Providing GBV response to LGBT+ communities in Western Kenya

Kasera Ogola holds two phones in her hands. One is a personal smartphone and the other is a kabambe (feature phone). She knows that when the kabambe rings, it’s a call looking to report a case of Gender Based Violence against LGBT+ persons. At the very worst, it could be an LGBT+ person seeking an immediate relocation to escape violence.

In the past four months that Kasera and eight other REACTors have been implementing the REACT project by Trans* Alliance in Western Kenya, they have dealt with more than 50 cases. 

In one of the incidents, a transgender man was conned out of his land by his partner. He lost the land as well as his bodaboda (public motorbike) business. At the moment, him and his three kids do not have a source of livelihood and rely on handouts from well-wishers, including the REACTors who check up on them and help them financially. Another case involves a transgender man who owned a salon at a village in the outskirts of Kisumu. The transgender man who also worked as a peer educator at a local Gay organization had to relocate after receiving death threats and abandon his salon. Similar to the first case, he no longer has a source of income too.

Kasera notes that implementing a security project is expensive and they have not been able to help all the LGBTI victims of GBV. “The project was to target only trans* people but we have had to handle cases for the entire LGBT+ spectrum,” she says. 

With the Covid-19 pandemic, cases of GBV have been on the rise especially intimate partner violence. Out of the 59 cases in the past four months, 25 of them were IPV cases.

Some LGBT+ people have also been forced to quarantine with homophobic and transphobic family members which has exposed them to violence such as conversion therapies. LGBT+ organizations in the country have tried to facilitate mental health care by providing counseling over the phone.

Among the challenges in dealing with GBV is the lack of safe houses to place the victims as they recover. Trans* Alliance, in implementing the GBV project, has partnered with the government’s GBV Recovery Center in Kisumu. The victims are provided a safe house for about three days and receive psychological care. However, those spaces are run by cishet personnel and do not provide a safe place for LGBT+ people. Some of them have to hide their identities and conform to cisgender heterosexual expressions to be accommodated. The period of being housed is also too short and does not allow the victims to recover fully. 

Some victims end up going back to live with their perpetrators due to lack of other options. “It breaks my heart to see victims go back to live with perpetrators only to be called again for another GBV case,” laments Kasera. Responding to IPV cases has also earned them a tag of ‘home breakers’ as they are viewed to be meddling in relationships by removing victims from abusive situations and advising them not to go back.

National Programs that target GBV do not include LGBT+ people. With same sex sexual acts being criminalized by sections 162 (a) and (c) of the Kenyan Penal Code, most victims do not report to police as that would out them and expose them to the risk of being arrested for homosexuality. Violence meted on queer people for their assumed orientation or gender identity is also deemed okay to ‘correct their wayward’ ways and often goes unpunished.

To tackle gender based violence among LGBT+ people in Kenya, there is a need to decriminalize homosexuality to pave way for victims to report violence and access justice. There is also a need for more funding to organizations such as Trans* Alliance and partner organizations to respond adequately to GBV and improve the lived realities of LGBT+ Kenyans.

About the author:

Billy is an queer artist and activist from Kenya. They use writing and photography to explore African queerness, sexuality, gender identity and expression, bodies and death. 

You can follow them on Instagram and Twitter at  @_billyhani