Post submitted by Limor Finkel, Former HRC Global Engagement Program Coordinator

HRC Global Engagement Fellow, Jane “TJay” Wothaya Thirikwa of Kenya, spoke to a packed audience earlier this week at the Peace Corps’ headquarters in Washington, DC. TJay spoke as part of an ongoing discussion for Women’s History Month on the realities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates on the ground in Kenya and throughout various African nations.

As an experienced LGBT leader in Kenya, TJay spoke passionately about the rising tide of violence against LGBT individuals in places that have been popular in the news due to recently passed anti-LGBT bills, like Uganda, Nigeria, but also more silently in places like Cameroon and the Gambia. Kenya, according to TJay, may face anti-LGBT legislation similar to those laws that were passed in Nigeria and Uganda that further criminalizes same-sex relations.

When speaking about the governments of various African nations’ refusals to acknowledge the existence of LGBT people within their countries, TJay said, “When the government asks, ‘Where is the data that proves there are a large contingency of LGBT people in this country? Where are the numbers?’ My response is that even if there are five of us, we are citizens with rights just like every other person in this country! As a Kenyan citizen, the government has a responsibility to protect me from discrimination—not let vigilante groups attack me for being the person I am.”

In places like Nigeria, groups of marauding citizens are using anti-LGBT laws as pretext for hunting down people, primarily men, who are suspected of being gay and then torturing them in the streets. This is a gross violation and misconception of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which, in addition to outlawing same-sex marriage, further criminalizes same-sex relations with up for 14 years in prison and up to 10 years in prison for anyone who supports or participates LGBT organizations or people. Though horrific and a violation of human rights, this law does not provide legal recourse for citizens to attack someone simply because they are suspected of being LGBT. And yet the government has not prosecuted any of those men who instigate the witch hunt and beat others in the street.

We congratulate TJay on her eye-opening talk at the Peace Corps and for her continued advocacy for Kenyan and pan-African LGBT rights both at home and in her fellowship with HRC.

For more information on how to become an HRC Global Fellow, click here.

Filed under: International

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