By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (TrustLaw) – Despite her sexual attraction to women, Kate Kamunde married a man in a desperate bid to be ‘normal’ in conservative, homophobic Kenya.
“I had a constant attraction to women and girls at a tender age. But I kept telling myself I would grow out of it,” she said.
After leading a double life for two years – a married schoolteacher by day and a partying lesbian by night – she walked out of her marriage.
“I was miserable. I was tired of trying to make people happy,” she said.
It is common for gays and lesbians in Kenya to get married and have children because they feel obliged to safeguard their reputations and to please their families.
Homosexuality is a taboo, condemned by Kenya’s previous president, Daniel arap Moi, as an un-African “scourge”.
Some 96 percent of Kenyans believe homosexuality should be rejected by society, according to a 2007 survey by the U.S. think tank the Pew Research Center (PDF).
“Most of the lesbian women that are in the closet are actually married,” said Kamunde.
In a 2011 survey, Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) found that only 18 per cent of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Kenyans had told their families about their sexual orientation. Of these, 89 per cent were subsequently disowned.
Under Kenyan law, homosexual activity is a crime, described as “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”. It can be punished with up to 14 years in prison.
Six out of 10 men who have sex with men in Kenya are also currently living in heterosexual relationships, according to the Health Rights Advocacy Forum, a non-governmental organisation.
STRANGLED AND PUNCHED
With piercings in her eyebrow, nose and lip, 30-year-old Kamunde is no longer trying to conform.
She is part of a bold, new generation of LGBT Kenyans who are openly campaigning for their rights, in contrast with neighbouring Uganda where they are being driven underground by rising homophobia.
“We are moving steadily from a homophobic society to a society that’s more tolerant — unlike Uganda, which is seeing the opposite,” said Monicah Kareithi of KHRC.
In January, a gay rights campaigner David Kato was beaten to death in his home after being outed in a local Ugandan magazine. In May, the government temporarily shelved a bill that would have introduced the death sentence for homosexuality, following an international outcry.
In contrast, Kenya held its first public gay film festival, dubbed ‘The Out Film Festival’ earlier this month and launched Freedom in Speech, a website run by sexual minorities to tell their own stories.
Gays and lesbians are also participating in Kenya’s Hay Festival for literature for the first time on September 16 – 18, where they will publicly debate homosexuality with religious leaders.
Kamunde’s work is not without its risks.
She was accosted by two men in black coats and dark glasses while walking to the bus stop one evening.
“One of them held my throat and another punched me in the stomach,” she recalled.
“They were like: ‘Why do you do what you do? Do you have to be so loud about it? We are watching your moves, so be careful.’”
She now changes her phone number every few months and uses taxis when she feels threatened. She’s twice been evicted from her apartment after the landlords discovered she was a lesbian.
She remains unfazed.
“I do it because I want to live in a society where who I am is secondary and I can comfortably walk along the streets of Nairobi,” she said.
“At the end of the day, who I go to bed with is a non issue. I am a human being just like anyone else.”