Kenyan gay rights activists optimistic

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Behind the Mask  

afrol News, 16 January - Presently, there are no rights for sexual minorities in Kenya, rather they are persecuted. With the new government of President Mwai Kibaki and the process of re-drafting the constitution, gay rights activists of the Kenyan Galebitra group are however optimistic, expecting things to change.

The South African webzine 'Behind the Mask' this week conducted an exclusive interview with Galebitra's co-ordinator Jeremy Mirie, asking him about the perspectives of sexual minorities' rights in Kenya after the elections. These were "happy new times," Mr Mirie's general answer was. 

He put special hopes in the draft constitution, which was in the process of being re-drafted in the new Parliament to better protect civil rights. A special Ministry of Constitutional Issues has even been established. Although the new constitution is not expected to explicitly prohibit discrimination against sexual minorities (as does the South African), human rights in general will be strengthened along with President Kabuki's election promises.

- Galebitra feel that the new government has so much pressure from IMF, World Bank and other bodies, and the new government will seek to fulfil its promises, and make more liberal policy within the system of governance, Mr Mirie told 'Behind the Mask'. "With the newly established ministries, like the Ministry of Gender and Youth Development and the Ministry of Constitutional Issues, Galebira will seek to penetrate and advocate for liberal women's policy and thereby advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangendered rights indirectly."

The establishment of a Ministry of Constitutional Issues means that Galebitra have a strong inroad for advocacy on lesbian and gay issues, according to 'Behind the Mask'. "Galebitra will seek to use the gaps in the Social Clause and engage the Ministry with the aim of persuading them to give recognition to lesbian and gay rights," Mr Mirie said. 

These activities would however only be possible with "strong partners, reciprocal partnerships and massive advocacy within Kenya," the gay rights activist added. "Also external pressure from other organisations outside Kenya will help give voice to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangendered community within Kenya."

Given the current situation of sexual minorities in Kenya, the gay movement has little to lose. Homosexual activities are outlawed in Kenya and police is taking action whenever they come across it. Ex-President Daniel arap Moi was among the African leaders naming homosexuality as "un-African" and the social stigma of being gay is very big.

Nevertheless, the gay scene in Kenya is relatively big and growing. Several gay bars are known and the homosexual sex industry is reported to be growing, especially on tourist resorts. Fears of police persecution and social stigmas however keep most Kenyan homosexuals closeted. 

Sources: Based on 'Behind the Mask' and afrol archives

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