Kenya Leads In LGBT Equality In The Region

On April 1, 2016 the Star published this editorial: I vividly remember April 2010, when we stuffed our van with thousands of copies of the Proposed Constitution of Kenya, and embarked on Kenya’s first national LGBTIQ civic education program. The country was about to vote on a new constitution; Kenya was re-defining itself for generations to come. I was a young, driven lawyer who had left private practice to head the LGBT program of the Kenya Human Rights Commission. It had been months of planning, long calls with activists, and complex security arrangements around meetings, but we saw the opportunity just around the corner.

The findings from our civic education program were heart-wrenching. We received reports of rape, assault, blackmail and extortion, expulsions from schools, exclusion by families, work dismissals, low uptake of health services, and many other tragedies – all due to the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Consensual private same-sex intimacy is still a criminal offence in Kenya, a law which is used by perpetrators to justify human rights violations and informs public policy and attitudes towards suspected LGBTIQ people. We sent advice to the constitution drafting committee strongly calling for the inclusion and equality of LGBTIQ Kenyans.

When there was a resounding victory in the referendum, and the Constitution of Kenya 2010 was enacted, we saw the beginning of the solution. Even though the final draft had no explicit mention of sexual orientation or gender identity, it nonetheless possessed golden threads of equality, dignity and freedom, better still whose defense had been entrusted to an independent judiciary.

Today, Kenya stands out as a leader on LGBTIQ equality within sub-Saharan Africa. During the last five years, courts have allowed for changes of gender markers in official documents for transgender persons and ordered the state to establish a policy on intersex births. The government has consistently consulted with LGBT groups and included them in national public health initiatives and research programs that are now being replicated in neighboring countries. Universities have included LGBTIQ precedents in their law school curriculums, giving future lawyers a universal approach to human rights.

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