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Kenyan LGBTQ groups seek representation in government human rights body

New report documents lack of employment opportunities, limited access to financial system



Kenya flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Kenyan advocacy groups are demanding representation in the country’s government-funded human rights body in order to champion their interests in a bid to end inequality and discrimination against them.  

The groups that advocate on behalf of lesbians, bisexuals, queer and gender non-conforming people in a report released in May note their exclusion from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights representation has contributed to the elusive realization of equal rights that other citizens enjoy.

The report, dubbed “An Economic Justice Report for LBQGNC in Kenya,” details continued discrimination against LGBTQ Kenyans in employment opportunities, financial services and government social empowerment funding.

This situation is despite the country recording progressive women’s economic inclusion, whose rate, according to Kenya’s Bureau of Statistics data, is 40 percent in urban areas and 22 percent in parts of the country. This figure is attributed to favorable laws and policies that allow equal and active participation of women in economic activities.  

The report notes discrimination against queer people in employment in both public and private sectors due to homophobia has forced most of them to become entrepreneurs, including models, with some benefiting from the government’s social empowerment funding.  

“The Kenyan government should ensure that a minimum of one commissioner is included in the makeup of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights whose focus will be to represent all members of the LGBTQ+ community,” the 52-page report reads.

The Kenya Human Rights Organization, which advocates for equal rights, regardless of one’s gender identity and sexual orientation, had made a similar demand to help address anti-LGBTQ discrimination. 

The push to have an LGBTQ representative comes at a time when intersex people in Kenya have a commissioner on the KNHCR who advocates for their rights following their recognition in law last year as the country’s third sex. 

To address the problem of discrimination in employment, the report wants the government and other relevant players to establish an employment agency for the queer community to help form networks among LGBTQ-friendly businesses.

“Financial institutions could also support LBQGNC businesses by providing attractive interest rates for loans and reasonable repayment deadlines. This can be better achieved through partnerships with LGBTQ+ organizations to help identify businesses run by LBQGNC persons,” the report reads.  

It urges banks and other financial institutions to set up departments or teams in charge of identifying and addressing LGBTQ Kenyans’ financial needs, reviewing provisions that limit their access to certain products and services. This includes limitations to opening joint accounts that are only open to heterosexual married couples, the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations and legal recognition of same-sex partners.

The report, whose data collection entailed desktop research and interviewing of LGBTQ people in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, and cities that include Mombasa and Kisumu, notes continued discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity continues to have an impact in education: LGBTQ people face expulsion from school, bullying and stigma. 

The rejection and discrimination against LGBTQ people, according to the report, starts with the family, relatives and the community, where they are sometimes subjected to forced moral “conversion” to confirm to society.

“From a human rights perspective, practices such as conversion ‘therapy’ ought to be denounced, with many countries having taken steps towards ensuring its eradication within their jurisdictions,” the report reads. 

The so-called conversion therapy methods are varied and may include electro-shock therapy and forced administration of medication to induce drowsiness and lethargy, one of the survivors who also almost died said. 

“This is the sad reality faced by too many LBQGNC people in Kenya to this day, at the basis of which is the religious, cultural, and overall societal discrimination against the people in this community,” reads the report. 

Kenya’s Education Ministry in March established a Chaplains Committee comprising religious leaders from various denominations to provide counseling to students who identify as LGBTQ to stop its so-called infiltration in schools. The controversial Supreme Court ruling in February that allowed LGBTQ NGOs to register prompted this decision. 

The ruling, which has been appealed to the attorney general, sparked criticism from clerics and political leaders since Section 162 of the Penal Code criminalizes consensual same-sex acts with 14 years prison term.   

The LGBTQ rights groups want Kenya’s new curriculum, especially on social ethics and religious education, reviewed and to embrace sexual orientation and gender identity by recognizing LGBTQ people as normal and not “social outcasts.”

“Additionally, ensure that the school environment fosters respect for all people, human rights, and each child’s family values in an atmosphere of understanding, tolerance, and equality,” the report states. 

The report asks the government to require all schools to have anti-bullying policies that protect LGBTQ persons and teachers undergo training on diversity and inclusion to promote gender equality. The groups also want the government to guarantee equal access to reproductive healthcare and HIV/AIDS information and treatment that recognizes and respects the needs of LGBTQ people. 

The report also seeks a policy paper to help health practitioners and medical students how to work with queer people. 



