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Kenyan MPs approve resolution to ban public discussions of LGBTQ issues

Some lawmakers argue motion threatens freedom of expression

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Kenyan flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Kenya’s parliament has overwhelmingly passed a motion for the government to enforce an immediate ban on “public discussion, reporting and distribution” of LGBTQ content in the country. 

It passed on Wednesday, despite some legislators raising concerns that it is a threat to the freedom of expression, information and the media protected under the Kenyan Constitution. 

Owen Baya, an MP from the ruling United Democratic Alliance party who also serves as National Assembly’s deputy majority leader, termed the motion “controversial” and questioned why it was allowed for debate in the House, even though it violates the law.  

“The republic of Kenya is governed by the Constitution. How can we prohibit freedom of speech? Freedom of speech, reporting and distribution of information are constitutional rights even if same-sex relations are illegal in Kenya,” Baya said. 

The Article 33 of the Constitution under the freedom of expression requires every person to respect the rights and reputation of others. 

Section 2 of the same Article 33, however, curtails freedom of speech when it amounts to war propaganda, incitement to violence, hate speech and advocacy to hatred such as ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm.  

Article 32, which Baya also cited, provides the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion in addition to Article 34 which guarantees the freedom and independence of electronic, print, and all other types of media. 

The sponsor of the anti-gay motion, Mohamed Ali, an MP from the ruling party and a celebrated investigative journalist, in response argued that publicizing homosexuality, which is outlawed in the country, violates the constitution that only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman. 

“The constitution gives us the freedom of expression, but not about gay and lesbianism which are unlawful practices in Kenya,” Ali said. 

The legislator stated that his motion banning LGBTQ publicity is motivated by an increase in homosexuality in the country because of LGBTQ-specific content in books and in print and broadcast media.

The government is already cracking down on foreign teenage books with LGBTQ content. 

The Education Ministry and the church have also formed a Chaplains Committee chaired by Kenya’s Anglican Bishop Jackson Ole Sapit to counter what he describes as the infiltration of homosexuality in schools. The committee’s mandate include counseling students who identify as LGBTQ. 

“We recognize that publishing and distributing homosexual content through the press has serious consequences to the family values and opposite-sex relations that should be protected since the increase in same-sex relations threatens the extinction of human beings in the country,” the motion reads.  

The move to curtail homosexuality is also in response to last month’s Supreme Court ruling that granted the LGBTQ community the right to register as non-governmental organization. 

The judges’ decision sparked anger and criticism from religious leaders and politicians, including President William Ruto, who has instructed the attorney general to have it overturned through an appeal.  

The motion that lawmakers approved on Wednesday calls for the police and judiciary to enforce it through the Section 162 of the Penal Code that criminalizes consensual same-sex relations with a 14-year jail term and sets the pace for the introduction of an anticipated anti-homosexuality bill that is being drafted.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma, who sponsored the bill that seeks to further criminalize and punish homosexuality and the promotion of LGBTQ activities in Kenya, last month notified the National Assembly Speaker about its introduction in the House.    

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman came under fire during the debate on the motion because of her recent remarks in defense of the LGBTQ and intersex community that she made after she met with a group of activists.

“She should respect our religious beliefs, African and Kenyan culture, and our constitution the way we respect the U.S. Constitution. We won’t allow the American culture of gay and lesbianism to rule in Kenya and I ask Whitman to practice the American in the U.S. and the Kenyan culture be left to Kenyans,” Ali said. 

The lawmakers also criticized the West, particularly the U.S., for championing LGBTQ and intersex rights in what they termed as engaging in serious reengineering of the world order to destroy other people’s cultures and humanity. 

The parliament’s move to curtail consensual same-sex rights in Kenya comes at a time when Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is being pressured by the U.N., the U.S. and other Western nations not to sign into law a bill that bans people from identifying as LGBTQ or intersex. Kenyan lawmakers have applauded their Ugandan counterparts for passing the measure, while urging Museveni to assent to it without bowing to any pressure from the Western nations since his firm opposition to homosexuality has made him East Africa’s role model.

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What’s next for LGBTQ rights in South Africa after the country’s elections?

African National Congress lost parliamentary majority on May 29

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Pretoria and Cape Town are the first cities in Africa to install Pride crosswalks. Activists are wondering what the outcome of South Africa's May 29 elections will mean for LGBTQ rights. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Walker/Pretoria Pride)

More than 50 independent candidates and political parties participated in South Africa’s national and provincial elections that took place on May 29. The Electoral Commission of South Africa declared the results on June 2.

No independent candidate or political party managed to secure the outright parliamentary majority of more than 50 percent of the votes, which prompts the creation of a coalition government. None of the 18 political parties that managed to win at least one seat in the National Assembly wholly represented the LGBTQ community.

Although South Africa is the only African country that constitutionally recognizes the rights of the LGBTQ community, some of the political parties that managed to secure seats in the National Assembly had signaled they would reserve these gains.

