Members of Kenya’s LGBT community organized their own event to celebrate ‘Queermas’ as a means of combatting loneliness, isolation, and exclusion during the festive season, local media reported Monday.
Nairobi News reported that despite the continued criminalization of homosexual activity in Kenya, LGBT people are stepping up their efforts for basic civil liberties by organizing solidarity events such as Queermas, which will take place on Christmas Day.
Although Kenyan society’s attitudes toward homosexuality are gradually becoming more liberal-minded, those who come out as LGBT are still often shunned by their families and forced into isolation.
One member of the community, who referred to herself only as Kioko, told the outlet that there is a “sense of communion whenever [we] meet as they freely enjoy doing things that [we’ve] grown up doing and are used to.”
“It’s a safe space for us and it feels nice to know you’re not alone,” Kioko said.
In May, Kenya was the subject of international attention after the country’s high court upheld laws criminalizing gay sex, sparking anger from human rights groups and the United Nations who were advocating their repeal.
Under Kenyan law, anyone who has “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” faces punishment of up to 14 years in jail, while another section orders a five-year jail term for any kind of “indecent practices between males.”
“Criminalizing acts targeting certain individuals based on who they are and whom they love is inherently discriminatory,” stated Chief Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet at the time. “It also sends a dangerous signal to broader society and encourages hostility and even violence against LGBT individuals.”
Kenya’s laws on homosexuality were challenged during a visit to the country from former President Barack Obama, who is himself of Kenyan descent. In a joint press conference with Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta, he compared the laws to former racial segregation laws in the United States.
“The fact of the matter is Kenya and the U.S. share so many values: common love for democracy, entrepreneurship, value for families–these are some things that we share,” Kenyatta said at the time. “But there are some things that we must admit we don’t share. That our culture and our society don’t accept.”
A majority of African nations still criminalize homosexuality, with the death penalty applying in countries such as Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria. However, the continent is seeing a gradual move towards liberalization, with Angola, Mozambique, and Seychelles all decriminalizing the activity in recent years.