Eswatini government refuses to allow LGBTQ rights group to legally register

Supreme Court previously ruled in favor of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities



Members of the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group, after the Eswatini Supreme Court on May 5, 2023, heard arguments in their case in support of legally registering in the country. (Photo courtesy of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities)

The Eswatini Commerce, Industry and Trade Ministry this week said it will not allow an LGBTQ rights group to register.

The country’s Supreme Court in June ruled the government must allow Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities to register.

The Registrar of Companies in 2019 denied the group’s request. Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities the following year petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case. The Supreme Court initially ruled against the group, but it appealed the decision.

“[The] Minister of Commerce and Trade refuses to register ESGM citing the ‘Roman Dutch Law,'” said Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities on Thursday in a tweet to its X account. “This was after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the refusal to register ESGM by the registrar was unconstitutional.”

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TikTok in talks with Kenyan government to stop LGBTQ-specific content

Official says ‘draft framework’ will be ready by end of this month



(Public domain photo)

TikTok is the latest global digital video platform to enter talks with the Kenyan government to stop access to LGBTQ-specific videos and other content prohibited under the country’s laws.  

TikTok, a popular short-form mobile video-streaming platform, is currently in joint talks with government officials to develop a framework for censoring such content classified under the “restricted category.”  

“A draft framework of the content regulation is being worked on by a joint team and it will be ready by the end of this month. The larger regulatory framework will address specific content like LGBTQ, explicit and terrorism materials shared on TikTok,” an official who is familiar with the discussions told the Washington Blade.

The joint team is compelled to develop the framework to regulate TikTok users who enjoy full control of videos they share on the platform without the service providers’ prior approval, unlike Netflix and other movie streaming platforms that readily classify content for users.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized under Section 165 of Kenya’s penal code.     

The move to regulate TikTok content arises from a petitioner who wrote to the National Assembly last month demanding the country ban the social media platform for promoting what he deemed harmful and inappropriate content. 

The petitioner, Bob Ndolo, an executive officer for Briget Connect Consultancy, cited violence, explicit sexual videos, hate speech, vulgar language and offensive behavior as content with a “serious threat to cultural and religious values of Kenya” shared on TikTok. 

The petition ignited an uproar among Kenyans, particularly TikTok users who make a living from their videos through monetization. 

They asked the government not to ban the platform, but instead enact a regulatory framework to stop inappropriate content. This request prompted President William Ruto and several senior government officials to convene a virtual meeting with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on Aug. 24 over content regulation under Kenya’s guidelines and monetization.  

Chew during the meeting committed to “moderate content to fit community standards” by removing inappropriate or offensive content from TikTok and pledged to set up an office in Nairobi to serve the African continent.   

The virtual meeting was followed by another physical one at State House between Ruto and TikTok Africa Director Fortune Sibanda on Sept. 2, where it was announced that the social platform is set to launch a national training program to empower its users on creating and promoting so-called positive content. 

TikTok has already stopped monetization for users sharing inappropriate or restricted content and deactivated their accounts as efforts to draft the regulatory work continue.

“A joint artificial intelligence tool is being used in the meantime to detect offensive content for removal and the accounts brought down,” stated the official. “It has significantly reduced inappropriate content for the last few weeks since Kenya and TikTok started engaging.”

The latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report released in June revealed that Kenya leads the world in TikTok usage with an astounding 54 percent share of global consumption. Thailand and South Africa follow with 51 percent and 50 percent respectively.   

The Kenya Film Classification Board, the country’s film regulator, signed an agreement with Netflix in February this year to stop the streaming of LGBTQ-specific movies. The regulatory body is part of the ongoing talks with TikTok. 

The KFCB is also yet to finalize its talks with Showmax and two local video-on-demand platforms to stop the streaming of LGBTQ-specific movies.    

The regulatory body derives its powers from the Films and Stage Act that regulates the exhibition, distribution, possession or broadcasting of content to the public. 

The ever-changing digital technologies that include TikTok and other social media platforms have prompted the KFCB to reconsider its regulatory framework by coming up with new measures. 

One such proposal, dubbed the Kenya Film Bill, would empower the KFCB to classify and regulate content in this digital era to stop ones that go against government-mandated standards. 

The Information, Communication and Technology Ministry last week appointed a special team to look into existing laws and recommend policy and regulatory framework for the digital platforms. The ministry’s senior officials, including Assistant Minister John Tanui, are also taking part in the talks with TikTok.

