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.I leaned up against a cement building painted neon green and pink, advertising mobile phone providers and laundry detergent. Gabriel and I walked to a building across the street and entered a cavernous, unlit room.
In October of last year, Nairobi hosted East Africa’s first gay film festival, a two-day event featuring movies about gay rights in Nairobi, in Africa, and throughout the world.Festival attendance was so high that people were turned away at the door.Accordingly, gay rights were seldom discussed publicly or privately.In 2012, just over a decade later, 14 different LGBT organizations are registered as part of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALK), an umbrella organization and the face of gay rights activism in Nairobi.The organizations and their goals are diverse: they include Minority Women in Action, an organization that deals with lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex women, with over 70 members; Transgender Education and Advocacy, which deals with the rights of transgender and intersex individuals; and Ishtar MSM, the oldest group in the coalition, which was formed in 1997 and deals primarily with male sex workers and has 130 registered members.
These organizations all operate publicly, organize frequent events, and are led by openly gay and outspoken activists who appear often on television and in newspapers.
They have both dropped out since but continue public careers as gay rights advocates.
Amazingly, all of this occurs in a country where homosexuality has been illegal for over 100 years, punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
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. 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.
For almost a year now, the online has focused solely on news, issues, and individuals relevant to Kenya’s LGBT community.