Waiting to walk out
On Oct 27 Huck Magazine reported: Kenya has become a safe haven for those fleeing war and famine in neighbouring states. But in secret hideaways and temporary homes, LGBT refugees are being forced – once again – to hide their true selves instead of walking out into the world with pride.
On a dusty road far from Nairobi’s city centre, a dozen young people – teens and twenty-somethings – live cooped up in a thinly furnished house. They take turns cooking, cleaning.
When a house meeting is called, bodies swiftly fill the only two sofas. They chat about chores and about who hasn’t paid rent. They might seem like one big family, except for the fact that they’re all trying to escape.
“Time for netball!” yells a young man named Nelson one afternoon, as a dozen housemates file out the door into a small concrete backyard. They stand in line and take turns throwing a ball toward a thin metal rim elevated high on a wooden pole. A de facto “coach” retrieves the netball and throws it to the next in line.
“They even went to Mombasa for a tournament – with Kenyans,” says Nelson, taking out his phone to show me photos of the team on the beach near Kenya’s port city. Netball is the refugees’ only real physical activity. Most of the day they can do nothing but lie about the house. “
They suffer from boredom,” says Nelson.Nelson and his housemates are some of Africa’s LGBT refugees – people forced to flee their home countries because of their sexuality. Most come from Uganda where, years ago, Evangelical Christians from America drummed up homophobia that culminated in arrests, public beatings and murders.
In contrast to people fleeing places like South Sudan or Somalia, the majority of whom tend to be extremely poor, LGBT refugees come from all manner of circumstance. Some worked jobs at restaurants, while others held university degrees. Many were students, while some of the youngest hadn’t even completed high school.
But Kenya is no safe haven for a gay person: even here, acts of homosexuality can be punished with up to 14 years in prison.
Having spent their entire lives hiding their sexuality – from their family, their teachers, their government – they arrive in Kenya only to discover they must hide themselves here, too.
Except, that is, for the moments when they must do precisely the opposite: chronicle their most intimate, often tragic stories during interviews that determine whether they’re eligible for resettlement to Europe or North America.