for women in terms of equality.
“The courts, unelected arms of government not directly accountable to the people, have been the weakest link in the battle for family values across the world. The Supreme Court of the United States failed the Americans and the European courts have failed the Europeans,” the MP said.
Kaluma, who has also sponsored a stiffer anti-homosexuality bill that awaits introduction in the House, added “we are in a war not only to save our society but to salvage humanity from the LGBTQ+ perversion”.
The lawmaker has also sought to strengthen his anti-homosexuality measure by adding punitive clauses, including one that would impose a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison for gays and lesbians who are found guilty of engaging in non-consensual sex. Other provisions include a ban on gay Pride parades, assemblies, street marches, cross-dressing in public and all LGBTQ-related activities.
The MP has also proposed proposes a fine of $14,000 or a 7-year prison sentence for owners of premises used for same-sex sexual practices.
“I urge all persons and institutions of goodwill to stand firm and ready themselves to fight against homosexuality. Even when we don’t win before the courts as is the case across the world, I am certain we will win before the people’s representatives in parliament,” Kaluma stated.
Muslim and Christian religious authorities last Saturday staged anti-homosexuality protests in the coastal city of Mombasa, which is the country’s second largest city. Protesters condemned and denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling and asking President William Ruto to “unequivocally denounce LGBTQ” like his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni.
The Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council, a leading Muslim governing body, on Thursday also condemned the Supreme Court and demanded the ouster of Chief Justice Martha Koome and other judges who ruled in favor of the LGBTQ community. The group argues the ruling offends Kenya’s social, cultural and religious beliefs while asking the president and Parliament to be “firm” like Uganda, which enacted a harsh anti-homosexuality law in May.
A presidential education reform working group last month in a detailed report presented to Ruto after gathering views across the country recommended the teachers’ employers to hire pastors and Imams in elementary and high schools to help fight homosexuality and other so-called immoral practices. This call came after the Education Ministry in March confirmed to MPs its decision to form a Chaplains Committee, led by Kenya’s Anglican Church Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, to stop the infiltration of LGBTQ practices in schools.
The working group’s report has yet to be introduced in Parliament.
Kenya’s relentless move to curb homosexuality comes at a time when top government officials, politicians, and during this week’s U.N. General Assembly in New York raised concerns over backlash against LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world.
Eight jailed across Canada during anti-LGBTQ sex ed rallies
Prime minister condemned bigotry; counterprotests outnumbered demonstrations
A highly coordinated series of anti-LGBTQ protests rocked more than 80 cities across Canada on Wednesday, in a significant escalation of tactics by Canada’s anti-LGBTQ extremists.
The coordinated protests dubbed 1 Million March 4 Children are demanding an end to discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in Canadian classrooms. They come as several Canadian provinces have enacted policies that require students to have parental permission to change their preferred name or pronoun used in schools, and shortly after the federal Conservative Party adopted a series of anti-trans policies at its national convention.
According to its website, 1 Million March 4 Children is calling for “the elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.” The website also lists among its supporters numerous groups that were opposed to masking policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-vaccine groups, groups that promote conspiracy theories, and groups that support the truck convoys that laid siege to Ottawa and several U.S. border crossings last year.
Protests happened from coast to coast, in big cities, suburbs and small towns, but in most cases, they were met with coordinated counter-protests in support of LGBTQ rights who greatly outnumbered the protesters.
CBC reported that counter-protesters numbered roughly double the anti-LGBTQ protesters in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Inclusive sex education has long been part of school curriculums in most provinces in Canada and has generally enjoyed support from all major political parties.
While the protests where mostly peaceful, at least four anti-LGBTQ protesters were arrested after getting into altercations with counter-protestors in British Columbia, and police advised that the protest in front of the provincial legislature had become “unsafe.”
Police in Nanaimo, British Columbia, tackled and arrested one man who attempted to flee after allegedly getting into a physical altercation at City Hall. Two protestors were also arrested in Victoria, British Columbia, as they demonstrated in front of the provincial legislature, and another protester was arrested in Vancouver. Police in both cities did not provide additional information.
Ottawa police also arrested two protesters for allegedly inciting hatred and another for causing a disturbance in at the protest in front of Parliament.
And Toronto police arrested 47-year-old protester Julia Stevenson for allegedly bringing a weapon to the demonstration outside the provincial legislature. Police did not give further details about what kind of weapon she is alleged to have been carrying.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, condemned the anti-LGBTQ protests in a tweet on X, formerly Twitter.
“Let me make one thing very clear: Transphobia, homophobia and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country — you are valid and you are valued,” he wrote.
Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre did not put out any statement on the protests, nor did deputy leader Melissa Lantsman, who is openly lesbian and has previously spoken out on LGBTQ issues on behalf of the party.
The leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party Jagmeet Singh joined the counter-protestors who demonstrated in Ottawa and marched toward Parliament Hill.
“We know that there’s a lot of folks that don’t feel safe because of the rise in hate and division that’s targeting vulnerable people,” Singh told CTV. “But then you see a lot of people coming together, and it shows the strength of solidarity, of us supporting each other, of having each other’s back.”
Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling says the protesters are part of a North America-wide movement fomenting hatred against queer people using misinformation and lies.
“Using ‘parental consent’ as camouflage, this rally was part of a coordinated strike across North America to promote misinformation, intolerance and hate toward the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, as well as toward teachers who work to protect the safety and well-being of all students,” Schilling said in a statement.
In many cities, the anti-LGBTQ protests were officially condemned by mayors and school boards.
Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, who has publicly supported LGBTQ rights since the 1980s, issued a strong statement condemning the protests.
“We stand against all forms of discrimination, hatred and bigotry, and for the safety and well-being of all young people. Some wish to target our schools and libraries to spread hate. We know these must be spaces that welcome everyone, especially students,” Chow wrote.
The city of Whitehorse, Yukon, issued a statement condemning bigotry in advance of the protests.
“While the city supports people’s right to organize and protest, we stand by our 2SLGBTQIA+ community members and their right to live their true selves safely and free of harassment and hate. The promotion of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ ideas has no place in our community and messages that target fellow community members will not be tolerated,” the statement says.
However, New Brunswick Primer Blaine Higgs, who was the first to introduce a “parental consent” policy for trans students, joined the protesters in front of the provincial legislature in Fredericton.
“I think our parents should become knowledgeable about what their kids are being taught and what is important for them to learn in schools and what’s important for parents to make decisions on with kids that are under 16-years-old,” Higgs told reporters.
British Columbia Conservative Party leader John Rustad went further in a statement on the protests. While he says he doesn’t “officially” support the protests, if his party wins next year’s election, he promised to cancel the province’s sex ed curriculum and implied he would ban transgender girls from sports.
India penal code reform bills do not include LGBTQ, intersex rights
Supreme Court earlier this year heard marriage equality cases
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019 said that all the laws implemented during British rule should be made in accordance with modern norms and with society’s interests in account after adequate discussion and consideration. The government this year introduced a bill that would amend India’s criminal laws, but the measure is not inclusive.
Home Minister Amit Shah on Aug. 11 introduced the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill 2023, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill 2023 and Bharatiya Sakhshya Bill 2023 in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament. The three bills would replace the Indian Penal Code of 1860, the Criminal Procedure Code of 1898 and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.
Shah said while introducing the bill that these three laws strengthened and protected British rule, and their purpose was to punish, not to give justice.
“The soul of three new laws will be to protect all the rights given to Indian citizens by the constitution, and their purpose will not be to punish but give justice,” said Shah. “These three laws made with Indian thought process will bring a huge change in our criminal justice system.”
Shah, while introducing the bill, also said that the government has taken a very principled decision to bring citizens to the center, instead of governance. These laws, however, still fail to be inclusive.
Chapter Five of the proposed revision to the penal code, which deals with offenses against women and children, did not talk about people who do not fall under specified categories, leaving out LGBTQ and intersex rights.
Section 63 of the code still defines rape as sexual assault by a man against a woman and continues to preserve gender stereotypes. The definition fails to recognize sexual assault by a man against another man or by a woman against another woman.
Another concerning section of the proposed criminal code, Section 38, would extend the right to private defense of the body to voluntarily causing the death of or any other harm to an assailant if an assault is with the intention of gratifying “unnatural lust.” The code does not define “unnatural lust” though it is very similar to now abolished Section 377 that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.
The Supreme Court in 2018 decriminalized homosexuality in India, thus repealing Section 377.
The British first introduced Section 377 and it was modelled on the Buggery Act of 1533. Thomas Macaulay in 1838 wrote the colonial-era law and it came into force in 1860. The Buggery Act defined buggery as an unnatural sexual activity against the will of God and man.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code defines unnatural offenses as whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Even though Section 377 has been repealed, the new criminal laws do not include the LGBTQ and intersex community under the same legal protection that is available to others. The new bill fails to mention LGBTQ and intersex people, leaving out any protection against violent crime.
There are no official statistics available on crimes against LGBTQ and intersex people, including those based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in India.
“The language of the new laws has undergone substantial positive changes to further include the LGBTQ community. After the passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019, the proposed new criminal laws also have gender-inclusive language,” said Krishna Deva Rao, vice chancellor of the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research in Telangana state. “For instance, the meaning of the term ‘gender’ has been expanded as section 2(9) of Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (the law to replace the existing Indian Penal Code 1860) now defines ‘gender’ as the pronoun ‘he’ and its derivatives are used of any person, whether male, female or transgender. The penal law in Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita has also formally removed the controversial provision Section 377 from the IPC.”
