We need to talk about freedoms and responsibilities of the gay community


Right to choose your own way. [Getty Images]


This piece is dedicated to the memory of Sheila Adhiambo Lumumba, a 25-year-old Kenyan who was killed around two weeks ago in Karatina.

Sheila reportedly identified as genderqueer or non-binary lesbian, and the preferred pronoun is ‘they,’ but for the purposes of this piece, we will use the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her.’ My apologies.

Though reported by mainstream media, Sheila’s killing did not make front-page news. However, it gives Kenyans an opportunity to have an uncomfortable discussion on the rights and responsibilities of the country’s gay or queer community.

Sheila was reportedly also sexually assaulted by her killers, said to be a gang of six men, who broke into her house in Karatina town, beat her up, stabbed her several times, broke her leg, and left her dead, or dying, in a pool of blood.

Outside Kenya, her killing was condemned by several equal rights bodies that align themselves with the community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ, which has grown to LGBTQQIP2SAA++).

They all want justice for Sheila. Everyone should seek justice for Sheila. Nearer home, the cry for justice was not so loud, even after the media reported that the authorities did not show interest in investigating her death, despite pleas from her distraught parents.

There were muted protests on Kenya’s cyber sphere though, with members of Kenya’s queer community, certain equal rights entities and individuals saying that she was killed because of her sexual orientation, and that they need protection.

Considering that they are a minority, and the fact that homosexuality is, on paper, illegal in Kenya, they are highly likely to be marginalised victims without as many freedoms. But even in seeking all the freedoms, it is only fair for them not to have an overwhelming sense of entitlement so much so that they weaponise victimhood and do not treat others as they would want to be treated.

Also, there is need for some of them to understand that no one can be liked or accepted by all. To achieve these freedoms, they need more people in their corner, and it is pointless for some of them to keep antagonising people who are not queer, then wail that they are being victimised.

No doubt other countries are more progressive and have made gains as far as gay rights are concerned, but it did not happen overnight. It took lots of effort from gay communities for them to succeed.

Of course they sulked and whined and saw themselves as victims of the society, and rightfully so because they were, but in between, they also lobbied their elected representatives, and pushed for laws and policies that favour them, or give them more freedoms, to be drafted and enacted.

Homosexuality is illegal on paper in Kenya because several entities that are fronted by, or which work with Kenya’s gay or queer community are registered, meaning that the government recognises their existence.

On top of that, they have a registered and recognised umbrella body, the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), with a functional secretariat managed by professionals.

GALCK’s membership is drawn from the several queer entities, some of which were formed and registered in 1990s or earlier, that operate in rural and urban areas across the country. While in other countries people were seeking justice for Sheila, in Kenya, the news of her death triggered a conflict, which almost overshadowed the search for justice.

Based on intermittent reports on social media, the conflict was simmering for some time and just needed a spark to ignite, and it did ignite, and exposed the overwhelming sense of entitlement within Kenya’s not-so-small queer community.

It is a moment of grief, and the queer community needs everyone on their side, but while it can be argued that they are mainly victims because of the law and societal bias, there are Kenyans who do not identify with them who have been their victims.

One such person posted a tweet implying that some members of the queer community should learn to accept rejection, and know that consent is important, for, not everyone welcomes their overtures.

An innocent request by all standards from someone who just wants her space respected, but some members of the queer community took it as an affront to their freedom, and yes, it was another opportunity to weaponise victimhood, and throw jabs and buzzwords at everyone.

In fact, this piece will also be seen as an affront to their existence. That has been the undoing of Kenya’s queer community. Pity parties and unbridled anger.

Of course there are great things that the queer-aligned organisations do, but that work is overshadowed by their overwhelming sense of entitlement, and seemingly, the expectation that the freedoms and rights they seek should just fall on their laps.

It is highly unlikely that the freedoms will come that way. That is why it is unlikely that Sheila will get justice. But she should.