THE BLOG
07/02/2014 03:41 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Queer Rights in Kenya: A Conversation With Njeri Gateru

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When asked about the recent progress of Kenya's LGBT movement, Njeri Gateru doesn't hesitate to answer with the word "visibility." She describes promoting conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) in public spaces through events such as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, International Human Rights Day, and World AIDS Day.

Ms. Gateru is one of 500 diverse fellows taking part in the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the new flagship program of President Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). IREX is pleased to share her story.

Chosen for this prestigious fellowship based on her work as a passionate human-rights defender, she operates under often challenging circumstances. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals suffer harassment, violence, and familial rejection, same-sex conduct is still criminalized, and earlier this year the Kenyan Assembly majority leader openly compared homosexuality to terrorism.

Despite this, Ms. Gateru and the organization she helped create, the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), have been able to accomplish a great deal. She says:

In our 16 months of operation, we have been able to cater to over 250 clients through the legal aid clinic. We have completed a national community consult and are about to publish a report on the human rights conditions of LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer) persons in Kenya -- all this against a background of criminalization of homosexuality, state-sponsored homophobia, limited funding, and denial of registration.

They don't do it alone, however. She notes:

We work in partnership with about 14 mainstream civil society organizations in our litigation collective, where we discuss strategies and develop arguments for the cases we have in court and those we intend to file. We also have strong partnerships with the African sex worker movement, organizations working in health, and some youth organizations.

Looking ahead, Ms. Gateru describes some of the priorities she sees for Kenya's LGBT-rights movement: documenting evidence of discrimination and violence against LGBT persons and fighting repressive provisions in Kenya's penal code, specifically the criminalization of homosexuality.

How will her time in the United States help her work back home? She says:

I hope that the fellowship equips me to be a stronger, more efficient leader for my community. I hope I get the opportunity to do advocacy for SOGIE issues in Kenya on a larger scale and form strategic partnerships.

The Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is a program of the U.S. government and is supported in its implementation by IREX. For more information on President Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), please visit youngafricanleaders.state.gov.

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