‘I want to live in a world that’s ideal for me, I believe everyone should have the right to live in a world ideal for themselves.’ Pauline Kimani is a 23-year-old gay rights activist, feminist and one of Kenya’s few lesbians to openly admit her sexuality. Pauline found she was lesbian early in life, after developing a schoolgirl crush on her sports teacher, but it was not until she was 16 that she came out to her middle-class family in Nairobi.
‘I felt afraid,’ says Pauline, ‘because I had heard stories, especially in school, that attraction between people of the same sex wasn’t normal, and it was considered evil and un-African.’
Homosexuality is illegal in 38 African countries. In Kenya, it is punishable by up to 14 years in jail. Although no one has ever been convicted, the existence of this law has kept most of Kenya’s lesbian, gay, bi and trans-sexual (LGBT) community in the closet. There are high incidences of suicide and drug abuse, and no legal recourse in the face of discrimination and hate crimes.
When Pauline came out, her mother took her to a therapist who gave her anti-depressants as a ‘cure’. Pauline’s sister accused her of bringing shame to the family. Her father accepted her choice, but died soon after. Only her younger brother, Edwin, has stood by her over the years, respecting both her sexuality and activism.
Seven years on, her sister is more reconciled with Pauline’s lesbianism, but her relationship with her mother is still fraught with pain. ‘Having my mom come from a very Christian background, and read, translate and interpret the bible the way everybody else is doing, gives her grounds to hate the lesbian in me. But I expect her to challenge her biased judgment, because in the end, it’s the same bible that’s about preaching love.’
Pauline blames religious leaders for systematically fueling homophobia in Kenya. Homosexuality is constantly described as a crime against Christianity and Islam, with many churches running sexual orientation conversions and banning homosexuals from services. American conservative pastors regularly tour Kenya and have daily television shows there, bolstering homophobic beliefs.
Hate crimes against the LGBT community are frequent, but most go unreported. Pauline had to move house when she was attacked by neighbours after taking part in Kenya’s first television talk show on homosexuality in August last year. At least two other members of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) present at the show were also attacked.
This was not the first time for Pauline, nor does she expect it to be the last. She came out to four male college friends a few years back. One of them, she says, wanted a relationship with her. She invited them for drinks to celebrate her coming out, and later that night offered to drive them home. On the way to one of the men’s house, ‘one of them grabbed me from behind,’ Pauline explains, ‘and then they started ripping my clothes apart. That’s when they raped me, in my own car.’
Pauline did not tell anyone or report it. She tried to commit suicide. Soon after, she was raped again by an unknown group of boys on campus. Targeted rapes of lesbians are very common – and not only in Kenya. South Africa, for instance, despite being the only African country to give sexual minorities equal constitutional rights, has one of the highest incidences of so-called ‘corrective rapes’ of lesbians.
It’s nothing new, says Pauline: rape has always been used to intimidate assertive women in Kenya, like feminists and female politicians.
Surviving these attacks gave her strength to keep fighting for LGBT rights. She joined GALCK within a month of its creation two years ago. From the onset, the coalition prioritised HIV healthcare and treatment. Studies estimate that sex between men accounts for at least five to ten per cent of HIV cases in Kenya, but HIV counselling and treatment programmes have been systematically geared towards heterosexuals. Cases of LGBT people being denied healthcare are common.
One major breakthrough for Kenya’s gay coalition was to->www.mask.org.za] collaborate with Liverpool VCT, the only HIV counselling and treatment centre in Kenya to cater to LGBT people. With pride, Pauline marched at the 2006 World Aids Day, when Kenya’s gay coalition went public, and then at the 2007 World Social Forum where for the first time LGBT people from the East African community claimed public space to demand their rights.
‘Even if there is not any social recognition,’ says Pauline, ‘at least people now know we exist.’
Arusha Topazzini is a freelance reporter
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History