Advertisement

LGBT activist remains in exile as Kenya upholds anti-gay laws

  • Video report by ITV News' Africa Correspondent John Ray

George Barasa is a gospel singer who is well know back home in Kenya - but after he came out in 2013, he was soon counting the cost of that fame.

"I’ve been arrested four or five times, just for walking down the street, the police know me,'' he tells me.

George Barasa says he feared for his life in Kenya and fled to South Africa. Credit: Facebook

As well as the arrests, he's been beaten by a mob, and when he helped make a music video that told the story of his life’s struggles, the authorities tried to ban it.

"They issued a warrant for my arrest and all the band. They called it promoting homosexuality.

"It made no sense. We were just trying to talk about how hard it is to be gay or lesbian. To get a conversation started. People had gone quiet."

By 2017, he feared for his life and fled to South Africa, where he's seeking asylum, and where we met today as he awaited news from Nairobi on the eagerly anticipated High Court ruling on Kenya’s anti-gay laws.

Mr Barasa is seeking asylum in South Africa but hopes to return to Kenya one day. Credit: Change.org

Unfortunately for Mr Barasa, a three-judge panel upheld colonial laws criminalising homosexuality, meaning a sexual act between same sex adults can still be punished by a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

But routine discrimination, say campaigners like George, also means lack of access to health services and employment.

At independence from British rule in 1963, the new Kenyan state inherited anti gay laws that remained on the statute book but they were largely unenforced until the 1990.

Now, says George, with the growth of evangelical Christian churches, prejudice is deeply ingrained.

"Too many of our politicians and our preachers work together on this to re-enforce their message of hate.

Gay rights activists had been awaiting a decision Credit: AP

"They say they are protecting religion, Christianity and Islam, and the politicians think there are votes in it."

In more than seventy nations around the world homosexuality is still outlawed - in Africa, that is so in more than 30 countries.

‘’If we win today, it will be a first step towards freedom and equality. Not just in Kenya, everywhere," Mr Barasa said before the ruling.

He added: "If we lose, we fight on. But we will be taken back 20 years.’’

LGBT activists argue that the laws criminalising consensual same-sex relations between adults are in breach of the constitution because they deny basic rights.

Delivering the court verdict was Justice Roselyn Aburili, who said: "Acknowledging cohabitation among people of the same sex, where they would ostensibly be able to have same-sex intercourse, would indirectly open the door for (marriage) of people of the same sex."

Human Rights Watch called the ruling “a step backward in the progress Kenya has made toward equality in recent years.”

Some in Kenya, however, praised the court’s decision as a strike against what they called "sexual perversion."