An open letter to allies of the Kenyan LGBTQI community

January 7, 2023

Even as the criminal investigation proceeds and as we process the death of Edwin Chiloba, a Kenyan, an LGBTQI activist, child, and friend to many, I am repulsed by these unconscionable abhorrent acts of human cruelty against members of the Kenyan community. The lynchings of  Joash Mosoti, Erica Chandra, Chriton Atuhwera, Sheila Lumumba, Rose Mbesa, Kawira Mwirichia, are but the documented incidences that  have made it into Kenyan mainstream media in the last year or so. As a social worker, a scholar, and a supporter of human rights and social justice, I unequivocally condemn gender based violence and other heinous crimes perpetrated against our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI) brothers and sisters.

As we enter 2023 with much progress made around the world on LGBTQI rights, it is just heartbreaking to see the relentless attacks on fellow Kenyans by Kenyans. Discrimination of individuals based on their sexual orientation is a recognized violation of international human rights. Further, violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics ingrained in our societies shows that homophobic and transphobic attitudes remain deeply embedded in our culture. As allies, it is high time that we engage in a paradigm shift and double our efforts to eliminate these prevalent practices of ostracization and marginalization against the LGBTQI community.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral aspects of our human condition. The human condition—the totality of human experiences crucial to human existence— is neither homogenous nor linear. Each of us occupies a spectrum embodied by our unique experiences, identities, and characteristics, including age, tribe, religion, (dis)abilities, social, economic status, and political affiliations. Thus, our gender identity and sexual orientation are but singular yet distinct elements of our interwoven identities.  Therefore, the active or covert oppression of one identity group (such as those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or gender non-conforming) is not constrained to those who embody that identity. Violence, whether verbal or physical acts of aggression perpetrated against gender and sexually minoritized groups, inadvertently reverberate across our society. When we condone the lynching of a gay individual, a son, brother, father, or friend, their death affects anyone who has ever loved or been loved by a child, sibling, parent, and confidant. Soon enough, these ripple effects weaken our society’s sense of community.

As the LGBTQI community continues to emerge from socially imposed invisibility, we must concede to an indigenized conceptualization of gender identity and sexual orientation. As a Kenyan whose life experience spans close to five decades, I have known men who were sexually attracted to men and women who were sexually attracted to women—all born and raised in the same environment I was. They were not imports from the west but Kenyan men and women. The LGBTQI community is as Kenyan as I am, or you are! Together, we weave the crucial social fabric of our country. Thus, the protection of LGBTQI identity and dignity is a fundamental human right that every Kenyan deserves.

I call on every one of us to redouble our efforts to end these severe violations of human rights. As allies who embrace an anti-oppressive worldview:

  1. We must empathize with the experiences of all minoritized groups.
  2. We must continue to stand in solidarity with the transgender and gender-diverse communities in Kenya and vehemently condemn reoccurring incidences of lynching across the country.
  3. We should purpose to continuously challenge regressive portrayals of the LGBTQI community and debunk the offensive misconceptions that contribute to these hate crimes.
  4. We should engage in a process of continual learning and (un)learning about the lived experiences of these communities.
  5. Advocate for laws and policies to penalize homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic hate crimes
  6. And finally, I urge you to reach out, connect, and support members of the LGBTQI community and show your love and support for the much-needed sense of belonging and community they yearn for.

In solidarity,
Njeri Kagotho, MSW Ph.D.