Former President Jacob Zuma, who leads the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, during a January debate said the thought of dating within the same gender was unpalatable and un-African. The MK is now the country’s third largest political party after it won 14.58 percent of the vote, making it a pivotal player in the formation of a coalition government.

Dawie Nel, the executive director of OUT LGBT Well-being, said undermining the constitution is “a dangerous, misguided, and populist strategy to avoid acknowledging the failures of governance and the lack of implementation of constitutional values that are meant to improve the lives of South Africans.”

“South Africa’s constitution is celebrated as one of the most significant achievements of our transition to democracy, ensuring that all citizens are treated with dignity and respect, and that their rights are protected in all aspects of life,” said Nell. 

There now seems to be an impasse on who becomes the government’s next leader because of some of the demands that political parties made before they entered into any negotiations.

Bruce Walker of Pretoria Pride said the best possible outcome for the preservation of LGBTQ rights in South Africa would be if the former governing political party, the African National Congress (ANC), which garnered the most support with 40.18 percent of the vote, partners with the Democratic Alliance (DA), which finished second with 21.81 percent of the votes, to form a coalition government.

“I think it will be a good outcome for the community if the DA has some power in a coalition government,” said Walker.

Rise Mzansi, which managed to secure 0.42 percent of the votes with two seats in the National Assembly, said it will continue protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community.

“Rise Mzansi reaffirms its commitment in protecting LGBTQ+ rights in South Africa, as outlined in Section 9 of our constitution,” said the party.

Zubenathi Daca, program coordinator for student employability and entrepreneurship development in Nelson Mandela University’s Department of Student Governance and Development said the fight for LGBTQ rights in South Africa will continue.

“The battle has not yet been won,” said Daca. “Queer people are still being killed and homophobic remarks are still being made towards us daily, and we need people who have found the confidence to voice out their dissatisfactions against how they are treated and also speak out for the voiceless.” 

“This society is ours just as it is everyone else’s,” added Daca. “We are in corporate spaces, leadership positions, and political spaces to show that we belong here, and that we are here to stay.” 

The constitution says National Assembly members should be sworn in within two weeks of the elections. They will then meet for the first time and elect a new speaker, deputy speaker and president.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo who will preside over the entire process, on Monday said the National Assembly will meet for the first time since the elections on Friday.

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Queer Nigerians still struggle with housing discrimination and homelessness

Transphobia forced Fola Francis to flee her Ibadan home

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Fola Francis (Photo via Instagram)

In Nigeria, the pursuit to secure a safe and comfortable home is often fraught with challenges for many, but for the LGBTQ community — especially those who are openly gay — these challenges are often insurmountable. 

Some two years ago, Fola Francis, a popular transgender woman who has since passed away, had to leave her home in Ibadan and fled to Lagos due to transphobia. A now deleted video of her had gone viral on TikTok, and it got to the hands of her transphobic landlord and neighbors. They held a rally to make her leave the house, breaking into it many times. 

“I got death threats from my neighbors due to them finding out I’m a trans woman on social media when my videos went viral,” she said to the BBC. 

Francis’s experience doesn’t exist in isolation. 

“For me, all I had to do was be visibly effeminate before my neighbors began to clamp down on and force me to move out,” Damian Okpara, a student at the University of Nigeria, told the Washington Blade. 

Despite the global movement towards acceptance and equality, Nigerian society remains deeply rooted in conservative values that stigmatize and marginalize queer people; and this systemic discrimination is starkly evident in the housing sector, where visibly queer people face significant barriers and prejudices that deny them the fundamental right to safe and secure housing.

“It is nowhere in the constitution that a person should be discriminated against housing of their choice due to their sexuality,” Chizelu Emejuju, a human rights lawyer, told the Blade.

Emejuju founded Minority Watch, which is an organization that focuses on fighting for the rights of minorities, including the queer community, in Nigeria. That said, Nigeria’s legal framework is one of the most hostile in the world towards the LGBTQ community. 

The Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, passed in 2014, not only criminalizes same-sex relationships but also any public display of affection between same-sex couples. This law has legitimized widespread discrimination and has given rise to an environment where queer individuals are systematically marginalized and ostracized.

According to many, homosexuality is often viewed as a Western import, incompatible with the Nigerian values and traditions. Homophobia therefore translates into severe consequences for LGBTQ individuals, particularly in the realm of people. 

For Okpara, he’s had to leave his former home to live with a friend, even though it may mean putting both of them at risk of homelessness. 

“Although my friend’s place is more accepting of femme-boys like me, there is still the constant fear that they may switch up on us,” he said. “It’s so hard to be an effeminate man in Nigeria.” 

Okpara’s experience is a stark reminder that for many LGBTQ Nigerians, the search for housing is a journey marked by rejection and prejudice. Landlords and housing agents frequently deny rentals to openly queer people or those they suspect are queer. 

