Huck Reflection on Vulnerable LGBT Refugees in Kenya

“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 …” Article by Jacob Kushner – Huck Magazine


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Refugee outside UNHCR office being manhandled by Security

Not a week goes by without inquiries from scores of LGBTI people in the 34 African countries criminalizing sexual orientation and gender identity, asking African Human Rights Coalition for a route out of Africa. In effect Africa’s criminalizing anti-homosexuality laws and old penal codes are resulting in a migration – a re-arrangement of nationals, from one African country to another, all hoping for the ultimate resettlement to a country abroad, where sexuality is not a criminal offense and where people can live in relative safety, able to conduct fill and fulfilling lives.

The stakes are getting higher as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Africans realize that there is world where their right to live according to their sexuality and gender identity can be embraced. Its just a matter of getting there!

There are those who form organizations within their countries to fight the ever increasing anti-homosexuality milieu and the related issues that arise. Termed “human rights defenders” or “activists” this is usually a relatively ‘privileged’ courageous few,  who have access to international visas and travel, albeit hard earned, thereby able to seek safety abroad if and when they choose to do so.

However most the LGBTI individuals are so horribly marginalized by the persecution they have suffered, whether through family ousting, banishments, government led arrests, blackmail, bribery, loss of  employment, school expulsions, evictions, assaults, rapes, or a combination of these events, that they are unable to qualify for or afford the visas and travel that could lead them off the continent.  It is this large number of LGBTI people who seek to cross borders into foreign African countries, where they apply for help to UNHCR, (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) hoping to receive refugee status, mandates and resettlement abroad.

In short, when one cannot live safely and with the avail;ability of a decent measure of sustenance, let alone the opportunities to thrive, and at the very least to some extent openly,  according to one’s natural sexual orientation, then truly life is miserable. Where the populace of most countries support anti-homosexuality legislation  to the tune of at 80-98%, making the issue an attractive political ploy, were is little hope that much will change in the foreseeable future.

Recently I met with Jacob Kushner and interviewed for a series of articles he has written for Huck Magazine and VICE. While thanking Jacob for his interest in this topic and willingness to bring these stories to the fore, be sure to read his extensive and most recent article:


Few of the Ugandans speak much Swahili, the predominant language in Kenya. Without it, they stand out. “Kenyans and other refugees know a person is Ugandan by the way he talks and presume that, because there is no war in Uganda, the person must be seeking asylum because he is gay.

So it sets up these refugees for serious security risks,” says Melanie Nathan, who advocates for LGBT refugees at the Africa Human Rights Coalition.

As a consequence, “people have become very clever at hiding in the closet – hiding who you are,” adds Melanie. But that can cause problems when it comes time to tell their stories to the UN and other officials who have the power to decide whether their claims of persecution have merit.

“Proving that you’re gay is a very tough thing to do,” says Melanie. “You can’t just go there and say, ‘Hey, I’m gay and it’s against the law of my country to be gay, get me the hell out of here.’ They want to hear a story, to really legitimise the fact that the person’s gay.”


Young, gay and vulnerable: The African outcasts living in constant danger  Waiting to walk out

Text by Jacob Kushner
Photography © Jake Naughton

Melanie Nathan




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