LGBT refugees find a haven in Kenya despite persecution

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - When he was attacked by a mob because he was gay, Martin Okello said that his assailants' kicks and punches came so quickly that he could not stop or flee them. He passed out and was pronounced dead in Nairobi's low-income Kawangware district.
Okello had fled to Kenya from his homeland Uganda to seek asylum and protection from the United States Refugee Agency. "But for the time I was here, I could say that we faced so many uncertainties."
Before the attack, the 29-year-old former radio journalist had kept his sexual orientation secret for months when he worked as an educator for the LGBT community in a Kawangware clinic. Still, he never expected to be persecuted in Kenya.
"We try to stay in the background as much as possible, but in one way or another you have a high profile because you cannot deny that you are an LGBTI," he said. When it comes out, someone says: ' Whoa! We cannot tolerate this in the community. "
Okello's best choice for living without intolerance is moving to a developed country. However, global travel restrictions due to the corona virus had put this process on hold.
"I was waiting for the last interview so that I could be relocated to the USA, where I expected a good life and acceptance for people like me, because life here is like being in a dungeon with lions," said Okello.
He is one of more than 3,000 refugees in Africa and 10,000 worldwide who have been temporarily resettled by the pandemic, according to the International Organization for Migration. There was no breakdown of how many of them are LGBT.
On Thursday, the IOM announced that the restrictions would finally be lifted. It was developed two days before World Refugee Day on June 20, which recognizes the millions of people who have been forced to leave their homes due to war or persecution.
The news that the resettlement process was moving again "makes me feel good," said Okello on Friday, adding that he had been waiting for the resettlement for 3 1/2 years.
In the meantime, Okello has found comfort in a group house called "House of Nature" that offers security and serves as an alternative family for those who have been displaced from their communities due to discrimination.
Although these accommodations or "houses" have been around for decades, they have recently been popularized by the Netflix show "Pose". They have helped minority communities at the height of the gay rights movement in the United States and the start of the AIDS epidemic.
The houses are run by "mothers" and "fathers", usually older members, including drag queens, gay men or transgender women, who offer guidance and support to the resident "children".
According to Human Rights Watch, 32 African nations have different laws that make homosexuality a criminal offense. In many cases, the laws from the colonial period remain.
Uganda passed a law against homosexuals in 2014, which once called for the death penalty for some homosexual offenses, although this law was later declared unconstitutional and dropped under international pressure.
Kenya is a rare regional port. It is the only East African nation where someone can apply for asylum and be registered as a refugee based on their LGBT status. And yet there is still discrimination and harassment in Kenya. Homosexual sex is illegal, sodomy is punished with up to 14 years in prison.
The "House of Nature" is run by Raymond Brian, another Ugandan refugee and a non-compliant gender person who also bears the name "Mother Nature".
"People feel comfortable here because it's not far from the family setup," said Brian. “We use family therapy to help each other overcome the trauma of our past. There is a mother figure and a father figure. "
The last time Okello spoke to his parents was six years ago. "I miss my parents and siblings. Unfortunately, the communication channels have been interrupted, "he said.
His life in Uganda was destroyed in 2014 when a male sex worker tried to blackmail him for $ 10 and pretended to be gay. Okello was fired from the Christian radio station he worked for and thrown out of his house by his Catholic parents. The same day he was forced to leave the house, he was attacked by a group of people, but managed to find protection from a friend.
Okello finally made it to Nairobi, where he registered as a refugee and discovered the House of Nature.
It was launched by Brian and others after the Kenyan police searched an animal shelter for over 70 LGBT refugees. Now three more houses have formed: Pride Umbrella Kenya, Lunko Contour and Refugee Trans Initiative. Members contribute to the rent through activities such as raising chickens, and other funds come from LGBT NGOs.
"We need to find ways to contribute to the house, including sex work," said Brian, although it's illegal.
Brian said the House of Nature found that if the authorities were previously informed of their presence or activities, the police would be less likely to bother them.
Despite the range, people still have negative feelings about the house, Brian said, adding, "They assume when we say we're weird, that we have a laid-back morale, and when we share a house like this, then we do everything have orgies. "
But Brian said nothing could be further from the truth, and "what we need is understanding, not acceptance."

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