In 2011, David Kuria decided to sell his well established website design company in Nairobi even though it had a positive cash flow. Coming out as a gay person in Kenya cost him his six-year-old business and many friends.
“It was painful when people you consider as friends abandon you because of your séxual orientation. But I think they were never friends if they run when they know about your true nature,” Mr Kuria told Business Today.
The high levels of social stigmatisation gays, lesbians and transgender people face in the country is the main reason why most prefer to stay in the closest.
According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 96% of Kenyans believe homoséxuality is an unacceptable way of life.
A Kenya Human Rights Commission report published in 2011 indicated that 18% of LGBT (lesbian, gay, biséxual, and transgender) Kenyans had revealed their séxual orientation to their families; of these, 89% were subsequently disowned.
Statistically, there are over two million LGBT citizens, but most of them are hiding behind heteroséxual marriages.
“Being out of the closet has important psychological benefits, but it is not easy especially in the Kenyan set up. My orientation being out in the public was because of my line of work – fi’ghting for the rights of LGBT in the country and I felt the impact and so did my family in negative ways,” narrates Mr Kuria.
He is not pleased that his decision put the family in a tight spot but it was coming sooner rather than later. “Having kids is something I cannot consider. Seeing what my own family went through, I cannot put innocent souls into such experience of social stigma,” he notes.
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LGBT employees are also highly discriminated against in places of work.
“Employees were reported to have been terminated or subjected to hostility, ridicule, humiliation, and discrimination when their séxual orientation or gender identity became known in the workplace,” reads part of KHRC paper published in 2011.
Mr Kuria, the founder of Gays and Lesbians Coalition of Kenya, was faced with much hostility in 2012 when he decided to run for a senatorial seat in Kiambu County.
This marked him as the first openly gay politician in the country but his brave move was met by formidable force from other political leaders.
Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula, warned of a revolt if Kuria was elected, saying an openly gay man should not “have an opportunity or privilege to lead a country that is founded on religious morality” during campaigns in the electoral period.
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Subsequently, Kuria withdrew from the race citing lack of financial and security support that put him in a vulnerable position.
Looking back, the founder of Kuria Foundation talks of sadness and disappointment from his followers who were more interested in his leadership than bedroom matters.
“In retrospect, I shouldn’t have stepped down,” he says. Asked whether he will ever run for public office again, he simply replies: “Never say never.”
Asked whether gay people would make better leaders, he answered that they could but they need a chance to prove it beyond doubt.
“In terms of leadership, I think gays can make better leaders because you do not have as many responsibilities as other people, thus more time to serve the people. In our context where córruption thrives, part of the reason they engage in córruption is to leave something for their dependants . But when you don’t have dependants, there is no burden to stèal public funds,” he adds.
Mr Kuria, who spent 14 years of his life in a Catholic seminary, criticises the religious bodies in the country for their hypocrisy when it comes to the matters LGBT.
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Christians and Muslims openly passing harsh judgement on the séxual minorities to the extent of denying them access to places of worship.
Mr Kuria is of the opinion that religious leaders are plaster saints for accepting white gay men into their churches and rejecting African gay men.
“There is a lot of hypocrisy among the religious leaders. They discriminate against African gay men but accept white gays in their churches. Is one sinner better than the other sinner?” he poses.
“All religions teach about love and inclusivity, but that is contrary to what religious leaders portray. There is no love or inclusion in judging a gay person because they are gay,” adds Mr Kuria.
Both the High Court and President Uhuru Kenyatta failing to address the decriminalisation in Section 162 and 165 of the Penal Code terming the matter as a non-issue to the people of Kenya.
“To the extent that people get beaten up in the streets, get denied access to health services, miss educátion and job opportunities, it is a big issue. It costs even the economy. It is also a non-issue to get into people’s bedrooms. It is a priority to the LGBT,” says Mr Kuria.
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The homóphobic tendencies are reported to cost the country about Sh130 billion annually that closely translates to 1.7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Open for Business Coalition- an association of Google, IBM, Microsoft and Deutsche Bank- revealed that anti-gay attitudes led to Kenya missi’ng tourism earnings that runs at Sh7-Sh14 billion, poor health outcomes at Sh8-Sh105 billion and less employment and empowerment of LGBT+ people at Sh4-Sh11 billion annually.
The report estimated that lost productivity due to LGBT+ discrimination in the formal and informal sector accounts for Sh5.3 billion and Sh5.2 billions respectively.
Homoséxuality is outlawed in 36 African countries, with many leading politicians describing gay people as “unAfrican”.
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Thank you for your fine article. It is true that societies that embrace difference perform better economically than those that discriminate against marginalised people. The benefit is not just to LGBTI people but to the whole society. It is only since the 1980s that this phenomenon has begun to be understood. Kenya pays a high price for its homophobia. A time will come when ordinary Kenyans will look back and wonder why their forebears were so cruel to already marginalised people in society – just like we look back now on slavery, the Holocaust and apartheid.
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