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Kenya upholds law criminalising gay sex

Kenya’s High Court has ruled against campaigners seeking to overturn a law banning gay sex.

The judges rejected claims that the colonial-era law violated the new constitution, which guarantees equality, dignity and privacy.

The penal code criminalises “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” – widely understood to refer to anal intercourse between men.

Gay sex is punishable by up to 14 years in prison

In declining to decriminalize same-sex relations, the Kenya High Court said there was not enough evidence of discrimination against the LGBTQI community and therefore it upheld the ban.

LGBTQI campaigners in the country have been fighting to have the law struck out but have faced a long wait after several postponements by the courts since the case was first brought in 2016 to repeal sections of the Kenyan penal code.

“Kenyans are a tolerant and curious lot,” Gitari said. Despite its laws, the country is a haven for LGBT refugees in East and Central Africa with a vibrant social movement and growing government interest in the health of gay people, he said.

But negative stereotypes persist, including the wrong beliefs that all LGBT people are sex workers and all gay men have HIV, Gitari said. At least half of the LGBT people in Kenya have suffered physical and verbal assault, according to a survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Most assaults are not reported because members of the community don’t have confidence they will get protection from the police, said Gitari.

Resistance to LGBT rights exists at the top of Kenya’s politics; President Uhuru Kenyatta told CNN in an interview last year that the rights of such individuals were, “not of any major importance” in the country. He claimed the laws criminalizing same-sex relations were supported by “99 percent” of the Kenyan people.

For 28-year-old gay rights activist and gospel singer Joji Baro, the memories of discrimination, physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and being disowned by family for coming out are still too fresh, and he said that even if the court had ruled to lift the ban, he wouldn’t have gone home.

“Due to my sexuality, I lost my family and my friends,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday from his current home in South Africa, where he said he has found “safer ground” for advocacy work.

Baro said he wouldn’t feel safe returning home even if gay sex was decriminalized, as things don’t change overnight.

The memories are still fresh: being punished as a child for “acting like a girl,” being kicked out of his home in his teens, facing physical attacks and the threat of arrest after launching a gay music video.

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