Protect and Respect the Rights of Transgender Persons
The government of Kenya is failing to prevent human rights violations based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. LGBTIQ persons living in Kenya continue to be violated and harassed because of their sexual orientation and gender identities.
The Covid-19 period has been especially difficult for transgender persons with record levels of human rights violations and violence against transgender persons being reported. According to a study conducted by the Kenya Human Rights Commission, human rights violations against LGBTIQ persons in Kenya are systemic, highly prevalent and generally not redressed when authorities are called to. Discrimination, lack of protection by law enforcement and government officials, and limited access to services are some of the primary human rights violations faced by transgender persons. Trans persons with disabilities are particularly at risk for such violations.
The just-concluded transgender awareness week was a crucial time to raise voices and experiences of transgender and non-binary people through education and advocacy action around issues of prejudice, violence and discrimination. The transgender awareness week, observed between November 13th -19th each year, brings attention to transgender people and seeks to address the issues that members of the community face.
Kenyans are governed by the constitution which is a unifying factor for all. Under the bill of rights, all Kenyans are guaranteed the right to privacy, equality, dignity and non-discrimination. It articulates a set of national values that include ‘human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalized.’ Despite these provisions, sexual and gender minorities are consistently discriminated against and denied their human rights.
While it is not illegal to identify as transgender in Kenya, there exist archaic laws under sections 162 and 165 of the penal code which criminalizes anyone who identifies under the LGBTIQ umbrella. These laws provide a caveat for transgender and non-binary people to be harassed, arrested and subjected to violence.
It is high time for Kenyan authorities to eliminate laws and practices which discriminate on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. The government should protect its citizens by ensuring the implementation of laws and policies which are inclusive of sexual and gender minorities. Transgender persons deserve equal protection and recognition of their human rights.
Ensuring proper investigation and diligent prosecution of perpetrators of violence will contribute towards the protection of transgender people. Judicial procedures should be responsive to the needs of the victims.
Supporters and the wider Kenyan community should educate themselves on facts about transgender and non-binary people so as to combat misinformation. There is a high prevalence of misinformation about LGBTIQ persons which often leads to incitement to violence. Because every Kenyan has a responsibility to uphold and safeguard the rights and freedom of every individual independent of their beliefs and sexuality, it is crucial that we step up and protect transgender people.
We must strive for a society where trans lives are no longer debated and used as a basis for discrimination. Transgender persons, like all other citizens, have every right to have their humanity recognized and their human rights respected and upheld.
Teresa Loch is a human rights advocate at Zamara Foundation.