Nairobi’s gay rights revolution

ONE BUS RIDE AND I HAD LEFT BEHIND the crowded streets of downtown Nairobi, arriving on the outskirts of the city. The omnipresent buzz and whine of traffic was gone, replaced by the call of birds and the occasional whoosh of a passing car.

I leaned up against a cement building painted neon green and pink, advertising mobile phone providers and laundry detergent. It sprang up from the surrounding dusty landscape littered with acacia trees. A young Kenyan man walked toward me wearing a t-shirt with an orange hoodie over it and jeans that were slightly flared and torn at the knee.

“Gabriel?” I said. The man smiled and stuck out his hand.

Gabriel and I walked to a building across the street and entered a cavernous, unlit room. The walls were stark and cement; the only furnishings were a desk, two chairs, and a banner that read Other Sheep Kenya. I introduced myself to the slim man slouched in one of the chairs in the corner of the room. He looked hesitant, but after I gave my name he was quick to smile and tell me that his name was Peter.

It had taken Gabriel a moment to close and padlock the iron grill placed over the front door, and after finishing he hurried over to us. He repeated the introduction. “This is Peter, my boyfriend.”

Something flashed across Peter’s face; I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. He stole a glance in my direction, trying to read my face, as I tried to read his.

* * *

Gabriel and Peter were staying at a safe house provided by Other Sheep Kenya, one of a growing number of organizations in Kenya working to further gay rights.

Gabriel grew up in Nairobi and has known as long as he can remember that he was gay. Living in the capital city gave him access to gay rights organizations, and he has been involved in activism since he was a teenager. Peter, meanwhile, comes from outside of Kajiado, a rural area in southern Kenya, and he didn’t know that gay rights organizations existed until his recent move to Nairobi.

Over the course of a decade, the fight for gay rights and the presence of gay culture have become visible in Nairobi at a speed perhaps incomparable to anywhere else in the world. Only 15 years ago, no Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) organizations operated openly in Kenya. Accordingly, gay rights were seldom discussed publicly or privately.

– more at Matador Network.

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