The ministry’s newly unveiled panel will also ask whether the Kenya Film Bill can be enacted independently or combined with new legislative proposals.  

The regulation of TikTok content in Kenya comes amid the anticipated introduction of the Family Protection Bill in the National Assembly that would criminalize any form of promotion of LGBTQ activities with harsh punishment of at least 10 years in jail or not less than a $67,000 fine or both.     

TikTok in April 2022 suspended the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ rights group in the U.S., for a couple of days after it included the word “gay” in a reel against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. The company determined the post violated “community guidelines.”

A British lawmaker criticized TikTok in September 2019 over reports that it censored LGBTQ-specific content, such as two men kissing or holding hands, and artificially prevented LGBTQ users’ posts from going viral in some countries.

Theo Bertram, TikTok’s director of public policy in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, apologized to the British parliamentary committee and confirmed the company only removes such LGBTQ-specific content if law enforcement agencies in countries of operation request it.

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South African police arrest seven men linked to kidnapping of Grindr users

Advocacy groups welcomed arrests, urged authorities to investigate other cases



(Photo by Rarraroro via Bigstock)

South African LGBTQ organizations have welcomed the arrest of seven suspects linked to a series of kidnappings liked to Grindr.

Several Grindr users in South Africa in recent months have been kidnapped for ransom through the dating app.

The South African Police Service said the seven suspects were arrested following an investigation into the kidnapping of an 18-year-old Wits University student on Sept. 19.

SAPS said suspects demanded $1,500 for the student’s release. Authorities set up a sting operation and a breakthrough came on Sept. 20 when they identified an ATM where one of the suspects was expected to withdraw the ransom money. Officers placed one of the suspects under arrest as soon as he arrived, and he agreed to show them where the victim was being held captive.

“The student was reported missing the same day by his roommate. It is reported that he was lured to the suspects through a dating site called Grindr,” said SAPS spokesperson Brenda Muridili. “Afterwards, the police conducted surveillance and arrested one suspect as soon as he arrived. He then led the authorities to the Denver Men’s Hostel (in Johannesburg), where they discovered the 18-year-old victim bound and unconscious. Six additional suspects were apprehended, and the victim was rushed to the hospital for medical attention.” 

Muridili also said there is a high possibility that the suspects are further linked to 86 similar Grindr-related cases.

“We cannot rule out the possibility because this is not the first case of its kind,” said Muridili. “We have several cases that are being investigated.”

Access Chapter 2 Media Liaison Officer Mpho Buntse said the organization welcomed the arrest, but it still worried about why such incidents continue to take place.

“We congratulate SAPS in Johannesburg for acting swiftly in arresting seven homophobes who have been using Grindr, to terrorize and torture their victims. We believe that this arrest is a firm demonstration of the force’s commitment to confront crimes of this nature. As an organization, we have been vocal in calling for swift action, as many of these cases have been reported to the organization,” said Buntse. “However, we are deeply concerned at the sporadic nature of these syndicates. Not so long ago, we celebrated the arrest of the initial Grindr kidnapping and extortion group in the area of Johannesburg, which gave rise to this newly arrested group. It raises a sharp concern as to why these groups keep emerging.”

Gauteng Police in February arrested four men who they say used Grindr to extort and victimize LGBTQ people.

“We continue to call upon members of the community, gay men in particular to limit the use of the application where it poses threats, we further acknowledge the erotic justice due to queer persons and the freedom to associate without fear and prejudice,” said Buntse. “We also commend Grindr for listening to the call to strengthen the safety of the app.”

Out Human Rights Coordinator Sibonelo Ncanana echoed Buntse, but questioned why the police are not actively investigating similar cases in other provinces.

“We are happy that seven suspects have been arrested but we need that same swiftness that happened in Gauteng to also transpire in other provinces because there are other similar cases that have not been solved or investigated that involve Grindr,” said Ncanana. “This worries us a lot but we are grateful and appreciate the swift response of the police hopefully it will extend to other provinces.” 

Ruth Maseko of the Triangle Project said LGBTQ people continue to be targeted because of their place in society, even though Grindr and other dating apps have issued warnings to their users.

“Although no dating app is necessarily safe, LGBTIQ persons can be viewed by prospective suspects as easy targets because of the stigma surrounding orientation and identity,” said Maseko. “This means that it may be the thinking of perpetrators that LGBTIQ people will not report these incidents and give in to extortion.”

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