A common experience shared by many queer people is being evicted without notice once their sexual orientation or gender identity becomes known. Stories like that of Francis and Okpara are common — tenants, who after months of living peacefully, find themselves suddenly homeless, their belongings discarded, and their safety threatened. This precarious existence forces many into substandard living conditions, or in some cases, into homelessness.

The impact of housing discrimination on queer Nigerians is profound, extending far beyond the physical realm into deep psychological and emotional suffering. 

“Although I am introverted and need friends, I have decided to not even bring anyone into my space anymore,” Valentina Ikpazu, an entrepreneur in Lagos, told the Blade. “At this point, I would rather find other ways to be happy than be homeless.” 

The constant fear of eviction and the relentless search for a safe space create a state of perpetual anxiety and insecurity. This unstable housing situation often leads to chronic stress, depression, and other mental health issues.

The plight of LGBTQ people in Nigeria’s housing market exemplifies the broader struggles they face in a society that often rejects their very existence. 

“Queer people need to understand that they have a legal right to stay in a place of choice, especially if the landowners do not include clauses that are discriminatory in the earlier stages of apartment acquisition,” Emejuju said. “Even if they include clauses that are outrightly discriminatory to queer people, it can be challenged in court, as there’s no law [backing up the clauses.]”

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Kenyan Supreme Court orders MP to pay LGBTQ activist $5,000

Peter Kaluma challenged ruling that allowed NGO to register

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Kenyan MP Peter Kaluma (Photo courtesy of Kaluma's X account)

The Kenyan Supreme Court has ordered opposition MP Peter Kaluma to pay an LGBTQ activist around $5,000 (Ksh500,000) for challenging its ruling that allowed his former organization to register as a non-governmental organization.

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered Kaluma, who has sponsored the country’s anti-homosexuality bill, to pay former National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Eric Gitari the amount after it dismissed his appeal of its ruling last September.

Gitari was a defendant in the case after leading the push for NGLHRC’s registration as an NGO amid opposition by the government because it championing consensual same-sex sexual relations that Kenya outlaws.

Five of the court’s seven justices, led by Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu through a virtual hearing, ordered the lawmaker to pay Gitari $5,000 for time wasted and costs incurred in hearing his appeal and an additional $2,000 (Ksh200,000) for bringing the case.

The judges’ ruling comes after Kaluma in January approached the Supreme Court to dispute the Deputy Registrar’s decision to assess the appeal’s costs and the order to pay Gitari after he lost.

The MP argued the Deputy Registrar did not serve him with the ruling’s notice to pay and that he only learned about the court’s decision when Gitari’s lawyer texted him to demand the $5,000.  

Kaluma also argued the lawyer demanded that the court’s seven day timeline to challenge the payment had already expired on Nov. 14, 2023. Kaluma thus urged the Supreme Court to give him more time to challenge the Deputy Registrar’s decision. 

The Supreme Court, however, rejected Kaluma’s plea after establishing he did not tell the truth since legal filings show the Deputy Registrar served him the ruling he disputed through his official email address on Nov. 6, 2023. 

“We note that there have been numerous correspondences from the court through this court’s email address to MP Kaluma and vice versa. Notably, there was correspondence from the court on Sept. 12, 2023, and Nov. 6, 2023, to the MP via his email address,” Mwilu noted.    

The judges also noted that from the court’s records from March 9, 2023, after issuing the first ruling in the NGLHRC registration case and emailing the same to Kaluma, do not indicate his email changed

“Therefore, there is no doubt in our minds that the email address in question belongs to the applicant. We therefore come to the irresistible conclusion that Kaluma was indeed aware and was served with the impugned ruling,” Mwilu stated.  

The court further noted Kaluma did not provide a good reason for not challenging the Deputy Registrar’s decision within the statutory timelines.

“Further, the applicant has not met any of the conditions to convince this court to exercise its discretion in his favor,” Mwilu ruled.   

Her affirmation on behalf of the court to decline to hear Kaluma’s attempt to delay paying Gitari brought the matter to an end. Kaluma is now required to comply with the order without any delay or risk further legal action.   

Kaluma, who was not a party to the Supreme Court’s hearings in the NGLHRC case, lost his appeal last Sept. 12. The judges cited the MP’s filing his application beyond the stipulated timelines and for not being a party to the case during the initial hearings.

“In our view, the application is a disguised appeal from this court’s judgment and does not fall within the confines of the parameters prescribed for review by statute and applicable case law. Therefore, the application stands dismissed,” the court ruled.  “On costs, the applicant is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and a member of parliament. He ought to have known that his application was misconceived. He must consequently bear the costs thereof.”

The judges, while allowing NGLHRC to register as an NGO, stated it would be unconstitutional to limit the right to associate, through denial of registration of an association based on the applicants’ sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court’s ruling — which LGBTQ activists received with joy and anti-LGBTQ campaigners, clerics and politicians condemned — came 10 years later after Gitari challenged the Kenya NGOs Coordination Board in lower courts for refusing to register NGLHRC.   

He brought the case in 2013.

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