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From the streets of New York City to the townships of South Africa, the LGBT rights movement and its opposition are engaged in an unprecedented international battle. GlobalPost presents an ongoing series of reports from key locations at this pivotal time in history, telling highly personal, often overlooked stories from the fight.
A Ugandan couple flees to a Kenyan camp, finding little relief.
evils caused by homosexuality, comparing it to things like bestiality and rape.
MP David Bahati, who introduced the bill, claimed it was to protect "the legal, religious, and traditional family values of the people of Uganda against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Uganda.”
Instead, it rapidly stoked the flames of a new anti-gay movement.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was eventually tabled for later discussion, and observers say it will likely never pass because of both internal and external pressures. However it was supported openly by President Yoweri Museveni, and recently leaked WikiLeaks cables from US Ambassador to Uganda Jerry Lanier claimed that First Lady Janet Museveni herself was behind the legislation.
GlobalPost was specifically asked by an agency of the Kenyan government not to cover this story. The reason, speculated an official at the UNHCR, was that not only would it potentially “put at risk” Alex and Michael in the camp, but that causing a stir around their situation could give the couple unfair advantage to gain resettlement.
While this has some truth to it, another reason may be more complex. Kenya has its own anti-gay sentiments — similar to those in Uganda, though they less often result in severe violence. Providing refuge to gay foreigners while ignoring the issue on the homefront could present a contradictory policy to the public.
In 2007 the Pew Global Attitudes Project discovered that 96 percent of Kenyans said that homosexuality should be “rejected by society.” David Kuria, a prominent gay rights activist in Kenya and executive director of Gay Kenya Trust, an advocacy and support organization, agrees that Kenya is an extremely homophobic society, but says it differs from Uganda in that it lacks political endorsement for violence.
In Uganda, high-ranking politicians often make extremely homophobic statements. James Nsaba Buturo, the former minister of state for ethics and integrity, said, when it comes to homosexuals, “We are talking about anal sex. Not even animals do that,” and “we believe there are limits to human rights."
This type of speech, and in many cases worse, validates and justifies the violence, Kuria claims. “The government creates a sense of impunity for the people to act.”
Ironically, anti-sodomy laws introduced under British colonial rule are the reason why homosexual acts are still illegal in Kenya and Uganda.
Road to Resettlement
After months of torment in Uganda and now Kenya, Alex and Michael’s journey toward a place where they can live freely under their real identities has just begun.
The couple now faces a long and murky legal battle towards resettlement, entering a gray area of migration that has been hard to define — or prove. While tribal, ethnic and even religious distinctions are often traced through ancestries, regions and sometimes even physical features, sexual preference is a much more ambiguous form of oppression. Simply put, it’s hard to confirm “gay.”
Alex and Michael are currently waiting out the bureaucratic process for resettlement through the UNHCR, yet for others who have landed in a country where they can attempt to claim asylum, the process can be even more painstaking.
In most countries, to seek asylum gay applicants must provide proof of imminent risk and/or previous incidents, such as medical reports of abuse, affidavits from partners or police, and more. In countries where homosexuality is illegal these things are not easy to obtain.
And even if refugees can prove they are gay, governments often ask questions about whether LGBTs can live their lives in secret in their countries of origin — or have been outed to such a level where they would face immediate persecution or death upon return.
International outrage fell upon the Czech Republic last year when it attempted to verify gay asylum seekers by attaching genital cuffs and monitoring their arousal when watching gay porn. Although the Fundamental Rights Agency criticized the measure, it illustrated the government’s intense concern about fraud.
In 2009, Stephen and Helen Mahoney, naturalized US citizens from Russia living in Kent, Washington, pleaded guilty to charges of “conspiracy to commit immigration fraud” after coaching straight asylum seekers on how to pass themselves as gay — for fees upwards of $4,000.
The odds are stacked against all refugees, gay or straight. Of the more than 10 million refugees worldwide, only an estimated 100,000 are resettled each year.
Given community-led violence against gays and high-level political reinforcement of homophobia in his homeland, Alex fears he and Michael will never again be able to return to Uganda.
With few options before him, and currently no help from outside agencies, Alex has relied on his faith to keep him positive and driven.
Alex describes himself as a devout Christian. He says he finds great incongruity between the intense religiosity of his country and the idea of bashing gay “sinners.” He says he didn’t choose to be gay.
“God did,” he said.