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How Kenya became a haven for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders

How Kenya became a haven for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders

- LGBTI communities around Africa are badly stigmatized and persecuted

- But Kenya has become a haven for these beleaguered individuals

- In the midst of legalized criminalization elsewhere, this country accepts them as refugees

Several countries in Africa still criminalize lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. The LGBTI community reports countless cases of violence, legalized persecution and social execration.

Amare (not his real name) is one of those cases. He has agreed to come forward and tell his dramatic story. When he finally accepted he was gay, he found out his father, a pastor, also was one. He was shot to death in Uganda. That day, Amare decided to flee. “I ran as far and a fast as I could,” he said. People like him have found some kind of refuge in Kenya, where there is no punitive legislation for LGBTIs.

How Kenya became sanctuary for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders

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This country is offering people with same-sex gender identities to start new lives, free from persecution. Amare does not mind “to start from nothing”. He claims it “is better than living continuously in fear.”

Uganda has one of the worst laws against LGBTIs. Its parliament approved over three years ago, the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014. This legislation states that it is an offence for a person to permit another of the same sex to have “carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature.” These contacts could have them landed in prison for the rest of their lives.

Same-sex sexual acts with people under the age of 18 carry a death penalty.

Amare recalls than when the anti-gay bills passed in Uganda, “police and vigilante groups would raid our meetings and beat and arrest us. Some of my friends were left badly beaten.”

How Kenya became sanctuary for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders

Cases of murders are rampant, but one gained a bit more news coverage than the rest. David Kato Kisule, considered a father of Uganda's gay rights movement and described as "Uganda's first openly gay man", was brutally attacked in 2011, and died as a result of his injuries.

Authorities ruled the crime as a theft gone wrong. The death of this Ugandan teacher and activist became a chilling warning for many inside the country.

READ ALSO: Man who married his own 40-year-old mother divorces her on their honeymoon (photos)

How Kenya became sanctuary for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders

Ugandan gay rights activist, David Kato Kisule, was brutally murdered in 2011.

Nigeria has also implemented anti-gay laws. Gay marriage is banned outright through the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. People can get up to 14 years in prison for divergent sexual orientation and gender identity expressions. This act was signed in 2014 into law by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Dennis Nzioka, a sexual and gender minorities activist, who founded -among others- the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, said this migration of LGBTI people into Kenya started in 2005, a year which he states “intolerance grew… The politics of the day plus the intrusion into East Africa by American evangelists did not help much.”

How Kenya became sanctuary for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders

Kenya is considered to be one of the few East African nations to provide some relief for LGBTI refugees, which now are counted in the hundreds. Most are from Uganda, but there are also people from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia. Many of these are trying to move to other regions, such as Europe and America.

This “welcoming” attitude does not mean Kenya is free from intolerance. Members of the gay community much better off compared to its neighbors, although “there isn’t a clear government policy,” Nzioka says. Nevertheless, “there is no harassment of staff, nor the shaming of those who have come out as gay,” he emphasizes.

LGBTIs are a vulnerable community worldwide, and more so, being refugees. They are frequently subjected to abuse and exploitation, by both authorities and other refugees, according to the UNHCR study.

READ ALSO: How I was almost delivered from homosexuality trough exorcism - A woman reveals

How Kenya became sanctuary for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders

Sexual work is often an escape from sheer poverty. Amare admits he had to “sell himself” on the streets”, in order to “make ends meet.” Yet when he started seeing his friends get sick, and the risk of abuse increase, he decided to go on a different path.

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This somewhat privileged situation for LGBTIs in Kenya has changed a bit in recent months. Some people were taking advantage, so the Kenyan government has started to implement stricter measures for accepting LGBTI refugees. Some refugee centers in Nairobi have been shut down.

Amare wants to finish his education, despite the odds. He wants to study theology, and become a gay pastor like his father. Kenya's warmer policies for people like him might just help him achieve his dream.

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