Rao said that the government should have done a better job of further addressing the discriminatory treatment meted out to such marginalized communities.
In an email to the Washington Blade, Rao said that despite the Supreme Court’s landmark NALSA verdict in 2014, the government has yet to provide horizontal reservations to the transgender community.
“Despite the passage of the Transgender Persons Act 2019, the concerns of the community remain unredressed as the penalties provided therein are very low. Similarly, despite the 2014 Supreme Court verdict providing for self-determination of gender identity without having to undergo surgical intervention, the 2019 Act and related rules are interpreted in a way to mandate surgery,” said Rao. “Recently, in August 2023 Hyderabad police came under heavy scrutiny for cracking down on a begging racket. The police personnel discriminated against members of the transgender community because they had not undergone surgery or had genitalia not corresponding to their identified gender.”
In a statement made about Chapter Five of the newly proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Act, Rao said that the law catered to address crimes against women and children. Rao added it should have been expanded to include the LGBTQ and intersex community as well.
“While Section 377 has been struck down from the IPC, as per the landmark Navtej Singh Johar decision by the Supreme Court of India in 2018 the provision was only partially read down to exclude consensual homosexual relationships. By removing the provision entirely, non-consensual or illegal acts of intercourse against men as well as transgender community are left completely unaddressed by the new penal law,” said Rao. “The arrest and medical examination safeguards under the criminal procedure have been exclusively catered to the protection of women. For instance, women survivors of sexual abuse have to be medically examined in a prescribed way, women can’t be arrested after sunset and before sunrise, etc. Such procedures should also be extended to people from the LGBTQ community. Similarly, when transgender persons have to be examined, they should be allowed to provide their written consent for the gender of the doctor.”
Two Supreme Court judges in their 2014 NALSA vs. Union of India ruling said that trans people fall within the purview of the Indian constitution and thus are fully entitled to the rights guaranteed therein.
“In a country which once considered us to be a ‘minuscule populace’, the LGBTQIA+ community has been overlooked as a demographic group to be considered during any revelations of the constitution,” said Ankana Dey of Sappho for Equality, an activist forum for lesbian, bisexual woman and trans men. “In research in 2018, the LGBTQIA+ group was one of the 12 groups in India that was least represented in any research or legislative amendments. In context to the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita bill, it is no different for us. However, the LGBTQIA+ movement will continue to fight for its rights and representation in legal reforms. LGBTQIA+ activists and groups will continue to navigate the laws and policies in order to bring relief of some form to the community and will continue spreading that information with a bottoms-up approach.”
In an email to the Blade, Dey said that every time Sappho for Equality’s team is in the field, they work along the lines of advocacy and try to strike a dialogue with the legal representatives of the state such as police, lawyers and paralegal workers.
“Through these dialogues, we understood that the laws which have been passed and have not been circulated enough within the networks of legal representatives. Most of the lawyers in our state are unaware of what constitutes the NALSA judgment, The Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Act and Bill, and even the Mental Healthcare Act. The State Legal Services Authority (SALSA) categorically mentions that any person from the LGBTQIA+ community who has faced violence and discrimination has the right to free legal services from the state,” said Dey. “Albeit most of the community persons are not aware of this service and even if they are, money extortion and intimidation are grave concerns that make these services severely inaccessible. Some of these dialogues have translated into heated conversations since most lawmakers do not enjoy being told that their knowledge lacks constructive information and their work generally surrounds misinformation, stigma, and stereotypes associated with us. Despite this, we are hellbent on continuing our fight to counter the legalities that affect us negatively. We are intently striving towards working with lawyers at a regional level and sensitizing them about queer-trans* lives and liveabilities.”
Dey said that most of these bills that would specifically address trans lives have not been implemented since the NALSA ruling in 2014. She said there is a severe lack of implementation of these laws at the grassroots level.
“We strongly believe that with the revised IPC that deals with offenses against women and children, there is an urgent need to expand the very definition of a ‘woman,'” said Dey.
While talking to the Blade, Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist, said he hopes that the actual draft will be more inclusive for all genders and sexualities.
“I think culture is not static, culture is evolutionary. Our laws also have evolved from time to time. We have made more progressive laws. With gender and sexuality, I would hope that the changes in laws would be more inclusive for all citizens of India,” said Iyer. “It is an Indian culture to accept different sexuality. British culture was Section 377 of IPC. If we are going to define the law that is not IPC, it becomes imperative for us to follow Indian culture. We have always accepted and respected LGBTQI+ people.”
Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion.
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