To be queer in Kenya is to live in perpetual fear. Mob violence, corrective rape, forced sexuality examinations, homicide, extra-judicial killings, purposeful endangerment where the police places individuals in cells with opposing genders or perpetrates sexual violence themselves, the list is endless.
Because same-sex relations are criminalised in Kenya the judiciary and the public have taken it upon themselves to terrorise the queer community and in truth anyone who may fit whatever vague criteria individuals have of queerness. The irony is that by persecuting people based on arbitrary interpretations of “unnatural offenses” anyone is in danger of being the victim of a hate crime.
This fact should have helped gain more support for Repeal 162 because decriminalising same-sex relations and by proxy, queer identities, is not about the LGBTQI+ community, it is about universal rights and freedoms.
The years after the appeal failed and a pandemic shut down the world, have been cruel to the queer community. They have lost their dignity, livelihoods, freedom, and lives from senseless discrimination and stigma. Last month, one particularly gruesome incident reminded the nation how pervasive the state-mandated hate is.
The murder of Sheila Lumumba
On the 17th April 2022, Sheila Lumumba, a 25-year-old non-binary lesbian was found dead in their apartment in Karatina, Nyeri County. (We share the details of their death because they were released to raise awareness and agitate for justice.) The autopsy conducted by the government pathologist shows, among other things, signs of rape, broken limbs, and multiple stab wounds in the neck and chest area.
In a joint statement condemning their brutal murder, LGBTIQA+ organisations stated, “Article 27 of the Constitution of Kenya (2010) guarantees equal protection and equal benefit of the law to all persons. Regardless, we have continuously seen a lack of commitment and will from duty bearers to prosecute and investigate issues that involve Sexual and Gender Minorities.”
This speaks to the lack of prosecution and continued impunity for homophobic/transphobic violence despite an alarming pattern and even more alarming number of victims. The LGBTIQA+ community has launched #JusticeForSheila and #ProtectQueerKenyans to ensure some effort into the investigation and prosecution of Sheila’s murder.
The Human Rights Watch’s Erin Kilbride said, “Police should immediately conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into Lumumba’s murder, and Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the National Police Service Commission should release statements condemning the attack.”
“The government should also replace its discriminatory laws banning homosexuality, and reform the country’s gender-based violence policies to protect the rights of LBQ people,” added Kilbride from the Human Rights Watch.
Even with the release of the gruesome details of Sheila’s death and calls to action from LGBTIQA+ persons, communities, organisations, and allies, the silence from duty bearers and the political class is deafening.
We must fight to uphold the right to life and equal protection under the law, for all #JusticeForSheila
Imani Kimiri, the Head of Legal Affairs at the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) said, “Sheila’s murder has illuminated the consequences of normalising violence against LGBTIQ+ people and highlights that this kind of narrative has been acquiesced by the political class as evidenced through statements made.”
Violence against queer persons is an act of terrorism
Although terrorism is often an “upward crime,” where the perpetrator is of lower social standing than the target group and hate crimes are disproportionately “downward crimes,” where the opposite applies, the two are fundamentally linked.
Hate crimes are a direct result of violent extremism i.e., the beliefs and actions of people who support or use violence to achieve ideological, religious, or political goals include hate crimes, terrorism, and other forms of ideologically motivated and communal violence.
It stands that if terrorism is ideological violence intended to scare a group of people into changing some or all aspects of themselves, then surely queercide is terrorism, heteronormativity is the ideology, and heteronormative people are the terrorists.
Ideologically motivated violence should not and cannot go on unchecked because it puts everyone at risk. Having discrimination enshrined in the law is one thing, but putting ‘enforcement’ in the hands of a general population that has been misinformed and weaponised by the political class is a powder keg.
We must fight to uphold the right to life and equal protection under the law, for all #JusticeForSheila.