Searching for Love Where Being Gay Is a Crime

In Kenya, gay men can be persecuted but that does not keep them standing still.

ByABC News
April 24, 2008, 4:56 PM

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 5, 2008 -- With all the attention the political strife and violence have brought Kenya this year, most probably don't think of its capital city as a party town. But Nairobi is considered one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Africa.

Kenyans and ex-pats alike pour into numerous clubs for all-night dancing to the latest American, reggae and African hits, as well as to the city's wide array of upscale bars that host karaoke nights and live bands.

Nairobi has its share of dive bars, where local Kenyans hang out discussing the latest politics. Many places can be found easily by tourists, and, as in most African cities, spots frequented by "ladies of the night."

But what this modern, urban city lacks is a gay club.

"It's straight clubs and mixed clubs," said Steve, a 37-year-old gay Kenyan who did not want to give his real name, but who talked to ABC News over a couple of drinks at a bar he described as not too open to homosexuals. He said he likes the nightspot because of the amazing live band that plays.

"That level of segregation isn't [here], but there are 'gayer' clubs," he said.

In Kenya, homosexuality isn't just socially unacceptable -- it's illegal.

The penalty for homosexual acts for men is seven years in prison. But openly gay men, referred to as "queens," are more likely to be beaten by homophobic Kenyans than arrested.

"I know someone who had a beer bottle shoved up his a--," Steve said.

Despite the consequences, there is still a substantial gay population in Nairobi. It's hard to find exact numbers, but there are enough that they have now founded an organization called the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya. Steve is a member.

Though they are demanding their rights, group members are forced to "walk a fine line," said Steve, who worries about getting arrested. The group is trying to force the government to recognize the rights of homosexuals without causing a backlash.

"It's a bit like pushing out a boat without having a lifesaver," he said.

Still, they're making progress. Homosexuals are rarely arrested, and Steve said he expects the laws will change in the next few years, but "it's a process."